Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Emotional Control, Part 2: Depression

Emotional Control, Part 2: Sadness and Depression

Let's start by saying that if there's something I have a lot of experience with, it's being depressed.  I've been to psychologists, psychiatrists, and at one point earned myself a stay in a mental hospital for multiple reasons, the primary one being depression.  Most people don't know that after most of my temper tantrums, I'd spend the next few hours or days or weeks in a serious depressive spell.  Being depressed sucks.  A lot.

Fortunately, stuff has become a lot better in recent months, much like with my anger issues.  It also means I've got a good insider's view to share on what being depressed means.  And, of course, how it relates to your smash playing, because that's why you read this blog :)

The next thing that needs saying is that there is a difference between sadness and depression.

Sadness is an emotion.  It's a temporary feeling that you get in response to different stimuli.  It's pretty normal for people to become sad.  Depression, however, is a combination of emotions and patterns of thought that can quickly become debilitating.

Here's an example: you're in a tournament, and you make it to winner's finals.  You sweep your opponent 3-0, and then when you play in grand finals, you win two in a row.  You're close to winning the third game, but self-destruct.  After that, your play becomes sluggish and you lose the first set.  You get discouraged, and then lose the second set 1-3.

Instead of being angry, you become sad.  You start thinking "if only I'd done this," or "if I hadn't gone for a risky edgeguard."  You feel bad for a bit, thinking about the things you should have done.  Later, however, it passes on, and at the IHOP or Denny's after the tournament you cheer up and have fun.  You console yourself that you're going to try harder to do better next time, you'll practice on X counterpick more, whatever.

That's sadness.  Being sad when something bad or unfortunate happens is pretty normal.  I'm not gonna tell you not to be sad, because that's actually kind of unhealthy.  Constant, perpetual bubbly happiness often indicates that you're a bit out of touch with reality.  Besides, a lot of the time if you become consciously aware of your sadness, you can think of ways to deal with it.  Depression, however, is something else entirely.

Depression is feeling sad, then thinking, "I'm a screw-up," "I can never win when it counts," "I'm a failure," "I'll always suck," and stuff like that.  Then, instead of picking yourself up and moving on, you make yourself feel worse, and the emotion lasts far longer than the experience that triggered it.

Depression, in short, is sadness that gets out of control.  Much like anger, sadness is a useful emotion.  It tells you that something is askew and needs fixing.  Since you feel bad about it, it gives you motivation to fix it because you don't *want* to feel bad anymore.  If you can't handle the sadness, and you start thinking thoughts that only make you sadder, it becomes self-perpetuating.  That's the thought pattern of depression.

If anger is based on denial and believing that the world isn't the way it's supposed to be, then depression is hopeless acceptance.  "This will never change."  "I'm a terrible player, of course I screwed up."  "Everybody's better/faster/smarter/more talented."  Stuff like that.  When it's really bad, you start spreading the sadness to other experiences, or you bring outside experiences in to bolster the depression.  "Well, it's no surprise since I'm a failure in everything else."

Like anger, depression is tough to stop once it gets going.  The real trick is catching the feelings as they begin.  Remember, you usually have a lot of input into your emotional reactions.  And the more you start actively and consciously thinking about an emotion, the less impact it begins to have.

Let's look at certain habits of depressive thinking.


"Everything," "always," "never," "every time," "nothing."  These are the kinds of words that pop into your head when you start thinking depressive thoughts.  "I always mess that up," "I never win," "everything goes wrong," "nothing works," and so on.

The thing to remember is that generalizations are always incorrect (ho ho ho).  If you want to quickly kill a generalization, just think of a time when it wasn't true.  And then remember that if you can do something once, you can probably do it again and again.

I always screw up my l-cancels -- no you don't.  Remember the dozens of l-cancels you executed this match?  And the chaingrabs and shine combos?  Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you mess up.  If you're messing up more than you're comfortable with, turn that discomfort into energy to practice.

I never win -- well, maybe if you have gone 0-2 at every tournament and you've lost every friendly since the dawn of time, this one is legitimate.  Odds are, however, you win sometimes, and sometimes you lose.  It will keep you from getting depressed, however, if you ask why, then come up with an answer.

"Why do I keep losing?"
"Well, he keeps destroying me on edgeguards and getting low percent KOs."
"How can I stop him from doing that?"

Then you answer.  If you can't come up with an answer, ask somebody else.  Put your energy towards finding solutions.  Don't put your mental energy in focusing entirely on the problem, or else you begin to feel helpless and hopeless.

Compare these two reactions:

"He hits me with d-air a lot, what can I do to stop him?"
"He always hits me with d-air, I can't get away."

The first reaction is a pretty good way to think about situations.  You start by acknowledging your situation, then you immediately turn

The second reaction is negative.  It can easily cause you to start adding thoughts like, "because I suck," which probably put you in a worse mood.  That leads to feeling like there is nothing you can do avoid the d-air.  Which, incidentally, is the next part of depression I want to talk about.


Another word that you start thinking a lot is "can't."  "No matter what I do, I *can't*" do something or other.  Blind and unhappy acceptance of a situation is a prime indicator of depression.

"That doesn't work for me."  "That's not the way I do things."  "That's not who I am."  These are pretty common sentiments, and they're also rather unhelpful for the most part.  If the way you do things isn't working after many attempts, you should try changing your methods.  And remember, new methods require practice and adjustment, so don't forget to give them a fair shot.

