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Date of last update: 8/24/2017.

Forum Name: Psychiatric Topics

Question: solitaire/patience playing - depression?

 cjones - Fri Jun 27, 2008 7:32 am

i wondered whether anyone could clarify WHAT it is that playing solitaire (endlessly!!!) does for my brain?

i think it is a coping mechanism related to depression --- but why do i do it? is it helping (not helping) me? what is in my brain that is so drawn to game after game???? i wish i could understand what is going on (in the background) when i am playing game after game after game after game after game ad infinitum...

i would love to know what is going on with my brain - in this circumstance. i think it is related to anxiety too --- maybe just reassuring me that i can solve some things at least??? i play it endlessly when i am anxious and depressed and it doesn't help at all on a practical level (!) as it means i put off and procrastinate more and don't focus on solving what needs to be addressed - but is it helping my brain on some other level? otherwise, why am i SO drawn to it. i keep playing even until 4am - even when i am completely sick of it. just over and over and over again. (spider solitaire - btw and i almost always solve it - i have a 98% win rate and the two percent was when i was learning how the game worked initially - i don't think i have lost a game in the last two hundred odd games i have played. is that something to do with it too? is that reassuring or something?)

are there any articles i could read that discuss the role of solitaire/patience addiction in depression etc.? i have also been dxed as ADD inattentive but i don't take the medication for it (ritalin - was what i was prescribed).

thanks and all the best
 DesperateDaughter - Tue Jul 08, 2008 3:55 pm

This is just an observation, and I am not a medical professional, so please take this with pounds of salt. It seems quite unreasonable that a person with attention DEFICIT disorder could be engaged in the same and fairly monotonous activity for extended periods of time. Is there another, better qualified, health care professional you can consult?

As far as you spending time playing solitaire (it can be anything, some years ago I played a particular scrabble-type game on yahoo for a while with as much devotion), I believe it is a very ill-advised coping mechanism. It is a way to numb your brain and to avoid the issues that are causing you to be anxious and/or depressed. The unfortunate side-effect is that when you have finished numbing yourself with solitaire, you may discover that the problems you were trying to avoid in the first place have grown larger, so the cycle perpetuates itself.

The most helpful tool I have found in coping with this is self-discipline. It takes a while to develop self-discipline (especially if you, like I have done on many occasions too, are staying up until 4AM wasting away your energy, your health, and hours of your life - it means your self-discipline is at a very low level). There is a lot of information on the web and in bookstores about procrastination and self-discipline. Try doing a google search and try to use the information you find to your benefit.
 cjones - Thu Jul 10, 2008 12:34 pm

thanks desperate daughter (oh dear - does this mean i ought advise you re. your mother??? i hope not given that my advice is likely worse than useless :-)... ah well)

but yes, i do have terrible levels of self-discipline in certain areas of my life - particularly when i am anxious. it is extraordinary but it is almost similar to a paralysis (or a weird tic of some sort that won't stop!) --- i can be sat in a chair and literally yelling at myself in my head to "get up and go and get that pint of milk or whatever" and i simply won't move until there is some sort of external stimulus like a phone going or something like that to break it... it is very odd the way my self-discipline is useless. so i need to do something to make it stronger so that i can over-ride the side that will just sit in the chair paralysed with anxiety... (or playing solitaire non-stop)

re. the ADD --- i thought my psychiatrist was great, a lovely guy and i do believe that he was right. i think it is sort of now accepted that ADDers can also "hyper-focus" from time to time --- just that they can't exactly choose when and where so to do! unfortunately.

but it is all good food for thought - as it goes i don't take medication for the ADD-ness or even for the anxiety so in some respects being dxed right or wrong is not so worrrying as i am not being treated for it chemically! i am sort of anti-medication for myself but extremely pro-it for those that want it...... and i think it can work wonders - altho i would doubt that it should be used long-term or more than a year, just my own point of view and based on no factual knowledge.

