Generally speaking, I’m a pretty positive and mentally strong guy. My natural state is thankfully to be in a good, jovial mood, appreciative for my very many blessings in life. I feel truly fortunate to lead the life I do, with a family I adore, in my ancestral homeland, doing poker media work for a living.
And yet, since the world turned upside down back in March 2020, I’ve found myself having very real challenges to keep going. With alarming frequency, often out of nowhere, I find myself dealing with feelings of general malaise and depression. Between lockdowns, quarantines, and an incessant 24/7 news cycle bearing bad tidings, it’s almost as though some mysterious force seems to be working overtime to erode my hope and faith in a brighter future, and that things will be OK. This has somehow happened despite my ostensibly having had one of my best years professionally speaking, and more than ever for which to be grateful.
Without meaning to sound presumptuous, I feel that if someone like me is having these sorts of difficulties and issues, I imagine many folks out there who are perhaps “not as strong” – for lack of a better phrase – are truly and genuinely struggling.
Until the world gets back to normal, our collective and individual struggles are sure to continue. Of course, while we’ll all have our weak moments from time to time, it’s best if we try to equip ourselves with as many tools as possible to properly handle the slings and arrows that life throws at us.
I’m no mental health guru, and if you’re genuinely facing serious depression issues it’s critical that you not be afraid to seek professional assistance.
With that said, I’ve taken the time to reflect on what it is that’s helped me slog through this pandemic. Aside from my very strong support system of family and local friends, I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that my engagement in poker and with the poker community has proven essential to my wellbeing.
Here’s a list of what’s worked for me and what has quite often proven to be the antidote to my recurring malady.
Watching Poker Vlogs
May the Good Lord bless Brad Owen and Andrew Neeme! In a time where travel has been impossible and my natural longing for playing poker in Las Vegas has been forcibly exacerbated, Brad and Andrew’s vlogging has provided a welcome, much needed substitute. Through their lenses, just seeing the inside of the casinos and that there’s still great action going at the felt helps keep my internal poker fire going.
Then there are the special ingredients that make this pair of poker vloggers videos so endearing, namely Andrew’s knack for Neistat-esque cinematography and storytelling, and Brad’s penchant for finding boatloads of humor at the felt. Every time I see the notification of a new episode waiting to be watched, I know I’m in for a real treat and something that’ll surely make me smile.
Home Poker Games
An absolute lifeline for me, I count myself exceedingly fortunate to have played in about three dozen home games since the onset of the pandemic.
When things first went topsy-turvy and nobody understood the magnitude of what the world was facing, we didn’t dare gather in person. Instead we moved the home game online, and incorporated Zoom such that we could see one another.
Over time, more and more members of my two home game groups felt comfortable enough convening in person. As an extrovert who thrives on interpersonal interaction, it’s difficult to encapsulate just how important these poker meet-ups have been for me. Winning or losing has mattered far less to me than just having company, sitting around a poker table, and having a good time with friends. As my buddy Kenny likes to say, “it’s my five-hour vacation.”
On top of that, the pre-game build-up and post-game banter on our WhatsApp groups never fails to put me in a good mood.
My Dad hasn’t played poker for 6 months. He finally returned to the home game tonight.
Let’s show Dr. Joe some love, folks ❤️ pic.twitter.com/kzvhwgsQ4y
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) September 10, 2020
Poker Podcast Hosting
Starting to host The Orbit and the CardsChat podcast has given me the opportunity to speak with dozens of wonderful people in the poker community and have great conversations that aren’t politics- or pandemic-related. As those two topics have completely overwhelmed our daily discourse, having a “built in” mechanism via which to discuss something else, both on camera and behind the scenes with my co-producer colleagues, have been so incredibly beneficial to my psyche.
Even if you’re not someone who’d consider starting your own poker podcast, just reaching out privately to your poker friends for a phone call can be so beneficial. Back in April I suggested starting a “calling station” campaign, and I still stand by those words.
