Exactly two years ago today (not exactly, just roughly) I started streaming on Twitch. I had, at that time, just communicated to my doctor that I still felt like I had mental issues severely impacting my quality of life and overall happiness. I knew getting into therapy would take a while, let alone “completing” it, and I was determined to already make some changes in my life in anticipation, especially since my partner had just before completed her own therapy trajectory, and the positive changes I saw in her were marvelous to behold. Soon would follow an official diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder, in addition to already well established Omega Class ADHD. It explained so much. The lack of meaningful social contact, the reluctance to leave the house, the just breathtakingly bad income situation. But I was determined.
Streaming games, I thought, would be a way for me to reach out to the world in a safe manner. I would show my face with a camera, I would share my voice with a microphone, but I’d have to option to, at any time, hit the off button and retreat to the safety of not being live. It was one of many first steps to put myself out there, to risk the supposed mockery that my all too creative brain imagined would happen, in order to almost literally come out of my shell and try to grow as a person.
Before I continue I want to make clear that I could not have come this far without the actual therapy that was provided to me. I have talked about it on stream many times, and in spite of the disadvantages I’ve been burdened with since childhood, I am extraordinarily lucky to be in the ~0.000000001% of people with access to affordable and comprehensive mental health care. Everyone deserves this kind of care, and I do not take it for granted that I got it. Mental health as a whole is interesting because while you have to do all the work yourself, you should never have to do it alone. The other incredible privilege I had regarding that is of course my amazing partner, who I’ve been with for my entire adult life, who’s seen me at my lowest points, who’s made sure that whatever I was feeling, I was never alone in it. That being said this post is about me and how awesome I am and the work I put in, and the role the streaming played so I’m pulling a sweet drift around the corner back to that topic.
Like I said, on a conceptual level streaming created a safe space for me to interact with other people, on a level beyond chatting or social media, but where I was still in control. Removing the wall, but keeping a nice waist level fence. If anyone stepped over the line, I could ban them. If I didn’t feel comfortable, I could turn off the camera or end the stream entirely and try again. It being a safe space allowed me to create a routine, a schedule, something which was always dreadfully difficult for me not just because of the ADHD, but as I learned over the course of my therapy, also because of the avoidant behavior I had instilled in myself.
I could have started making YouTube videos (and now I do), but being live is something that resists avoidant behavior. Whatever happens, because I made that commitment, because the time of that commitment is clear to me, even if something goes wrong (whatever that even means) it’s something I have to confront then and there, not something I can worry about for days on end before I need to make a decision, eventually letting it fade out and having another item on my massive pile of failed projects. There are many reasons why that pile is so large, but for me, streaming created an outlet to slowly build my confidence in interacting with other people and structuring my activities before and during therapy that just worked.
Not all of it was easy, of course. Don’t let anybody ever tell you that streaming is easy, especially when you don’t start with a built-in community. When you’re entirely new at it, and when you’re doing for therapeutic reasons, streaming to nobody, not entirely knowing what you’re doing, it can be both terrifyingly exciting and awfully boring, leading to easy anxiety before and after. I did what I could to prep, I learned what I could from the odd YouTube tutorial, both technical and mental. For a while I had to do vocal exercises before I started. Remember, other than my partner, I’d rarely actually speak to anybody back then. I turned off the view counter, something I’d still advise to any streamer, but even so an inactive chat can be quite disheartening. What can you do other than keep it up, try again, learn, grow, develop, et cetera? Even now, sometimes everything goes right, I have a fantastic stream, it’s a pure joy, and at the end I’m still exhausted and kind of cranky. That’s okay.
The thing nobody tells you when you start streaming from zero is you will greatly improve the experience if you engage with Twitch as a platform and see it as a social network. I don’t mean saying in other stream chats that you’re a streamer too, that’s just spam, but finding your community, first by joining other communities. Before you know it you’ve joined a discord or two, you get a couple of raids, more followers, people welcome you into their chat, and you can welcome them into yours. All of a sudden you’ve made friends? How did that happen? Just by putting yourself out there? Remarkable. I’ve also found great joy in some of the technical aspects of streaming. Creating graphics and effects and fun points redeems and emotes is a very fulfilling creative exercise. I’ve found myself digging deep into OBS plugins just to create fun effects that set my stream apart, but also reflect my personality.
It took some months but before long I did reach affiliate level on Twitch, and while I’ve spent far more money on streaming than I’ve made from it, I’m happy to have reached that milestone. I’m happy to have made friends. I’m happy to feel far more comfortable in front of the camera and microphone than I did when I started, which is exactly what I hoped would happen. I’m happy to have created my own discord and to be building my own community. I’ve learned many, many lessons from my time streaming, more than I can come up with on the spot right now. I’m happy that I’ve fostered a community where people feel comfortable talking about their own mental health challenges in my chat. I’m happy that I can be more myself than I’ve ever been. I’m happy that people have made art inspired by me? What?! It’s genuinely incredible.
Now my life is more eventful that it’s ever been, and I’m managing it all. Enjoying it even. Avoidance is something I’ll always live with, as it’s a behavior I engaged in for a large part of my life, but my diagnosis of it has officially been lifted. Yesterday I celebrated these two years of streaming, on stream of course, which coincided with my 250th stream. I wrote this post before that. I assume the stream went well, but you know what, if it didn’t, that’s okay. Today is the day.