i think using it - as you say - in conjunction with learning some good self-discipline techniques would be a great start but perhaps i can try the self-discipline techniques without the meds and see how i go. i will google but if you have any specific book recommendation then chuck it out here - i am all EARS! (or eyes, i guess, in this particular medium) all help gratefully received... :-)

re. your mum - i did read your post and am very sorry to say that i have nothing in any way as useful to offer as your post to me.

from a brief read and outsider point of view - i can only come up with the cliched fact that --- your mum is your mum and there is nothing more you can do than accept her as she is - as annoying/wrong-headed/muddled-up/irritating/exasperating - that is who she is and bad luck for you. lots of people are 'phucked' up and many of them have children. it's all a muddle of fear and ignorance and all the rest. but well done for having got yourself to be a great loving mum despite an appaling role model (my mother is the same as you - my grandmother was an absolutely appaling, awful bitter terrible person and i don't actually remember her ever saying a positive thing to me her entire life... she threw shoes at our head; kicked us under the table whilst spitting "sit up straight" or "pass your mother the salt" etc.; anything you had achieved at school her stock answer would be "well, that's not very good, is it?" or "well, what is interesting about that?" -------- and my mother is FANTASTIC, loving, kind, there and brilliant and how she (and you) managed to do that given their upbringing, i will never know!).

as it goes i never really hated my grandmother - i just didn't get her. and that seemed to bug her more than my sister's who would get riled by her and answer back. i was just totally bemused and kinda lost and would go "oh, ok - ummm" and wander off...
 DesperateDaughter - Sun Jul 13, 2008 10:00 am

Hello CJones, your description of sitting in a chair and not being able to summon the willpower to do your mind's bidding is very similar to how I have felt in the past when quite depressed. It does feel akin to paralysis, when your body seems incapable of following the commands sent by your brain, and can be extremely frustrating.

Investigating the root causes of the possible depression that may be causing this can prove quite helpful. In my case, it was coming to terms with my past (childhood and beyond) traumas, understanding that the contentious relationship I have with my mother will not improve much without her participation (no matter how hard I try), and internalizing the notion that the only things I can manipulate/change/control in this world are my own actions and reactions. This has been tremendously liberating.

Also, do not underestimate the power of sleep. I find that I revert to undesirable behavior patterns much more easily when I am fatigued, and my bleary-eyed self rarely makes good decisions at 3 AM. Finding a way to set yourself up for a regular and adequate sleep schedule can be a significant step in your recovery.

The most important thing I can say is that there is much hope for and an excellent chance of recovery, if you find the right tools and invest the time to help yourself. The tools may range from books and websites to a good therapist and a solid group of friends. One of the websites that I have found very helpful is written/maintained by someone named Steve Pavlina ( (I found it by googling "self-discipline" more than a year ago). Nearly all of his ideas are neither new nor original, but are intelligently put forth in one well-organized place. I believe he has a book in the works (not sure if it has been released yet, and I have not yet seen it). A very close friend of mine has been participating in what is termed "zone healing" and/or "concept therapy" (not sure it they are one and the same), which appears to be working very well for her (but it did not seem to suit me as well). So, it may take you a little while to find the methods/tools/support that will help you live your life in a manner that is satisfactory to you, but the effort will be well worth it.

As far as responding to my super-long post about my mom, please feel no obligation (I hope that is not how things work around here... haha). I think the mere act of writing it was sufficiently therapeutic for me. I had had a particularly difficult conversation with her and needed to vent. There was a lot I left out and many things that probably were not significant enough to warrant their inclusion. I am 99% certain that she has a very mild form of borderline personality disorder, which becomes exacerbated when she is in under stress. I have been reading "Surviving the Borderline Parent", "Children of the Self-Absorbed", and "Stop Walking on Eggshells", which have all helped me frame my relationship with my mother in proper light and given me the ability to heal faster. This brings me back to the original point I was making - understanding and dealing with/treating the root cause(s) of your depression may be the first and most significant step you need to take. (It could be anything - the loss/change of a job, loss of a relationship or a loved one, etc.)
 cjones - Thu Jul 24, 2008 3:30 am

dear desperate daughter - what a wonderfully helpful reply, yet again!!! am looking forward to checking out the website mentioned too.

