Jeroen van Werkhoven is a Lead Level Designer at New World Interactive and has spent time developing video games like Insurgency, Insurgency Sandstorm, and Day of Infamy. In this interview with VR Fitness Insider, Jeroen discusses his mental health blog, his personal mental health experience, his favorite fitness VR games, and his thoughts on where VR is headed. Keep reading to find out more about Jeroen!

VRFI: You’re an accomplished developer who also writes about your struggles with anxiety and depression on your “Being Invisible Blog”. What inspired you to start blogging and sharing your experience with others on social media?

JVH: Well for me it’s a lot about sharing my knowledge. I noticed social media is mostly focused on sharing results not so much about the process and hard work that comes with it, including all the challenges we go through to accomplish our goals.

Before I started blogging people knew me as, like you said, an accomplished developer. But I wanted to show the world that there is a whole different side of me that isn’t so well established and struggles on a daily basis with anxiety and depression. Nobody knew about this when I started blogging last year, not even my brother, which made me aware that my mental health issues weren’t as visible as I thought they were.

Also, there is a huge stigma around mental health issues and a lot of misunderstanding. People are called lazy while suffering from a depression. When someone breaks a leg you will never tell the person to man up and go on a hike.

VRFI: In your blog, you write about how school bullies really mistreated you when you were younger. Bullies at school can keep kids and teens from learning and feeling safe, and now online trolls are a real issue that affects both kids and adults!

Do you have any advice for those individuals who are trying their best to cope with a situation such as this? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

JVH: Foremost stay true to yourself and don’t change based on someone else’s beliefs and standards. I did change and it didn’t help me at all. Bullies are never satisfied no matter what you do, they will never like you because that is not their goal. They want to make you feel bad at every level, so they can feel better about themselves to neglect their own struggles and insecurities.

Online trolls are a whole different ball game and hard to cope with. I usually ignore or go after them with kindness. That sounds strange, but being kind to a person that disrespects you can actually turn the tide around. They expect a certain response, especially on a public channel for likes or to grow their followers. If you don’t give them that they won’t know how to respond.

Of course, there are many exceptions, some are just doing it for fun and often because they’re jealous. I think schools have a big responsibility to teach kids about the danger of online trolls and learn them how to cope with it.

I can only talk for myself but I think there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. You might not see it right now but always remember it’s there at the end the tunnel. Don’t give up!

VRFI: Indie Game U posted an Instagram picture: “Don’t be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others.” You really are an inspiration and your blog is helping others to be their best selves! Do you have any helpful tips for people who are scared to be vulnerable or authentic?

JVH: Think about yourself first! What does it bring you? Writing about my story is a healing experience. It helps me to learn more about my mental health issues and accepting it’s there. I think feeling vulnerable is not something you can entirely avoid. You’re sharing a piece of yourself with strangers, it’s more about allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

Start writing, I think that’s the best tip I can give you. Starting is the hard part, once you have something on paper it becomes a lot easier to share it with the world or not. It might be enough to just write it down for yourself and that’s okay too.

Jeroen’s VR play area. Credit to: Jeroen van Workhoven

VRFI: You practice meditation, EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), play BOX VR, listen to music, go for walks on the beach, and watch motivational videos to help stay on a positive track and to combat anxiety and depression. How has working out with BOX VR helped you?

JVH: BOX VR helped me a lot so far. I don’t have the most healthy job and I’m aware of that; I sit long hours behind a desk and it can be quite stressful at times. Mentally I struggle in many areas and have to work hard to keep my anxiety and depression in check.

So BOX VR is not only a way to keep my body in shape, but also to cope with my anxiety and depression and turn it into more positive energy.  I usually do my workouts during the weekend, but sometimes when I feel a lot of negative energy I jump into BOX VR to release some tension just because it’s fun!

VRFI: Do you have any gameplay tips for BOX VR?

JVH: I usually start with the workouts for beginners to warm up my body before diving into the heavy workouts.  Especially to train those punch combos!

VRFI: Have you tried any VR meditation apps?

JVH: I tried a few but none of them stuck with me. I think it’s not so much the apps but being a game developer myself I always start analyzing the environments, which doesn’t really help when you try to calm your mind haha.

VRFI: Do you recommend any other VR games like BOX VR or apps that are good for fitness, fun, and feeling empowered?

JVH: Besides BOX VR, I love Robo Recall. I can use my BOX VR training to smash robots to pieces, which is great fun. Also, SUPERHOT is one of my favorites and Eagle’s Flight, being a bird is so much fun!

Credit: Box VR

VRFI: As a game developer, what is BOX VR doing right that makes it such a good game? Could they improve in any way?

JVH: The fun factor is definitely one of the elements that stand out to me in BOX VR. It’s just a lot of fun to play, I always want to do one more workout or just try to beat my own record in survival mode.

For improvements: BOX VR requires a lot of the correct body positions and punches, it would be great to have some more in-depth tutorials covering these. For example, maybe an instructor could show you how to accomplish the best combos and guide you through the workouts even. Also, warm up exercise would be nice. Some stretching and basic punches before jumping into the workouts.

Finally, more environments would be great. I would love a cyberpunk setting, techy, neon signs and rain!

VRFI: As a developer, what could the VR industry improve on in 2018?

JVH: I think improving the usability of VR devices in smaller spaces would be a great step forward. You need quite a big room to take full advantage of VR. Also, going wireless makes it a lot safer and fun to move around without having to worry about tripping over the cord. For the long run, I expect some major design changes for VR maybe even combined with AR (Augmented Reality).

VRFI: What VR advancements and VR games do you look forward to this year?

JVH: Of course, I’m looking forward to more BOX VR updates! Other than that I can’t wait to try Brass Tactics a real-time strategy game, Walking Dead VR and many others. Also, Eleven: Table Tennis VR came out recently, going to give that a shot soon too.

VRFI: Thank you, Jeroen!

Read more about Jeroen’s mental health journey on his Being Invisible Blog. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram!