As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m currently receiving therapy for my depression issues for the first time in my life. The decision to get help necessitated another difficult decision: whether or not this would be public knowledge. As I’m sure anyone reading this is aware, there’s a lot of misinformation about mental illness and health in our culture, which contributes to negative stigma for those dealing with it. I’m convinced that an important way of combating this is open discussion, but believing that is a lot easier than acting on it. Even though I ultimately decided to be open about my own issues, I still struggle with that decision. One of the issues I’ve run into in working through this,is that depression seems to have an overabundance of metaphors attached to it.
“It’s like drowning.”
“It’s like Suffocating.”
“I feel like a ghost.”
“Imagine being buried alive.”
I have mixed feelings about this. On the surface, the number of metaphors is a good thing, because it means it’s being discussed. It’s also true that these metaphors have a certain accuracy to them, at least for certain people. But their limited nature can make clear communication difficult for individual people, and lead to damaging stereotypes; especially the idea that depression is strictly an emotional state, affecting only “emotional” people. People untouched by clinical depression, and without extensive research on the subject, usually don’t understand the variability and pervasiveness of depressive symptoms. Metaphors are often necessary to communicate these things, but it’s difficult to find one that is both accurate, and not overused to the point of meaninglessness.
The challenge then is finding metaphors that communicate something of both the objective causes and subjective experience of depression, while also referencing the variability of its idiosyncratic manifestations; not an easy task for a complicated disorder. One I’ve found very useful, interestingly enough, comes from a video game. Designed like a classic platformer with great puzzle aspects, the game Fixation addresses the difficulty of navigating symptoms and treatment in daily life. One beautifully simple way it does this is by designing its obstacle-course puzzle levels like the main characters house. The struggle to get through each level, requiring increasing ingenuity an effort, occurs alongside the character’s discussion of her symptoms, and attempts to help her friend with her own.
My only complaint is the ending. This game is a prequel to another game, The Company of Myself, which is pretty dark. By necessity, the ending of Fixation needs to fit this tone, so I don’t recommend either game to someone looking for an uplifting experience. However, Fixation is still a very effective humanization of depression, anxiety, and what it’s like to navigate those problems. If any of you have time to play it, I’d love to hear your opinions.
Question of the week: have any of you found an innovative example of mental health being addressed in a productive way?