i did already write a long response to your post but it got lost 'in transit' somewhere... not that the content is much to be grieved over but hmmmm - perhaps my good angel is trying to stop me spending so much time on the computer???

re. your mum - i think you do an excellent job. i would think it is entirely right that her symptoms get more severe when she is stressed or anxious (mine certainly do). and i think despite all her success in an intellectual field i suppose there may be a case for saying that she somewhat failed in "to thine own self be true" - you mentioned that she married out of fear of becoming an old maid. but nonetheless that doesn't really give her licence to then take it out on her poor husbands and you!

i think there is always time to change ones underlying habit patterns - instead of focusing on what is wrong with YOUR life perhaps your mother might look to see what she would TRULY like to change in her own (hahahaha - i can almost hear you laughing at this impossibility!!! :-)). i notice when people are happy they rarely criticise other people's lives but when unhappy that is the first thing they do (especially mothers - because they have the excuse that they do it because they want you to be happy!!! which i am sure is part-way true too but not quite the whole story).

i wish you all the very best - although i feel that you are already managing it extremely well. and i am going to take the subtle hints of my good angel and try not to spend too much time on the 'puter so will sign off (not to mention this site is impossibly annoying in the way you have to wait a billion days to see your post and then another billion to see whether there has been a response!).

why should life be so tricky i wonder????? - of course they say it is perfect - just that we fail to see it right...
perhaps i need an optician.

 cjones - Mon Aug 11, 2008 11:48 am

hi there desperate daughter --- don't know if you are still logging in/checking in or not. i went to the website briefly altho i have to admit i was slightly hmmmming about the title whatever/whatever for Smart People.

but for sure i reckon the tips'll be great. was having a terrible day of procrastination anxiety but FORTUNATELY a gas man came around to check the gas appliances and so flipped me into a slightly better mental state.

i read - on some other google site - about the fact that if you have strict or authoratative parents you are more likely to suffer from procrastination. i don't think i did - altho my mother is extremely efficient but it also said and i am sure this does apply to me part-way this whole "fear of failure". my ego just can't bear it - i really believe that.

it hits me so hard when i get it wrong or phuck up through my procrastination/ADD crap and it takes me days and days and days to recover. it's pathetic! talk about walking wounded - totally ridiculous. anyway, just thought i'd write as i am kinda outta the total paralysis stage but not quite into the being able to manage going out (well, that's not true i do intend to leave the house in about twenty minutes or so).

ugh! just neurological problems - phphphpffhpfhfpfff! such a waste of time and energy. i spend ninety percent of my energy just trying to balance my brain, i swear...

still i haven't played spider solitaire at ALL since i first wrote... i don't know if this is a good or bad sign - it's not that i haven't procrastinated (sheesh - what am i doing right now, eh????) but i have stayed away from the solitaire maybe i just don't need it so much right now. i have minimised my responsibilities to barely survival limit and that helps me. responsibility is a killer for me too. ho-di-ho. all good.

hope you're still surviving your mum! mad old bat that she is (sorry, just kidding!)

i think you are probably right not to worry about not having made it to being a Nobel Peace prize winner (but there's still time, right????? just teasing again!) but ya know - i suppose the difficulty is if one feels one is going on a downward trajectory... life getting smaller or meaner or whatever. there just are some people i know whose life goes in one direction expansion and growth and stuff and others (i suppose that is the yin and yang of it) that just seem to get smaller and less and less and less in their expectations or actualities or everything - their horizons get narrower and narrower until there's barely anything there at all.

it's not so much the thing of it but the direction of it. stagnation is a killer - anyway that's what i think.

but it is all good. right i better go. have a good one.
 Dr. E. Seigle - Fri Aug 15, 2008 5:48 pm

Dear cjones,

It sounds that your addiction to playing solitaire is a learned behavior which may represent an avoidance of doing other things which may make you anxious. Do you find that you are not taking care of other things which are important to do because you are playing cards? As in any addiction, there is a short-term benefit, but it is dysfunctional in the long wrong.