Come up with an idea.  Then try it out, and if it doesn't work, adjust the idea.  Try new stuff.  Ask for outside advice and then try it.  Believe that your situation can be changed and start looking for ways to make it happen.  Don't despair and discount possible solutions without giving them an honest try.

When things feel hopeless or scary or threatening, people come up with a lot of defense mechanisms.  One of them is sandbagging.  As long as you weren't playing at full power, you can convince yourself that you always had a shot.  If you lose, you were sandbagging; if you win, you feel good because you weren't even trying!  Same with not practicing; you screw up when you don't practice, it's only to be expected.  If you succeed, you can brag: "yeah, I don't even own a copy of the game, I just kinda show up and win, lololol."  This isn't the only reason somebody might sandbag or not practice, obviously, but I hope you see what I mean.

That's detrimental to you as a player.  You've got to accept that you may lose or fail, that some people may play better than you, and accept that it's FINE.  Of course you don't want to lose or make mistakes, and you shouldn't let people walk all over you and never try to get better; you want to push yourself and take your matches seriously, invest effort, and get returns.  So yeah, it's kind of annoying when somebody has been playing for 1 year and you've played for 5 and they've got more tech-skill than you, or when somebody beats your serious tournament main with a character they never use.  I speak from personal experience.

This is going to happen, and it doesn't really matter if it does.  Take it from me, it's easy to invest a lot of personal and emotional energy in this game, and it sucks when you get a bad return.  People will give you crap for your failures, and you'll often think "that was dumb of me."  I recall losing an IC ditto in tournament to Axe, who doesn't play ICs with any real dedication.  Nevertheless, he beat me in a serious game; I felt so stupid and embarrassed that I wanted to unplug my controller and walk out of the venue.  There is something worse than having that stuff happen to you, however.  That is having it happen to you, and letting it break you down.

Fortunately, my example was a day that I didn't let my emotions get the better of me, and I stayed calm and repeated the ditto on the same stage, and won.  I actually learned a lot from losing that IC ditto with him, so I actually have that loss to thank for teaching me so much about the ditto.

Enough sidetracking!  Moving on...

Outside Factors

Again, some things lie beyond your control.  They may happen to you quickly and without warning, and they will affect your mental state in a variety of different ways.

I'll restate my advice for dealing with anger: be aware of these things as they happen and decide how you want to deal with them.

Your emotions are, for the most part, your own decision  Obviously, chemical imbalances notwithstanding.  If your emotions truly are beyond your control, seeing a doctor is a really really good idea.

Most people don't fall into that group though.  For many people, our emotions are based on habits.  People make themselves sad or angry more than they should, simply because they tend to think in ways that promote those emotions.

Analogy time: if you make a groove in the surface of something and pour water into it, the water will follow the groove to a specific destination.  If you think certain thoughts long enough, you create a groove in the surface of your mind.  As a result, your thoughts will lead you to the same emotional destination.  In the end, no matter what the situation is, you will wind up making yourself sad, or angry, or whatever.

Sorry, that was kind of lame.  The point is, you don't want thought habits that always make you depressed or angry.  Otherwise, you drive yourself to the same negative place again and again; all the while, you reinforce the habits through repetition.

So... don't do that.  Direct your mental energy towards solutions and what you can do.  If you feel like you're in control over your situations, it's harder to feel either angry or sad.  If you honestly recognize that something is beyond your control, you can stop worrying about it!  If you can't do anything about it, then there's no point in wasting your energy and time thinking about it.

Final Note

Last, but not least; if your emotions begin getting the better of you and you feel like you're legitimately going to lose control, step away.  Quit your match, tell your opponent, "good stuff man," and walk away.  It's not worth it to dig yourself into an angry or depressive pit for the sake of a single game.  Take it from me; when it comes to importance, put your mind before your matches.  Take a break or a breath or whatever you need, and don't let yourself become bitter, stubborn, or unhappy.  You will stop playing this game one day, and that's not the emotion you want to associate with it.

That was kind of rambly, but I hope it was worth reading.  I guess that's all.  I might try to write a third section about focus and concentration, but I'm not really qualified -_-

Peace, folks.


  1. Good read man ^_^ as someone who often falls into the sad/hopeless mindset, this is an interesting article ^_^. I'd like to say that pretty solid advice.

    The problem is that although one may "know" what the advice is, when they start feeling down, it's hard to remember to keep thinking the right way--hearing it from other people helps.

  2. That's completely true. Having somebody around to remind you of these things is really helpful.

    During one of my doubles sets recently I had a terrible game, involving several team hits and some awful DI that got me KO'ed at really low percents. All it took was my teammate to tell me to calm down, and I started remembering my own advice; we came back to win from being down 0-2. It's really good to keep a friend around who can keep you level.

  3. Hey Wobbles, I'm just a random, but I'd like to let you know that you're keeping me interested in the Melee videos on Youtube. Your IC's are amazing, I love how you're just coming up with new stuff relentlessly. Some of my favorite pros are Forward for his revolutionizing Falco, and of course Taj's Mewtwo. Arizona rocks.

    I watched those vids vs Mango; I think you can beat him.

  4. Great article. You could do some great self help writing, melee not withstanding.

  5. Wobbles, just wanted to let you know, you're stuffs really great. I'm excited for your book, hope thats still coming. Part 1 and 2 of this have already helped my game tremendously.