Burn My Dread: How Persona Helped Me Face Myself
By: Sean Mitchell
Today is Thanksgiving here in the US. I planned this article specifically for this day, because for the first time that I can remember I feel truly thankful. It's not that I didn't have an appreciation in past years for my family, friends, etc. No, it's that this year I can be thankful while not feeling a soul-crushing guilt-- the painful guilt of being terribly depressed when the only thing your family wants is for you to be happy. This is a story of why I am thankful for my family and friends, as well as Persona 3 and 4 for helping me face myself.
Earlier this year I was finally able to tell my mother what I'd felt about myself for roughly the past 6 years. Absolutely none of it was good, and as a result, I was unable to let myself be happy-- ever. I had been agonizingly depressed, secluding myself from those I care about. Pushing them away, I was absolutely terrified to even speak with them. As a result, over the years I have hurt those I care about in various ways. A year ago, I got a new phone number and didn't tell anyone in my family. I cut them off with no warning, no reason, and when they found out, no explanation. Luckily for me, my family is very stubborn. I mean that in the most loving way, and for that, I am truly thankful. Even after I had given up on myself, they refused to give up on me.
Below is an except of an Email I sent to my mother, finally telling her how I felt:
I hate myself-- Loathe myself.
I don't deserve the help and support that I get from everyone in the family, when I am incapable or unwilling(?) to accept that help and support in any constructive way or even seem to want them involved in my life in any way. Any time I think about it, I feel worse. The worse I feel about it, the more I hate myself.
I no longer know how to be happy.
Shortly after sending that Email, my mother found me a therapist. I've been actively working on engaging with others, and find myself actually caring about things now. I've even started to feel something I hadn't felt since I was a kid-- Hope. I'm starting to feel better about myself. I'm not suffering from paralyzing panic attacks all the time. I feel like things are going to be okay. I'm thankful for that. Thank you family. Thank you friends.
"Alright." you're saying to yourself, "Where do games fit into all of this?"
Well dear reader, whom I am truly thankful for, the very thing that got me to admit to myself how I felt was the Persona series of games from Atlus, specifically Persona 3 and Persona 4. Both games had me evaluating my life, the way I viewed myself, and why I was so miserable.
Now, at first glance, Persona 3 may not seem like the kind of game you'd want a depressed person to play. It's dark. It's depressing at times. There's also the matter of the characters shooting themselves in the head with a gun-looking 'Evoker' to summon their Personas. On top of all of that, you have to go to school too. That doesn't sound all that happy, does it? While describing Persona 3 in such a way isn't inaccurate, it misses the point.
Persona 3 is about friendship, resolve, and hope. Everything about the game's presentation really struck me. The music, the artstyle, the writing are all truly fantastic. The individual characters and the way their stories play out in their individual Social Links are amazing. They all have such defined personalities, and I legitimately cared about all of them. Imagine that, caring about some game characters in the same way I care about my real-life human friends. Hell, I even teared up a little at the end of the game. I was able to have a positive/hopeful outlook at times, and I had Persona 3 (as well as my friends/family) to thank.
I was still depressed, but a seed was planted by the game. Luckily, Persona 4 was released with relative quickness.
Persona 4 initially hit me in the same way Persona 3 had. The presentation was just as great. The story and characters, while different and new had me just as engaged as Persona 3, if not moreso. One of the major changes was how your party members gained their Personas. Ultimately, that would be the trigger that would help me change my life.
In Persona 4, people have to face their own Shadow (the 'ugly' side of themself that they don't want to acknowledge). If they deny their Shadow, a very real part of themselves, it will seek to destroy them. If they accept their Shadow, they gain their Persona (their true self). It got me to thinking, "What would my Shadow be like?" I didn't like the answer. Were I in the same situation, I wouldn't be able to face my Shadow. It would consume me. I would never be able to face it alone.
That's the point. The protagonists of Persona 4 don't have to face their Shadows alone. Their friends are there for them, and even after seeing that ugly side of them, they support them all the way. I couldn't believe that could possibly apply to me. It would take some time, but ultimately I realized that I was going to need help if I ever going to be able to help myself.
I'm not so naive to claim that it is these games and these games alone that changed my life. Everything from the way I was raised, to the limitless patience of my friends and family plays a very important part. I do believe that had I never played these game, I never would have acknowledge my depression, I never would have sent that Email to my mom, and I wouldn't be getting the help and support I need to make my life better.
So, on this Thanksgiving I am thankful for my friends and family for always being there for me. It means more than I could possibly convey with words. I'm thankful for everyone at Atlus who made these games possible. Whether it's the development team for crafting the games, the unmatched localization team who gave the characters life in my country, or even the janitor who cleans up their mess (they're messy, aren't they?), I am thankful for all of them. I'm thankful for everyone in the gaming industry for being a part of this hobby of mine which has been such a big part of my life. Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Sega, Harmonix, game companies I've never heard of, all of you, thank you. Please keep doing what you do. Not only is it entertaining, it can make a difference, too.
Most of all, I'm thankful that I can genuinely smile. I know I have a long way to go, and it's not going to be easy. I'll be okay though. I'm not alone.