Young Child with thier hand up, rainbow clored flowers surround them, animals and two human heads float above smiling, the word "UNDERTALE" is written in the middle.

This Isn't An Undertale Review.

 

 

*Self-Harm and Relapse Mention*

The Undertale anniversary came up recently and the anniversary of some dark spot for my family came up as well. It’s really got me thinking back on that time of my life. I guess I should preface all this with what actually happened...

Around the end of March of my high-school sophomore year, one of my closest family members passed away suddenly and I never got the chance to say goodbye and didn't end up making it to the funeral, and still regret this. So I did some very terrible things to myself in response. Things I hadn’t done in years and things I can still see years latter.

It was a very very dark time in my life, the culmination of several years of horrific mental health tacked on top of a sense of uselessness and aimlessness in a world without someone I would typically turn to. My mental health and my emotions were all over the place, to the point where, on my good days, I severely doubted whether I even was sick, and on my bad days, I descended into a pit of destructive behavior that I often took out upon my own body. It really was a case of things getting so bad I had no idea how bad they were. I was convinced this was just my new normal, that this was going to be how I would spend the rest of my life. 

Then, at the end of May, my friend Tyler bought Undertale for me. And in June, I really sat down and played it. To say that the game couldn’t have come at a better time in my life is an understatement. At the time, I was dealing with the crippling guilt of my destructive and self-harming behavior that, at that point, only a couple of people knew about. Undertale started as an important distraction from all that. It was fun, lively, and it had a cast of characters that were interesting and easy for me to get caught up in. It was the perfect way to get my mind off things, but it ended up also being something of a coping mechanism, as well as, I believe, something that helped me steer myself toward recovery. 

While I got lost in the plot, the game play and the engrossing characters, I had no idea the emotional rollercoaster that I was really in for. I played the game, I thoroughly relished the final battle with Flowey (seriously, please talk to me about Omega Flowey holy shit) and I cried when my ending wasn’t as happy as I had hoped. My friend who bought me the game actually had to talk me down while I was an emotional wreck to tell me to pull up the game again and tell me what I initially needed to do. And while the idea of “stay determined” has come to mean a lot to me in recovery, and something (at the time) really hit me about the line “Despite everything, it’s still you” and really resonated with me, what really, deeply shook me was Alphys.

Even before getting to the True Pacifist ending, Alphys had become somewhat important to me. I’m also someone who deals with social anxiety and I could see myself a lot in how she handled her way through interpersonal relationships. Needless to say, she’s a mess, I’m a mess, and it was really nice to see that in something. I could relate to how she normally is very awkward and unsure of herself, but how that all changed the moment you got her talking about an interest or once she started to consider you a friend. I could relate to the deep, all encompassing need to impress the people you care about and, in a way, prove yourself worthy of keeping around. And at the time I was still seriously dealing with the realization that I was a bisexual, and seeing her and Undyne’s relationship really meant a lot to me. She had easily become the character I related most to. And when it came time to make my way to the True Lab, it only got deeper.

At the time, I understood Alphys’ guilt in such a visceral way. Sure, maybe I couldn’t relate to the whole scientific experimentation thing, but between still being closeted to my family and the fact that most people in my life had no idea about my mental health, I understood the kind of toxicity that builds up in you when you keep a secret like that. Maybe you don’t want to hurt people. 

Maybe you don’t want people to think less of you.

 Maybe you don’t want to scare them. 

Whatever the reason, I got it. 

On a really deep level, I got it -- the guilt that came with it and hell, even the way we handled it all was the same. 

We both sequestered ourselves away, dealing with it privately, not letting anyone else know or help because, one, it was our fault, our problem to deal with, and two, we didn’t want to face it.

We didn’t want to admit to this horrible thing we did. 

And ultimately, we ‘dealt’ with it completely alone, because, god fucking forbid we make ourselves an inconvenience to those we care about, or risk making them leave us because they now think poorly of us.

So, needless to say, when the time came to rescue the “lost souls” from Asriel, it was a very emotional time for me. 

Originally, Papyrus and Sans really got to me. Papyrus was obviously consumed with the fear that no one really respected him and I could write a thesis on Sans’ depression and how I can definitely relate to that. But Alphys was something different altogether. I remember I went to rescue her and I had saved a couple of people at that point. ‘You hate me, don’t you...?’ ‘I’ve got to keep lying...’ ‘All I do is hurt people.’ I feel like those are feelings that many, if not most people, understand and can empathize with. But for me, personally, they resonated in me. I knew and I understood how much those intrusive thoughts must come up and how much they hurt, not to mention how real they felt. At the time, my heart was still raw from the trauma I had recently been through, and her thoughts gave me pause. It wasn’t until I finished her rescue that everything hit me.

“No, that’s not true! My friends like me! And I like you, too.”

I lost it. I cried and cried, I had to stop playing the game because I was sobbing. It was something so simple, and yet it wrecked me. Just like Alphys, I’ve always felt in some way that I’m a burden to the people I love, and that, among other things, was what drove me to self-harm and relapse. “It will be better off for people,” “They won’t have to deal with my mood swings,” “They won’t have to put up with me on the days my depression takes over,” “I won’t have to worry about being a bad friend who can’t communicate right” And in that moment, it was as if the character who I had identified with most, who I felt a strange connection to, or even something in the game itself, looked me straight in the eyes and said

“Bullshit.”

“There are plenty of people who care about you, people who have helped you through this and would be deeply hurt if you had gone through with it.”

And I remembered the friends who had been by my side when I went into a spiral. One friend, who lives half a state away, who once called other mutual friends in the area and asked them to stay the night with me because he knew I was at home, crying. One friend who has talked frankly with me about depression and the importance of seeking help for recovery. And this isn’t even considering all the others who have been there for me through these feelings as they’ve shown up more recently, one of which has a shared love and connection with Undertale and has become so near and dear to my heart quicker than I honestly thought was ever possible for me. It was so moving for me. It was so refreshing. It meant the world for me to see someone I related to so deeply have the epiphany I needed, as if by proxy it would give me that epiphany too. 

And it did. It helped me start the healing process I needed so desperately. Even though I still had some rough times after, I still have rough times to this day, it helped to give me the encouragement I needed to first cope with the reality of what had happened in March and later to seek help. I am a better person because of an indie game, as crazy as that may sound. It was such an important experience at such a pivotal time for me. I’m always going to look back on it now with fondness and remember how much it helped me.

Now that the anniversary has come and gone though, I’m looking back and reflecting on that time -- how much I’ve changed, how much I’ve grown. How much it changed me and helped me to cope and grow into who I am now. I’ve done a lot of changing since then and I’m stronger now for coming out of the other end of that in one piece (even if most of those pieces are now in a different order). And if I’ve taken one thing away from all of this, it’s this:

Despite everything -- all the shit I’ve been through, all the pain, and struggle. All change and rearranging I’ve been through...

It’s still me.