Ask yourself: when was the last time you swung on a swing? Flew a kite? Attempted to do a random cartwheel, or have a water balloon fight? As an adult, when was the last time you played? Have you ever thought about the true definition of “play”? The definition of play is to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation, rather than a serious, or practical purpose. Google it! You’ll find many variations of this same definition, all with an element of activities that revolve around joy. Did you notice something? Did you see the part where it forbade adults to play? No? Me neither! This notion caused me to wonder, when as adults did we convince ourselves that play was no longer a necessary part of our lives?
To begin, I think it’s important to understand how the popularized and coined term of “intersectionality” came to be. Intersectionality in and of itself was defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw as “how systems of oppression overlap to create distinct experiences for people with multiple identity categories”. Crenshaw developed this definition as a Black Woman witnessing the lived experiences of other Black Women. So, how does this correlate to Fantasy and mental health? It’s simple really. To deconstruct the harms of erasure, we must understand the history that we are attempting to build upon. Now, this is a large concept to tackle, so put a pin in it and make sure you stick around for part two of the series! Today, we will start with the basics!
While you ponder my questions, allow me to introduce myself. Hi! I’m Phoenix Luxe! I’m a fae and writer, a therapist, and doctoral student! I’m someone who has always had a love for Fantasy, games, and joy. Like many of you, I thought that these things were only small luxuries to soothe the aches of the daily grind, the mundane. I had learned joy and leisure were things to be earned. What did this look like in my daily routine? This meant waiting until Friday, the weekend, or a holiday to consume the things I enjoyed. It meant agonizing over whether I should use my brief weekend to complete the newest video game, binge my favorite anime, or be “responsible” and complete all my adult errands. As I got older, the time I allotted for my small creature comforts became smaller, with my responsibilities and stressors competing for the largest portions of my time. It wasn’t until I started working towards my doctoral degree two years ago that I realized I had sacrificed intentional joy to navigate adulthood. In May of 2021, while trying to sort through my research interests and preparing for my second year of my doctoral program, I stumbled upon something called Black Fae Day. It was through my discovery that the strangest thing occurred; an ethereal being by the name of Jasmine La Fleur put out a call to all Black Folks to dress up, and be part of a collective fantasy. For those new to Fantasy, Black Fae Day is a holiday, a digital hashtag movement that rocked algorithms, and is now a business dedicated to increasing representation of Black People in High Fantasy. Jasmine La Fleur, the co-founder of Black Fae Day, had somehow managed to collectively summon the inner child, the dreamers, and fairies all over the world within the Black community.
I felt the smallest tingle in my chest at the opportunity to be part of something fun and magical. Immediately after that tingle, the responsibilities, my lack of funds, and my six-year-old cell phone smacked me in the face with reality. I had research to review, I couldn’t afford a costume. And how was I going to take any pictures with my cell phone looking like it had lost a fight with a sidewalk? After evaluating all of these things, I convinced myself to wait until next year. However, that little tingle in my chest I mentioned earlier would be my saving grace. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to participate. Pretty soon, I didn’t care as much about an intricate costume to show off, but boy was my inner child excited to get my butterfly wings I had ordered online! It was in that moment I had caught the spirit of the holiday and what I now recognize as the spirit of play. The same spirit that encourages children to splash in rain puddles and make capes out of towels. The same spirit that tickled the belly and produced deep laughter.
Black Fae Day finally came, and I quite literally spread my wings. On that hot summer day, for the first time since I was a child, my thirty-year-old self played! I spun around letting my wings flutter, I ran down a nature trail with my arms outstretched, catching the wind. I took pictures basking in the sun. I named my first fantasy “faesona” after my favorite Disney Princess, the ever magical and always underrated Kidagakash Nedakh of Atlantis. I experienced the freedom I had sacrificed as a child; it had found me again in adulthood. I was outside for maybe an hour, but the lasting impression of finding the joy of playing again had been planted deep inside of me.
So, I know you’re thinking Phoenix, what’s the purpose of this story? Inspiring maybe, but what’s the point? What if I said that there was another way to work through your trauma? To relieve stress? To connect with yourself? What if I told you to play? I’m sure that many people would be reticent, maybe even doubtful of this notion that as an adult, playing could be helpful. I would dare say that playing is not only helpful, but necessary. Follow me down this secret and magical path and I can show you how!
According to Lisa Heiden (2008), Play Therapy is a type of therapy that utilizes play as the method for communication instead of the traditional talk therapy. It is most often used with children, but it can also be used with adults regardless of age, ethnicity, or background. Play allows people to experiment with different roles, learn and try new skills, and create, or recreate, events from life. This means that anyone can play! Even you! Play therapy can help with the restoration of brain chemistry, causing the whole brain to operate in a more efficient way. How does play therapy do this? One way is that physical movement aids in releasing stress and tension within the body. Therapeutic methods like psychodrama can allow for the release of unresolved issues through enacting concerns to achieve new insight about ourselves, or others. Psychodrama is, in simplest terms, acting out a scene, real or imagined, to work through unresolved issues, or gain a better understanding of an experience. The central premise of psychodrama is that spontaneity and creativity are crucial for the balanced, integrated personality and that humans are all improvising actors on the stage of life. Meaning, role playing lived or imagined scenarios can help with relieving stress, gaining perspective, or understanding the world around us. Does it sound familiar? Hmmm…cosplay anyone? Psychodrama is only one method of play therapy that can benefit the adult experience. There are many other interventions and tools that can be utilized.
So, how do you bring a little bit of play into your lives outside of therapy? There are many ways to play: board games, video games, coloring books, flying kites, swimming, a spontaneous race with friends, and cosplay. The possibilities are endless. I challenge you to find a way to integrate play in your daily life. Play in a way that inspires you to create, play in a way that allows you to use your body, play in a way that makes you laugh deeply from your belly.
Again, I ask you: When was that last time you played?
Love, Trust, and Pixie Dust
Play therapy with adults. The Play Therapist. (2018, June 8). https://theplaytherapist.com/play-therapy-adults/
Heiden, Lisa E., “Play therapy with adults” (2008). Graduate Research Papers. 833