On Writing With Depression: Part 2

Welcome back.

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In my first post about depression, I talked about my hospitalization during my junior year of high school as a result of my poor state. Let me elaborate. I could not walk. I underwent physical rehab, as well as hundreds of tests, just to be able to stand up again. We thought chronic fatigue caused the incident at the time. I thought depression caused the incident a week ago. Now, I’m not so sure, because it happened again.

In analysis, both events follow a similar pattern. The first time took months, the second one took days. There’s the wonderful start that fulfills all your being, even in rough times (beginning of sophomore year last time vs. vacation this time). There’s the exhaustion you get in the middle of great exercise, coupled with a renewed drive to do more and be more (loads of high school extracurricular activities vs. continued activity after a 10 and a half hour drive back home). There’s a sudden travesty that throws off everything and fuels anxiety and depression (overworked weekend vs. breaking the bike rack on my dad’s car). There’s the anxiety and depression. Then, both 6 years ago and 3 days ago, I awake from a 3-hour nap to find myself paralyzed, awake mentally and asleep physically. My brain sometimes heated up into thoughts of movement before melting into my blood and travelling through my bloodstream like a sleepy tourist.

But this time, I dealt with the issue faster. After an hour like this, I could lurch forward. I tumbled out of the couch and began moving in exhaustive spurts. My brother passed by. I spoke, and only silence came out. It took a heroic lunge of my hand to show him I needed help up. By this point, I could whisper, and I instructed him to take me to the bathroom, because goddammit this situation does not need to be more embarrassing. Once on the toilet, I called my therapist (I was late for an appointment) and sputtered out how I pulled a reverse Rip Van Wrinkle and travelled back 6 years, losing everything to atrophy as a result.

This is not uncommon, says my therapist. He later sends me a link to this site, which talks about the freeze state some people enter into. It’s different from how I usually feel depression- in those moments, I can at least go out and buy food or use the bathroom. And this time, I tell my therapist, I don’t even feel the absence of emotion that is depression. Forget thinking of myself as an empty box, there isn’t enough heat to support the universe that created the empty box.

This was a leap off a lifeboat headed to shore for me. But it confirmed a theory. A while back, I talked about being forced to do a bad thing in ‘Spec Ops: The Line,’ which stimulated a “safe” depression. A similar feeling appeared in me while watching Season 1 Episode 3 of ‘Review’ (a great show, by the way), where the protagonist is also forced to do something that damages others. And here I was at the end of a chain where one of the links was “having done a bad thing that damages others.” My reaction to guilt has something to do with depression. I found out the berries were lethal the same way our ancestors had to have found out.

I want characters in fiction to go through this exact thing. I want characters to not notice the foreshadowing for the choice or event that strips off their skin and force-feeds it to them. I want characters, seeking a priceless Tibetan artifact, to be caught within the radiation zone of the atomic bomb that destroys the golden talisman. I want characters to have their legs crushed by a semi in the middle of a marathon. I want characters that choose to take the brainwashing pill that makes their empire-dispensed rotten bread taste only like moldy bread. And then I want these characters to win. Not only that, I want their victory to come about because of how they reacted to the crisis. The tastewashing allows our heroine to detect a chemical that’s keeping the population docile. The marathon runner crawls to the finish line 10 miles later and becomes the most celebrated man alive, winning his husband back. Nuclear radiation doesn’t taste good to the carnivorous alien beasts guarding the mountains of treasure underneath the golden talisman, whose inscribed ancient script turned out to read “SHITTON OF GOLD TWO LEAGUES DOWN.” Properly handled, the reversal can be the most powerful aspect of your writing.

You’ll notice that these examples are rather silly. Well, let me challenge some conventional wisdom- depression is stupidly silly. I lost control of my muscles and lost all hope for myself because I drove into a garage with the bike rack up? Now, we all know that’s not the full story, but what else do we have to go on? I know my parents aren’t the type to shout or belittle, so what was I afraid of? This is why everyone, including me, laughs at depictions of depression by Linkin Park and Papa Roach. It’s like a Babelfish translation- a language difference translated by someone separate from the subtleness of the conversation. Depression sufferers convey something alogical to a world striving for logic. How do you do that? This isn’t an impossible goal, getting people to fear silly things (people fear clowns, don’t they?), but it’s a goal that might take up my entire career to accomplish. Because, in my experience with depression, a depressive mood puts me in a state of unthought. I wasn’t thinking to myself, “I’m such an idiot for destroying the bike rack,” or anything else for that matter. It’s more of an atmosphere than anything else.

If you do write about depression, don’t be afraid to venture outside the facts a little. Depression varies depending on each person, and sometimes weird shit like this happens. Perhaps it’s the depression sufferer’s desire to be taken seriously that limits them from talking about such a silly, deadly disease. Or perhaps I just need to stick marshmallows up my nose and cry.

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