I would suggest that you see a psychiatrist or psychologist to more definitively assess this, and make sure that there is not another disorder masked by this, such as Obssessive-Compulsive d/o, a depessive disorder, or another anxiety disorder.

Good luck! E. Seigle MD
 cjones - Sat Aug 16, 2008 9:45 am

Hello dr seigle

it is avoidance - i play because i can't face, for example, looking at my emails... i can't face that because i know there are things in there that i ought to have done and i haven't and i can't quite deal or summon the necessary emotional resources to deal with the onslaught of guilt and general self-loathing that ensues the moment i see an (even very nicely phrased) email from someone reminding me to do something.

unfortunately, often enough, even the email/gentle reminder doesn't make me do what i need to do --- rather it just sets off the paralysis where i freeze because i can't cope and then feel sick and unable to function for days.

i don't know why i can't cope - i am genetically useless or something or maybe it is the ADD, i don't know (i suspect, from reading others input on the subject that is often strikingly similar to my own, that at least half the problem is the ADD but it is so subtle - i can't tell the difference between ADD and just general uselessness!)

i HATE responsibility. i loathe it. (although i am not lazy - if you give me a simple task like weeding the garden or cleaning --- that's fine) but despite being a whatever 'gifted' child and put up years etc. etc. i can't function at all well. apparently the executive function bit can be a bit impaired in ADD - so i suppose mine is totally fried.

but i guess that was my curiosity - i think sometimes the endless playing of solitaire helps prepare me for the emotional onslaught when i read my emails so that instead of being incapacitated for days --- i can almost get on with it. it takes me playing non-stop for a long time - but i think it numbs my brain a bit so that the emotion can't kick in so strong --- so i have time to assimilate and almost respond to the email before i get emotionally blind-sided by the onslaught of guilt and self-loathing (i just wondered whether that was a possibility)... ya know?

i understand it is a total waste of time on many levels but i think it might help me somewhere (a little) - it's like when i was volunteering at an orphanage in Romania.... some of the really disturbed children would do this constant repetitive rocking thing and i think somehow the repetition is a bit numbing a bit calming and i kinda wonder whether that (plus the fact that i am solving things - which i probably find reassuring because i can't solve anything in my real life) is a little what the solitaire-playing does for me?

anyway - i guess it is not so important. i should probably see a psych but i kinda know that they are gonna want to put me on Ritalin or Adderall because that is what they have suggested previously and i just don't want to go there. i have a weird outlook on life --- which is probably more religious than not and for that reason i do not want to take any mind-altering drugs despite the fact that ALL my family would love me to try them. i would LOVE to be more efficient and "live up to potential" (ugh how many billion times have ADDers heard that throughout their lives???) but not at the cost - and it's a kind of Rubicon for me. I don't even want to try it once. i just don't. i did ask my last psych whether he would give me some coping mechanisms without the drugs but i think he thought it was pointless (plus he was very expensive and i don't have private medical coverage - so that was that).

i guess it is dysfunctional - but there are enough functional types out there and perhaps they appreciate a screw-up like myself to feel good about themselves (in a "there but for the grace of God go I" kinda way). one day. one day.

somebody has to be dysfunctional, right???? or perhaps not. i could definitely do without it - i loathe letting people down and i do it constantly. you know the Sufis talk about "dying to self" and i always think well, my self is so patently completely crap it's not that much of a sacrifice!!!!!! :-)

thanks for replying!

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