Depression: the scary movie inside your headPosted: August 21, 2012
I do like a good horror film. I even like the odd really bad horror film. What I don’t like is feeling like I am living through a real-life horror story, which is what depression feels like.
You find yourself starring as the hero and villain at the same time – for the past three years it’s been me as the hero, trying to escape the clutches of my nemesis and alter-ego, Paul Brookes. You’re also the only member of the audience – just you, without any over-priced popcorn, in the darkened, locked cinema inside your head.
Depression is nobody’s favourite scary movie. OK, it makes you want to scream and it’s pretty terrifying at times, but it isn’t very exciting. There are no edge-of-your-seat moments – just a nagging, deadening feeling, accompanied by anxiety, fear, self-loathing, anger and lethargy. Not exactly the kind of feelings people queue up to experience.
Fortunately, I seem to have outrun Brookes this year, and he was last seen scuttling off into the undergrowth. But depression is a lot like the vicious, creepy characters in horror films. You think you’ve got rid of them, then they suddenly leap out of the shadows and catch you off guard. Brookes has done this before, to shocking effect, and I have felt his presence a couple of times recently.
Thanks to counselling, I know when and where to look out for this skulking menace, and how to arm myself against him, so that I can – all being well – see him off if he dares to darken my door again.
There’s a delicate balance to being aware of the threat of depression and worrying about it trying to return. There’s no point being permanently braced for impact, but equally there’s no point forgetting everything you’ve learned and denying the possibility of it ever happening again.
This battle reminds me a lot of the Friday the 13th franchise of slasher flicks, in which a hockey mask-wearing ghoul called Jason wreaks havoc on a succession of unfortunate teens, slaughtering them in a variety of imaginatively gruesome ways. He is seemingly indestructible. No matter what happens to him, he keeps coming back for more. I’ve seen him chained to a heavy object at the bottom of a lake, the petrol-coated surface of which has been set alight, yet he’s mysteriously back for more in several sequels. I’ve seen him thrown from a boat in the middle of the ocean, then return remarkably quickly in the same film to kill off those who escaped him.
But here’s the example that illustrates my point about being cautiously on guard when necessary, rather than obsessively watching out for – and fretting about – depression’s comeback. One of the Friday the 13th films starts with a traumatised lad finding Jason’s grave, following his latest demise at the end of the film before. There he finds the brute’s body, quite obviously dead and being eaten by minibeasts. But is this enough for the boy? No. To make sure Jason is properly dead (note lack of rational thinking here), the young chap breaks off a metal gatepost and sticks it right through the corpse. Alas, the post gets struck by lightning, and the bolt jumpstarts Jason. Oops. Cue further teen carnage.
So, like Jason, depression can be killed off, but it can also come back from the dead given the opportunity. If you’ve got rid of this scourge, don’t let it get back in. Arm yourself (tip: not with a metal gatepost) and be aware of warning signs, but don’t panic if you have bad days or weeks. I’m learning this is the expected pattern of recovery.
There have been 12 Friday the 13th films so far. I wouldn’t bet against a 13th. It would just be so right, wouldn’t it? I’m hoping, though, that I’ve left my own version of this film franchise behind.