Tag Archives: Recovery

Depression

Depression & Existential Crises

I’ve been battling depression for approximately fifteen years. I like to think that I’ve built myself a type of arsenal against it. I’m used to some of the more intense symptoms, and with time, practice, and help, I’ve found my ways of managing them. For example: I experience self-destructive impulses pretty regularly, but I’ve got a litany of coping strategies that work for me, and while it’s always unsettling, I don’t have any worries about actually indulging them. I’m also getting better at sifting my symptoms from reality. This is never going to done with. But I’ve at least learned that when I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for accidentally breaking one of my Aunt’s glasses and start to think I’ve ruined her entire life and thus become unworthy of her love, that I might possibly be in the middle of a depressive episode.

I’ve developed a tough hide over the years with regards to my health issues, and I’m proud of it. I’m not frightened any more of my illness, or of being stigmatized by others because of it. I don’t think I have to apologize for being sick, or hide the fact that I’m sometimes in pain. As hard as punching back against depression is, the fact that I’m still here after a decade and a half means that I must be doing something right. But I’ve run into a problem. If all goes well, in the next few months I’ll begin taking medication for the first time in my life, and the idea has brought up concerns I didn’t know I had. I don’t mean the standard risks. I’ve researched those and taken what precautions I can. I don’t buy the argument that medication will somehow re-write who I am and I’ll be compromising my soul or true self or some other such garbage. I know that depression isn’t who I am, that it’s gets in the way of things, instead of constituting some foundational part of me. But, you see, that’s actually the problem.

My issues started when I was very young. I didn’t have time to figure out who I was before I started fighting this. I’ve had to learn that haphazardly; sifting through all the wreckage caused by my illness, finding broken chunks of what healthy me would look like, and slowly piece them together. Even with all the progress I’ve made, there’s a thought nagging at the back of my head: When I start taking medication, my best-case scenario is that I meet a part of myself for the first time.  I’ll find myself in uncharted territory again, and I may have to re-learn everything, including how to be me.

The unvarnished truth is that this scares the hell out of me. I don’t have an answer for this situation, and as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t know what to do.

 

Depression

Depression, Meaphors, and Old-School Gaming: Part II

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, Depression is a disorder that has a lot of metaphors attached to it, but not a lot of cultural understanding. Interestingly, computer games are becoming a useful tool for promoting awareness and empathy for clinical depression. I previously discussed Fixation, a puzzle game with a story built around it; Another game I’ve found striking is Every Day The Same Dream.

 

 (this discussion contains spoilers, click the link above if you want to play first.)

 

This game could best be described as minimalist. The graphics are simple (but beautiful) and there are only three controls: forward, backward, and action. The limited scope works wonderfully, since it revolves around a suicidal man desperately trying to change his life, who has no idea how to do so. There are only a few screens in this game: home, elevator, traffic, and work, with a few others that have to be discovered. The challenge of the game, since there are so few controls, is to discover what it is you can do differently. There are only a handful of changes that can be made, and one of them entails jumping off the roof of your work building. If you discover all of the changes, you get a closing scene where you catch someone who looks a lot like you also jumping to his death.

 

This is controversial, and like Fixation, I would not recommend this game to someone looking for an uplift, but I’m enthusiastic about it myself. The reason for this is the interpretability of this game. It’s non-linear, and the changes can be discovered in any order. This leaves it open for discussion, and creates individual narratives for the player. From my play-through, I took away that this man is struggling and feels alone, and doesn’t realize that someone he sees every day is going through the same thing. In this way, the game makes a powerful argument for the necessity of a more open acknowledgment of depression and suicidal ideation. It wonderfully captures the feeling of isolation and helplessness for someone facing these issues, and addresses the possible result in an emotionally complex manner.

 

 There are a lot of things I could say about this game, but I would prefer if people played it came to their own conclusions. I would love to see a discussion about it below, and will leave this question for anyone who wants to answer it:

 

 Does the shock value of this game (incorporation of suicide) help or hinder dialogues about depression?

 

 

Depression

Depression, Metaphors, and Old-School Gaming: Part One

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?