How Stardew Valley Is Literally Curing my Depression

When your life is on “nightmare mode”, it helps to have someone you can relate to. Even if they’re made of pixels.

Stardew Valley is an indie farming simulation role-playing video game developed by Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone and published by Chucklefish.

I didn’t want to write this article. Actually I don’t want to write it at all. I’m pretty anxious to write it, in fact. And posting it?

It fills me with nigh-nauseating, palpable dread.

But I’m tired of pretending that entrepreneurs live in the shiny, sparkly “Living The Dream” land that LinkedIn and Medium both claim they do.

So let’s be honest here, first off:

If you’re an entrepreneur like me, you’ll likely experience depression at some point. Maybe even often.

The uncertainty of the future, the financial feast or famine, the incredible amount of work — especially if you’re a solopreneur like myself — the never-ending projects, the intense schedule. It really does wear you down if you’re not careful.

And despite being careful, even I have my moments of despair.

Now that you know, let’s talk about what’s helping me work through it all…and who.

Nope, not a therapist.
Nope, not a support group either.
And certainly not a self-help book.

It’s a video game called Stardew Valley. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Stardew Valley is a farming simulator with roleplaying game elements where you can marry people, grow crops, raise animals, do quests, and fish.

It was developed solely by Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone and published by Chucklefish. I can relate to that workload, believe you me.

At first blush, it doesn’t really seem like anything special, right?

So how did this quaint pixelated slice-of-life game come to be my version of therapy? How has it been helping me escape the “black hole void of suck” that is depression?

It’s kind of a weird story, actually

It started with finding myself in the game.

Well, the closest approximation I’ve ever seen.

And then came the self-reflection. And then came the healing.

Meet Sebastian, the broody goth freelancer who has my exact same haircut:

Sebastian is one of the eligible bachelors in the game, and the only character I can physically bring myself to romance. Because we have too much in common.

He’s a science fiction nerd, loves music and plays in a band, he’s a freelance programmer, plays roleplaying games, and reads comics.

Oh, and he has full-blown functional depression, is a career-oriented workaholic with avoidant anxiety, and struggles to find meaning in his life.

True story.

You can be both depressed and still functional. I know, newsflash.

And I didn’t understand that this was happening to me. Because I was excelling, and my business was thriving, and I was kicking so much ass…

Until I started playing Stardew Valley.

Until I started trying to woo the emo nerd who basically lives in a dungeon.

I didn’t understand.

I was staring into a mirror.

#RELATABLE

In order to get the townsfolk in Stardew Valley to open up to you, you need to give them gifts.

Sebastian likes weird rocks for some reason. That was all I knew at the time. I also liked his hair, so I thought I’d give his character route a go.

So after pelting him with Frozen Tears and Quartz for a seemingly unending amount of time, he started to open up to me.

And when he opened up to me, I was given a gift as well. The rare gift of being able to observe your life from the outside — as corny as that sounds.

It’s sobering. And it was entirely unexpected.

The face you make when you realize you have high functioning depression:

This type of sentiment has been echoing in my head lately. But I brushed it off. “No big deal. I’m just stressed. It’s whatever. I’m good,” I thought.

Until Sebastian dropped this line like 549 Iridium Bars on my face, that is.

I was forced to actually think about this character’s situation. And that forced me to think about my own, too.

When I’m so overwhelmed I can’t think straight, I default to self sabotage and become a workaholic.

I default to not giving myself the grace, patience, and understanding that I extend to others, and instead I become my own worst enemy.

I know. It sounds nonsensical. I’m loved. I know that, really.

But depressed people have a very, very narrow focus around their own pain.

And the energy draining affliction can make it hard to care about yourself, and it can make you feel like no one cares at all. Even if that’s entirely not true.

It also makes me and people like me throw ourselves into our work harder. Because if we can just get this one project out of the way, we’ll have some time to breathe.

After several 14 hour days, let me tell you now and forever:

The work is never over.

Unless you make time to breathe, you’ll be holding your breath for your entire life.

This is what having high functioning depression (with a nicotine habit) while freelancing from home looks like:

All Sebastian friggin’ does but sleep is work, eat, smoke and indulge in escapist fantasies.

He also plays in a band, but I’m talking about his actual daily schedule here.

His life is like that Rihanna song (warning: butts), with some sashimi thrown in, nicotine, and some DnD.

Sound familiar? It should. Because that’s me most of the time. It’s also probably you at least in some ways.

And it’s me when I’m depressed, but to the 12th power. Which is unhealthy.

I didn’t realize how much of my life I was wasting working myself into the floor to avoid people, and fill a void I didn’t even know I had.

Avoiding social interactions, staying indoors, making excuses.

Things just kept adding up. And I couldn’t ignore it.

After gaining his friendship, I realized that Sebastian isolates himself from others. He actually engineers his own isolation.

And as I’ve been so down the past few weeks, I have too.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for Sebastian. He does have great friends, and when your farmer ends up taking the leap and marrying this emo-goth-nerd, he starts to feel more comfortable.

And he stops trying to run away from his life situation.

I have someone like that, you know — the love of my life. With him I feel like I don’t have to hold up the entire world, work myself into the dirt, and put on a brave face even when I’m feeling horrible.

But I forget that sometimes. That life isn’t all about work and stress and feeling terribly lost about the direction I’m going in.

When I get caught up in the Hustle, I need a little reminder every now and then to break free…even if that reminder is just a pile of pixels.

Stardew Valley gave me a way to see myself in someone else. Even if they’re not real.

Farmer Alex and Emo Programmer Husband enjoying exhaustion and coffee together.

ConcernedApe wrote a very true-to-life character when he created Sebastian. Maybe not everyone’s life — heck, maybe not most peoples’ — but certainly my life.

By seeing myself in Sebastian, I saw where I had been, and I could somehow relate to myself again. As weird as that sounds.

And when my life felt like it was on “nightmare mode”, it brought me back to “normal”.


For the people out there still stuck in the mines of your mind, cracking rocks and trying to find gems of happiness — I’m here for you, and I know what it feels like.

Try to just take each day one at a time, just like in Stardew Valley.

Accomplish just one tiny thing each day and please remember to take care of yourself.

And if you want to talk, or play multiplayer mode together, let me know.

I’ll be here in Pelican town, throwing rocks at my video game husband.


Special thanks to Renato P. dos Santos for his continued support.

Kira Leigh is a writer, gamer, digital creative, and small business owner.
Send her a line or catch her on LinkedIn if you want to work together.

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