Living with depression is hard. I often describe depression as life on “hard mode” because when you’re depressed simple things like getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and getting dressed can be herculean tasks. I used to try to complete such tasks with sheer willpower and feel frustrated and guilty when I wasn’t able to do them. Then one day, I learned that there is a better way. And believe it or not, I learned that lesson from cheating at video games.
My all-time favorite game is called Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You play as Link, a hero whose goal is to get to Hyrule Castle, defeat the final boss Dark Beast Ganon, and save his kingdom. Along the way, you must survive out in the wilderness and fight smaller enemies. I could go on and on, but the most important thing you need to know about this game is that it is hard, notoriously hard.
The enemies are no joke. Oftentimes they have super upgraded weapons whereas Link is armed only with a measly club. As you’re noneffectivley trying to piecemeal your way to lowering your enemy’s health, it laughs, strikes you once, and you’re dead. So, while playing this game for the first time I got stuck. I got stuck on the first boss Waterblight Ganon.
This thing is quite literally a monster, and I didn’t stand a chance. As soon as the cutscene that introduced the boss was over, he would stab me with his sword. I would try to dodge. No, too slow. Dead. Retry. Stab. Dead. Retry. Stab. Dead. Game Over. Game Over. Game Over. It was so frustrating I wanted to throw my video game system across the room.
The game wasn’t fun any more. At this point, most video game purists would say that what I should have done is keep practicing, keep trying, improve my combat skills, and eventually kill the boss. But the difficulty level was such that it was keeping me from being able to actually participate in the game at all. It was demotivating.
So, I cheated. I purchased the extra content for the game that gave me a special quest, and at the end of that quest I got the strongest armor available in the game. I returned to the boss armed with, well my armor. And guess what? The boss was still hard, but this time, beating it was much more manageable. After about another hour of dying I was able to beat it.
So, what’s the lesson here? There are some people who would like to shame me for cheating my way through the game. But what is the real, actual, compelling reason for why I should try to do things the hard way? The point of the game was to beat the boss and have fun, I did that — I just did it my way. Instead of expending effort in the way that wasn’t working for me, trying to get better at combat, parrying, getting the timing just right, I went on a quest to retrieve tools that made getting to my goals easier.
The same thing goes for real life. The first time my doctor suggested it, I didn’t want to take antidepressant medication. I thought, “I should be able to get through life by myself.” I should be able to motivate myself to get out of bed, make meals, and go to school. Some days I could do those things, and some days I couldn’t. I would skip meals or eat an entire bag of doritos as “dinner” because I didn’t even have the energy to microwave a frozen meal. Everything was a struggle. The truth is, I didn’t have to struggle, at least not that hard. I had a tool at my disposal that would make my life easier. Again I ask, what is the real, actual, compelling reason for why I should try to do things the hard way? Why should everything be a struggle if it doesn’t have to be?
I took the pills, and they helped. They weren’t a panacea, but they helped. I don’t feel bad about it, either. If I need extra armor to beat a boss and enjoy a game, that’s okay. And if I need some tiny pills to get out of bed and enjoy life, that’s okay.
In everything that you’d want to use motivation for there’s the brute force way, and there’s a clever way. The brute force way relies on you using sheer willpower to force yourself to get the job done. In Breath of the Wild, that’s dying over and over trying to perfect the combat mechanics. It is possible to be successful this way, and many people do it. But it’s not the best strategy for someone who doesn’t have a natural affinity for combat or doesn’t have the time to devote to practicing. There are plenty of ways to win the game.
Likewise, there are plenty of ways to motivate yourself to do the daily tasks life requires besides using the sheer willpower approach. Sure it works for some people, but for those of us who have impaired willpower abilities, those of us with a soul sucking illness such as depression, trying to make ourselves do things with sheer willpower is not the best way. There is nothing
wrong with using a tool that will help us get things done. In fact, it is smart. Work smarter, not harder.