Of late there’s been a unusual amount of discussion online regarding depression.
Blame it on summer. Blame it on hemlines rising and sleeves shortening. Blame it on barbecues and poolside get-togethers, on music and on laughter drifting lazily through open windows. Blame it on the banishment of colder days and a sunny heat that never quite warms the soul.
Just as there are many ways in which a leg can be injured, no two people’s depression is ever the same. I say this not as a psychologist but as a sufferer. I dwell beneath the dark umbrella from which rain pours even on the brightest of days. With depression it’s almost comical how fast clouds roll in and summer skies can darken. It’s the passing of a shadow that overstays its welcome. It’s the flick of a switch, the breaking of a bulb.
I know why these discussions exist, though God, I wish they didn’t. It’s a selfish wish: if one person can be helped by a video, article, podcast or tweet; if one life can be saved by being told that things can get better, that you aren’t alone, isn’t that worth it? If it wasn’t for people speaking of their nightmares we’d wake up screaming, believing something to be wrong with us; us and us alone.
It helps to share, and in sharing name the beast.
Or so I’m told.
But I never feel so isolated as I do when reading about the depression of others. Perhaps inadvertently, the game Depression Quest personified this feeling for me. It describes depression as ever-worsening condition, that allows the sufferer dwindling avenues of escape. It doesn’t take this to its dismal yet expected conclusion–the game doesn’t end with a screen reading “YOU ARE DEAD. PLAY AGAIN?”–but by its own admission it cuts off too soon, before an ignominious finale. For many sufferers, depression has no end and no beginning either; it simply is.
For those seeking comfort in knowing they’re not alone, it would be terrible to say suicide is an inexorable fact for which they must prepare. Games like Depression Quest exist primarily to inform–in the game’s preface players are warned not to play if they’re likely to be ‘triggered’–but if you wade in heedless and suffer dark thoughts accordingly they advise you, for God’s sake, get help. They suggest talking to doctors or other professionals who might be able to help. After all, for all the insight it offers Depression Quest is a game, not a form of therapy.
For many, sufferers and non-sufferers alike, I’m sure Depression Quest is a bleak experience.
For me? Well, how can I put this . . .
I was envious of the main character’s life. The day to day existence of the unnamed protagonist was fuller, more involved, and featured a much greater cast than my own. By that token Depression Quest offered a world as fantastical as Shenmue, Doom or Super Mario Bros. As far as I was concerned, in its attempt to inform players of the dire situations many sufferers through no fault of their own find themselves in it didn’t simulate despair, but a cartoony and colourful world where people are well-meaning and social lives exist.
Which in some ways is all I’ve ever wanted from a game. I’d jump at the chance of a truly social video gaming experience, containing AI characters who’ll laugh with and not at you, and won’t cast judgements the way flesh and blood people can and often do. I’d love sociable characters bereft of those aspects that make socialising so goddamned impossible. Even if they’re artificial, even if they don’t exist beyond the confines of a screen, at long last, I’d have friends.
Instead, what I have are well-meant attempts to further the awareness of depression. I can’t begrudge the makers, who I’m sure only have good intentions at heart. Like Depression Quest, Gamespot UK’s mini-documentary Video Games vs. Depression only brings out the worst in me. Liars, I cry at the snake-oiling salesmen peddling false hope.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t depressed. Games, movies, trips out, human contact–all these and more fail to alleviate my mood, as they should, as they must. I can’t play a game to get away from my problems. Most days I don’t have the strength to lift a joypad.
There’s a cartoon on the theme of depression that says it best: a man lays in bed, and over the course of twelve or so frames his smile turns to tears. It’s grief that can fell a man. It’s an affliction which has had me balled and rocking on the carpet because sometimes it hurts too much to do anything but. I used to look forward to sleep; now nightmares haunt my dreams.
Because depression, they say. Get help.
Blame it on summer. I used to weigh a lot more and wear a heavy coat everywhere I went. Now I’m slimmer, I try not to. When the sun shines, I wear summer clothes: I wear short-sleeved t-shirts, baseball caps and bluejeans.
And I feel so exposed, without my battlegear. I feel anxious and afraid, and I want very much to hide.
This has gone on for so long without wavering and there is no sign it will stop. That’s the very worst, I think: to read accounts of depression I identify with, only to find out this exhausting, debilitating stage in their life, which moves them to confer, to collaborate, to create, was short, spanning months. If a year and a half was too much, if it spurred them to suicidal thoughts then imagine how it might feel for those feelings to continue without end.
And to wish fervently that they would, and abruptly.
Some days I wonder if I’m human. The human experience–the majesty of life–speaks to me not. I see the world in paranoid colours, with little of worth to it, with little worthwhile. Expressing these feelings is seldom a good idea. At best, I sound mad, but usually I make people uncomfortable, angry or sad. Of course the world’s a good place. Of course people are essentially decent. You only pay attention to the most depressing news stories. You have to make the best of life; that’s just what you do.
But what if what’s best is to end it? What if that’s what’s best for me?
That’s the worst of it. If I have depression, if I am depressed, then I have succumbed and become. I am depression; I’m downtrodden feelings made ambulatory. Neither grand wealth nor infinite possibility would change my life in anything other than minor ways. I tried my utmost to change who I was, and yes, I’ve spoken with professionals, I’ve taken pills, I’ve dieted, exercised, moved to another country, left all my personal possessions behind. Next to who I was five years ago I’m unrecognisable to everyone.
Except myself. “Wherever you go, there you are.”
I may well be sick, but I’m sick of myself. And as in the worst cases of depression, for this sickness there is only one cure.
Allow me to be presumptuous: Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill myself.
But don’t dare tell me I have so much to live for. You can blame it on summer; I’ll blame it on myself.