Public Words of Care and Support
A while back, I learned a very important life lesson from my friend and fellow poker media member Lee Davy: there’s strength in vulnerability. In the age of Instagram, we’re becoming increasingly conditioned to the idea of a picture-perfect life, but for 99.9% of people life is anything but. Even the strongest of us have our weak moments, and IT’S OK TO LET OTHERS KNOW THIS!
Just yesterday, I Tweeted this:
I had been having an impossibly shitty day today; really in a bad, dark place.
Over the last several hours I had the good fortune to speak with half a dozen friends (you know who you are).
I’m feeling much better now, and grateful.
If you’re down, reach out to people for help.
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) January 7, 2021
The responses from the poker community have been overwhelming in their empathy and love. I had decided to share what I had gone through over the course of my day in order to possibly help someone. I literally wrote “I’m feeling much better now.” I was unprepared for just how positive the response would be. The virtual hugs I received in part inspired me to write this today.
However uncomfortable it feels, I believe that putting yourself out there will result in an outpouring of love from others. We’re ALL going through so much.
Private Words of Care and Positivity
The aforementioned notwithstanding, not everyone is comfortable publicly expressing themselves, and THAT’S OK, TOO!
Since the pandemic began, I’ve received dozens of unsolicited emails that have been so incredibly helpful to me. Some have been to privately send words of support and encouragement for the poker media work I’ve been doing, while others have been to thank me for the competitions and giveaways I’ve been running. I cannot fully express how much these have meant to me. To receive acknowledgement that what I do matters to people is so precious.
Moreover, in response to this, I’ve also received plenty of emails asking for poker-related advice. It’s so incredibly fulfilling to feel that my experience can potentially assist someone. To those who’ve written me, you may feel like I’m helping you, but let me assure you that you are helping me just as much.
Writing is becoming a lost art, but words matter so much. I encourage you all to take the time to write to someone, whether you need help, want to say thank you, or just send words of encouragement. It’s completely worthwhile.
My Poker Partners, Contributors, and Collaborators
As mentioned, I thrive on interpersonal interaction. The nature of the work that I do necessitates near constant digital interaction. Whether it’s brainstorming article topics with my many contributing writers, liaising with the many wonderful affiliate managers who work for poker training sites, or planning the multimedia content I produce with top professionals in audio and video production, I feel totally wired 24/6 (Thank goodness for shabbos!).
Between email, Twitter DMs, Facebook messenger, Whatsapp, and other forms of digital communication, the ongoing conversations I’ve been having have not only served to keep me busy and continuously “feeding the content beast”, but they’ve also served to keep my mind off all the chaotic and negative things going on in the world. For that I am supremely grateful.
High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark
May the Good Lord bless the wonderful folks at Poker Central/PokerGO! For years, we’ve all been reminiscing about all those great hands on High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark. “Ah, such great shows… I wish they’d come back and produce more!” Well, our poker prayers have been answered and we’re all now fortunate to be treated to new, excellent episodes of two of the highest-quality poker shows that have ever been produced.
Beyond the players themselves, specific shout outs go to Brent Hanks, Mori Eskandani, the behind-the-scenes production crew, and the commentators – Gabe Kaplan, AJ Benza, and Ali Nejad. Thank you so much for doing your absolute best to fill the live poker void that’s been created and give us such fantastic content to consume.
So, that’s what’s worked for me. That’s what’s kept my head above water. That’s what’s turned my frowns upside-down. Thank you, dear poker community, for everything.
Perhaps someone reading this will have their spirits brightened. Perhaps some of the things I’ve shared will inspire others. Perhaps I’ve given you some ideas for how to take matters into your own hands and dig yourself out of the doldrums. Perhaps I’ll be happy and relieved to read my own words next time I need a pick-me-up.
And finally, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. Things WILL get better. The human spirit WILL endure. We WILL prevail… and we WILL get back to the tables!