How Virtual Reality Changed My Reality

My friend bought me a virtual reality (VR) headset for Christmas. He ordered it before Black Friday and before I had the chance to decline it.

It was a very generous gift, but I had not asked for it or even hinted about it. I’d only had a VR headset on my head a handful of times. I couldn’t imagine choosing virtual reality over my reality very often. I suspected he would be wasting his money on a valuable gift that would end up gathering dust on a shelf -- perhaps alongside my Wii.

Plus, I had a thing against video games. As a former teacher, I’ve watched enough kids (including one of my own) trade valuable sleep and time for addictive and sometimes violent video games. How could I justify spending time on virtual reality when surviving my own reality was requiring all of my precious time and energy?

VR headsets are used in cancer clinics

But I was born with a lazy eye, and although I had cosmetic surgery, I still do not have depth perception. My friend knew that VR headsets had been used in vision therapy clinics to encourage the eyes (and brain) to focus together to see a 3-dimensional image.

I also had recently read an article that virtual reality headsets are being used in cancer clinics to help lessen patients’ anxiety, depression, and pain. A VR headset blocks everything out except what is on the screen. So a crowded, noisy waiting room can become time spent gliding over mountains or a trip to outer space. A stressful stay in the hospital can become a vacation to the ocean or deep relaxation in a guided meditation.

It's good to take VR slow at first

My friend had warned me to take it slow to avoid dizziness and nausea, but I couldn’t resist the temptation. I immediately jumped off of a cliff with a squirrel suit, traveled to the space station, and looked down from the highest apex of a roller coaster. My stomach did flips as I visited some of the most beautiful and exciting places from the comfort of my recliner.

My headset also came with hand controllers that allow me to be interactive. So I learned how to cast a fishing rod, swing a golf club, throw a basketball, shoot a gun, and hold cards for a game of poker.

VR for fun, games and socializing

I am not a gambler or a card shark; I had to learn how to play poker and how to bet, win, and lose fake money. In the process, I met fellow players from all over the world -- a student from Turkey, a helicopter pilot during Vietnam, even squeaky-voiced toddlers who stole their VR headsets from their unsuspecting parents.

All the hours I have spent talking, playing, and laughing with others has really boosted my spirits in a year in which I spent so much time alone. Plus, I am almost always less physically or mentally fatigued after a visit to my virtual world.

In virtual reality, we can be anyone we want to be

In virtual reality, we do use our real voices. But in every other way, we are anonymous players with usernames and cartoon avatars. Any time I want, I can choose and change my appearance. Do I want blonde hair or funky green? A sexy dress or a casual sweater? Wrinkles or not? Definitely not!

I get to decide what and how much I wish to divulge to other players about my reality. Nobody knows who I really am or where I live. They don’t know my age, my occupation, or my political views. And they have no idea that I live with blood cancer unless I decide to tell them.

How virtual reality has helped me

I used to think I had to constantly deal with reality. Always the realist, rarely the idealist, I didn’t see the value in daydreaming or in playing virtual games with avatars.

For many reasons, I now see it so differently. Virtual reality has allowed me to be myself but feel (and look) younger and healthier. It has given me the opportunity to meet interesting people outside the world of cancer. Plus, I get to experience the joy of new things and far-away places and just have fun. And joy and fun in any form help me to focus more on the positives in reality.

It has not made much difference in how my eyes see 3D yet. But it has changed how I see myself. I used to be the tired, middle-aged lady with myeloma, resting in her recliner at the end of the day. Now I’m just a hot, sassy girl in a sexy red dress, drinking a virtual martini. And oh, can she ever play a mean game of poker!

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