For me, the best thing about Pokémon Go is that it is brilliant escapism. I might be out in the big wide world, but my brain is very much in Pokémon Go Land and that is a brilliant distraction from my anxiety. Instead of going out and worrying about crowded places, having a panic attack and my triggers, my mind is very much focused on what new Pokémon I may encounter today and how much further I have to walk before my egg hatches.
This summer I manged to visit two of my biggest PTSD trigger places and that is down to Pokémon Go. The first time was going to my local park (which I hadn’t been to in several years) because there was a Jigglypuff nearby. I was so into the game that I hadn’t stopped to take note of where I was until my best friend pointed it out to me. The other time was a trip to my town centre. Me and my friend decided to take a late night Pokéwalk. I set out planning to walk to the library (which happens to be a Pokéstop) and back, but I noticed there was another Pokéstop just up from that and so I walked further and further into town, telling myself just one more Pokéstop and then I could turn back if I needed to, each Pokéstop I reached was a huge goalpost for me mentally. What’s more is that I’ve since visited both trigger places a few times now and each time it loses a little bit more of its power over me as I create happy memories with my friends to replace the bad ones.
Last month when I was on holiday, I had a couple of bad days with my mental health. Normally, I would bow out of any plans arranged that day and take it easy in the holiday home, but on one particular day we’d made plans to go somewhere that I knew was supposed to be great for Pokémon so I pushed myself through it and ended up having one of my favourite days of the holiday. We were walking along by the beach when I caught my first Pikachu - an epic moment in any Pokémon Go players career - I was so, so excited. My dad turned to me and said “That’s the first time we’ve seen you smile today!” For a moment I felt bad about that, I was in a beautiful place yet I was more excited about a game, but then I remembered that without this game I might not have made it there at all. I might not have seen this gorgeous area, walked along the beach and created one of my favourite memories of this summer. So if a cute little yellow mouse was the thing that made me smile on a bad day, so be it.
I’ve been playing Pokémon Go since the day it first came out in the UK and I have only just reached level 13 but I am okay with that. My friends who downloaded it way later have already surpassed me and I’ll always probably be lagging behind everyone else, but that is okay. Because to me Pokémon Go is more than the level I’m on, or the CP of a Pokémon I’ve caught. The eggs that I’ve hatched are proof of the steps that I have taken outside of my house. Reaching a new Pokéstop means reaching a new goal in my mental health recovery, and every Pokémon Go medal that I earn are really mental health medals for every time that I’ve managed to push past my anxiety to go out and have fun. I doubt Pokémon Go will be around forever, and like all things it will fall out of fashion eventually, but for now it’s the stabilizers on my bike holding me steady whilst I get my bearings as I go out into the big wide world and for that I will always be grateful.