I have multiple disabilities but the ones I want to talk about in relation to Virtual Reality are specifically my physical disabilities, and my mental health and wellness.
I was not physically disabled until 2008, and pre-disability? I was a runner.
Nothing felt better to me than putting on my gear, getting outside and running until my body and mind were absolutely numb. In this state, I was running on fully automatic. I had no thoughts, no feelings, no sensations, no anxiety, no emotions, and no negative voices streaming through my head from traumas past and present. In this magical bubble I was FREE for minutes, or hours, depending on the run.
I ran through it all! -30 ˚ Celsius, blizzards, +30 ˚ Celsius, rain, I ran at 3 am some days if that was what my brain and body needed. It was absolutely MY number one mental health and wellness tool.
One foot after the other. One breath after another. Simple. Free.
I would leave the house feeling like I was dangling over a cliff, and I would return feeling happy, calm, tired (not fatigued – there is a huge difference) and centered.
2008 hit, and my physical presence changed drastically, and with my first physical disability I lost my ability to run. I mourned the loss hard. While I should have been grateful to be alive against all odds, I wasn’t. I was mad. I was sad. I was depressed. I was trapped in this body, which was trapped in terrible, anxiety ridden days of darkness.
Eventually, I was able to recover enough to do wheelchair workouts, I even challenged myself by wheeling a private half marathon with my wife (21 km/13 miles)! We wheeled from Rundle Park to Government House Park, and it was amazing! BUT? I didn’t get that feeling (though I did get a wicked overuse injury).
Since then, I have tried so many different workouts but all of them either hurt me/caused injury/aggravated my disabilities or did not feel like they were working me hard enough to do any good. My disabilities have changed, and I will say that I am no longer using a wheelchair, but I am still very much mobility impaired/disabled.
On Saturday January 8, 2022 I got an Oculus Quest 2 and my life has once again shifted. It is now MY number one mental health and wellness tool. For the first time in a very long time? I forget that I am disabled. I forget that I live with extreme pain. I put this thing on, and I am transported to a world that is amazing!
I have a meditation app that I use in so many beautifully customizable ways! Sometimes I just go and sit in there for hours. (Guided Meditation VR).
The app I really want to talk about though? Is Beat Saber. I found my freedom again in this highly customizable app that I can adapt to MY abilities.
Every day since Saturday, I have gone into Beat Saber on my Oculus (Quest 2) and worked until I had sweat running like a faucet, I kid you not. I usually play for about 45 minutes before my dog loses her patience with this heckery and demands cuddles, and when I peel the mask off my face? I feel like I can get through whatever is coming my way. I feel calm and centered. I feel … well.
SO, if you are thinking about VR – and you live with disability here is what I can tell you. It is not just a gaming system but a physical and mental wellness tool!
- There is something for everyone on this thing – games, videos, movies, chat worlds, exercise, meditation, you name it – it’s on here.
- It is AMAZING for mental health (it could be addictive, so you want to be mindful of that if you have a history of addiction).
- It is expensive (and for that I am ABSOLUTELY acknowledging my privilege. I wish that EVERYONE could have one of these things, truly).
- Unfortunately, not every game/app will work with every disability Ashley Coffey started a fantastic list of games and where they are good or bad in relation to various disabilities. (links below)
- There is also an AMAZING group called SpoonieVr (linked below) which is a support community for VR Enthusiasts living with invisible chronic illness, disabilities, and/or rare diseases.
If you have the chance to try one before you buy one, do it! They are a bit of an investment but in MY experience, it has been one of the best investments I have made in my health, both mental and physical!
(This is to acknowledge that some people might feel that my description of feeling trapped in my body and disability might be triggering, and I ask that you hold space for me – my experiences are my own and my thoughts and feelings around my own disabilities are valid. I do not believe that being disabled is negative or positive, I believe that every moment of my life with disability is unique to me, and I do my very best to honor my feelings in the moment whether they are positive or negative and this in no way changes my advocacy for accessibility)
Ashley Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashleycoffeyokc/
Ashley Twitter: https://twitter.com/ashleycoffey_