Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Distinguishing the self from depression: how the imagination can help restrictive mentality

Gareth writes about how he used his imagination to free himself of the mental restrictions that come with depression.
- Gareth

When I was growing up, I had an imaginary friend called Felix. He was a woodpecker, and would fly alongside the car on long journeys. I think he represented a part of me that wanted to be roaming free and zooming around rather than being cooped up in a hot car; I put an aspect of myself into this imaginary character. Recently I watched this video by Niall Breslin (He’s a big inspiration to me, which all kicked off from that video) where he does a similar thing with his anxiety, anthropomorphising it into ‘Jeffery’. I’m always keen to try new things to help with my depression, so I thought I’d give it a go too!

That’s how Marley, my depression monster, came to be. He’s named Marley after Scrooge’s partner in A Christmas Carol, or rather the muppet version; in the Marley Brothers’ song they are bound and tormented by heavy, restrictive chains, and that’s how I see my depression. Not as chains, really, but as a heavy duvet. It’s easy to sink into, and feels like a comfort at times, but really it weighs down all your thoughts and movements making everything a struggle. That’s how it is for me, so Marley the Duvet Monster was born.

I have found it really helpful to have the concept of Marley in my mind. On days where I’m trying to persuade myself to get out of bed (which is one of Marley’s main goals, as firstly, In bed I’m trapped with my thoughts and feelings, they spiral out of control and secondly, he’s a duvet). I find it much easier to say ‘that’s what Marley wants, don’t give in to him’ than saying ‘you want this because you’re feeling low today, try not to though yeah?’ Sometimes I’ll be functional but not completely ok, and I find it easier to think ‘Marley’s here but just sitting waiting in the corner, I’ll be fine if he stays there’ than ‘I thought I was feeling ok today but I can feel the depression creeping in’. In both cases, having the depression be represented by a third party, even an imaginary one, rather than just some part of myself makes fighting back feel easier. 

I’m always reminded of Spider Jerusalem in Transmetropolitan saying ‘I liked you better when you had a face I could hit’ to a friend of his who is now a cloud of nanobots, but for me it’s the other way round; giving the depression some kind of avatar, one that I can hit (metaphorically) rather than a shapeless cloud makes it easier to act against. In the video, Bressie’s Jeffrey has a phobia of water, so he threw him in the sea by signing up for swimming races, which is how I often try to see things too. Marley wants me to hide away in my room and not see my friends, so I’m going down to the beach with them because Marley will hate it. Marley thinks I’m not good enough for my PhD so I’m going to knock out the best thesis you’ve ever seen so he feels stupid for doubting me.

More than anything, differentiating between myself and Marley helps divide thoughts, feelings and actions up into the two camps of ‘what Marley wants’ and ‘what Gareth wants’. Depression is filled with shades of grey so organising that a little into more of a ‘black and white’ type picture helps me be myself and the stronger person I am.

For more information on finding support for issues like depression and anxiety, click here.
Visit Students Against Depression to learn more about student depression and where you can get support.

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