It was a weekend of gaming.
On Saturday I went to Tom and Jim’s to play their new board game Fury of Dracula with a couple of their other friends. It was great fun, especially as Dracula has always been one of my all-time favourite horror novels. Tom took the character of The Count and the rest of us had to track him across the board, a map of Europe, until we could find and kill him. Good times.
At one point during a break from the game, I remember sitting on the sofa. Jim, normally the most heart-hardened of people I know, at least on the surface, came over and quietly slung an arm around me. We were almost alone as everyone else was either babbling at the other end of the room, outside having a smoke or at the loo.
“How are you feeling, little buddy?” He asked kindly.
“OK,” I replied. “But it was a tough week. I went to start my consultancy work for this new freelance client. I spent all of the meetings having silent panic attacks, with voices of doubt in my head. Whenever I sat down to actually create the content and articles for them, I was blinded by fear that I couldn’t do it properly. I didn’t realise how much of a battering my confidence has taken until this week.”
He nodded, silently giving my shoulders a bit of a squeeze. Of all my friends, Jim is probably the one – maybe the only one – who can really understand how I feel. He was unceremoniously fired from his last job and spent several months looking. Because he works in recruitment, he couldn’t chip along with freelance work, it was a full-on all or nothing job search. So he sympathised with the horrible feelings which can plague a person’s mind when that’s happened to them. I could sense that he knew there were days when it gets too much, that sometimes you have to fight down the urge to just stick your head under the covers and read novels.
At that moment I was so thankful to have Jim as a friend. Ironic, really, since we hated each other when we first met. But just to know someone was there and sympathising was enough.
On Sunday, I went to play a Dungeons and Dragons game with Franciscus, Lewis (the guy I’ve been seeing) and a couple of other friends. This is the first time I’ve played DnD properly since I was a tweeny. The funny thing is, I know there is a geeky stigma attached to it, but I’ve never seen it like that. I just love the storytelling; the way the game opens worlds in your head and spins fantasies. It means for a few hours I’m not me – I’m not the person who has to worry about maintaining freelance work or finding a new full-time job, I’m my character. It’s like a guided game of improvised theatre and I love it. Slaying monsters, casting spells, engaging in the role play, seeing the adventure unfold as you move your figures across the board. There’s something magical about it. It’s more real and more alive than any board game.
Ironic, in some ways, as my Druid character almost died after being attacked and half-eaten by a shark. But a game like DnD draws you in so much to the story, I was genuinely worried that my character was going to pop off. Something I didn’t want at all.
And the truth is right now, I need the escape. I need times where I’m just another character and not me. I need things which take me out of the house and out of my slump and into other places. Places around and London and wondrous places in my head.
I spoke to Lewis briefly, just as we were all putting on our coats and saying goodbye. I confessed again about my week of stress and panic attacks which had made me sick. He gave me a big hug, told me it would all be OK and that it would all work out, and we pencilled in plans for lunch this week.
I took a delayed Jubilee Line tube home, which gave me time to think. I thought about how lucky I was to have all these wonderful friends. Yes, I’m still worried about finding my new job and, yes, I still don’t know entirely what my direction is supposed to be. But the fact that I have these amazing people around me for help and support?