Cabal Therapy #2: Self-Care – A Mental Health Column

Do what you love. Seems like a straightforward thing, right? This past week, I’ve learned that it’s not as simple as you think. Today, I’d like to look at self-care.

The Path to Self-Care

Just lately, I’ve been beating myself up over the fact that I don’t like to play Standard, and that I haven’t found a Modern deck that speaks to me. For days, I’ve berated myself, making myself feel lesser because I don’t enjoy the “grinder” formats. The fact that I couldn’t make it to FNM that week due to work obligations didn’t help my mindset either. My mood plummeted and I found myself questioning my place in the Magic Community. Why play if I can’t enjoy the “grinder” formats?

It really hit me the next day. I went to my LGS to play some Commander with friends. I sat down and stared at my cards, then at my opponents, who were drawing their hands. One of the store workers noticed my hesitation and asked me if I was okay. I sighed, and mentioned that I was fine but that I was just beating myself up over Modern and Standard. I went on to explain that I had the most fun when I played EDH and Pauper. My opponents agreed with me (one saying that he had been a grinder in the past), and it felt nice to feel validated. For a moment, I was afraid I’d be judged for not enjoying the two formats many considered to be “the best” – when I worked my first LGS job, I was judged so harshly for not enjoying Standard that my boss started to heckle me about it.

That night I played three games of EDH and won two out of three. I went into that shop with what felt like 10,000 pounds on my head and left feeling happy and light. Playing the format I love relieved two days of negativity. Later that week, after playing Modern in FNM, one of my friends looked at me and asked, “Did you have fun?”. It was a question with weight – the most important thing to keep in mind and ask yourself when playing Magic is whether you’re having fun.

Seeker of the Way

Seeker of the Way, by Craig J. Spearing

Self-care is hard to master. The very sound of it conjures up mental images of either bubble baths and spa treatments, or learning how to ‘breath’ on a mountaintop. However, self-care can be far more complex. It takes practice, and it takes self-awareness. EDH and Pauper are formats that have brought me immense happiness over the course of my three years as a player. EDH made me the most amazing friends in college, got me my first and second LGS jobs, and has been the format that has created some of the best Magic memories I’ve ever had. I got caught up in the perpetuation that “Kitchen-Table” formats are lesser, and because of that, I was lesser. I began to beat myself up for not enjoying something and therefore lost sight of my self-care. When I was able to let go of the unrealistic expectations I held myself to, I was able to enjoy my hobbies again.

Self-care is unique and forgetting to perform it can often be harmful to one’s mental health. Obsessing over a sideboard for a tournament can be soothing to one, while to others it could be incredibly stressful. Self-care is not only performing acts you enjoy but finding a balance between the necessary and the enjoyable. I forgot to incorporate what was enjoyable for me and, instead, focused on what I deemed necessary. This made my mental health suffer and even made me question my love for the game. I forgot that doing something I enjoyed could relieve so much stress and tension. Identifying your own version of self-care can take some thought. For me, it was EDH. However, for you, it could be playing at a tournament, updating your decklist on TappedOut, sorting through unsorted cards, or brewing a new Pauper deck. Your self-care might not even be Magic related, and that’s OK! Finding something to put your mind at ease is rare and to be cherished. Regardless of the activity, the point of your self-care is to recharge your battery. Doing something simple for yourself can go a long way not only for your physical health, but your mental health as well.

The point of this article is to remind you of your own self-care. For many of us, playing a game of Magic is self-care. Too often we load the stress of winning, grinding, and conforming onto our love of the game. A few of my friends can attest to this, as they were my sounding board even before I wrote this article. Whatever format you play, regardless if you play it competitively or not, be mindful and be gentle with yourself.

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