Play Time to Reduce Depression
Remember summers as a kid? Staying out until the street lights came on. Do you remember what you were doing at the time? I have visions of playing games like IT tag or kick ball. There were wagon rides down steep sidewalks. Homemade stilts my best friend's father made. Tree houses and cherry popsicles. And on rainy afternoons there was always Monopoly and popcorn. We had fun. We knew how to play.
Something happens to us as we cross over into adulthood. The stress and responsibility of living makes us forget something so vital to our happiness. We forget how to play.
In a previous post I had described how I had an internship once working with people who had been dually diagnosed with drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness. Part of my training was to conduct some group therapy sessions. This was one of the most challenging times for me. I was both a novice with this population and with running any type of therapeutic group. It was a tough crowd for sure. Some had been in and out of jail. Some were homeless or living in crack houses. Still others were seriously mentally ill and had suffered multiple psychotic breakdowns.
My mentor in the program was a seasoned therapist who was in recovery himself for alcohol addiction. I watched him run the groups for a couple of months before I was asked to attempt leading one myself. In a private meeting between the two of us I told him of an idea I had for one of the groups. His response was to laugh out loud and to pretty much tell me that my "wacky" idea would never work. Undaunted, I told him that I still wanted to try it. He agreed but shook his head in doubt.
My wacky idea was to have a group session where we all would...play.
My motive was to show the group that there are other ways to have fun other than to engage in their choice of addiction. I knew it probably wouldn't be some life changing thing but perhaps for those minutes, they could allow themselves to remember what fun was like without drugs or alcohol.
Prior to my special session I told the people in the group to bring in their favorite toys. Some of them looked at me with puzzlement. "Toys? I don't have any toys," some of them proclaimed. "Not a problem. If you don't have any toys I shall bring some in for you to play with," I offered. At that time I had no children but I have always been a kid at heart so I had quite a few toys at home I could bring to this therapy session. Some of the lukewarm responses and incredulous looks made me begin to doubt the worth of my idea. Despite all of this I still wanted to try.
The day of my group session I brought in a box of toys including a slinky, legos, and bubbles among other things. I also brought in a big bag of penny candy to share. It was kind of like Christmas in a way. I was eager to see what toys the group might bring. I was delighted to see that most every one who came brought something special. One man who was normally angry and cursing brought in a train. A woman who usually seemed anything but gentle was cradling a doll. A man who hardly ever spoke two words during these sessions brought in marbles he had from childhood. I was so touched by this scene of this otherwise hardened group of people who were mostly known for their addictions and ailments, sitting there on the floor playing. They were smiling and having fun just like children. They hadn't forgotten after all.
Sometimes in our depression we forget so much of the good. We forget how to have fun. We cannot seem to remember a single joy. So you have to go back to a time when you did remember, when you felt uninhibited and spontaneous. Go to a park and swing on a swing. Toss a ball around. Jump on a trampoline. Hug a stuffed animal. It is more than okay. Play is a part of your life that you truly never have forgotten. You just need a little reminder now and then. Here is yours.