One of the earliest films I can really remember is Alien. I loved it. I still do today. I grew up in the green and grey countryside of the shady north, where raindrops pattered out the blues in summer, and the snow wiped everything clean in winter. Roaring fires, brothers to knockabout with, and the warmth of parental love wafting through the air. Many of my defining memories from childhood are of bitter arguments about secret things. Rows over a lost raincoat could escalate to red-faced vitriol cannons exchanging fire. Most people closest to me raged at someone or something at some time or another. Occasionally, afterwards, one side would explain to me how their actions were justified, and the other's was not. Then the other side would explain that explanation away. Something described one day as 'good' transformed into 'bad'. These lessons took root as a keen curiosity about what all this 'good' and 'bad' really meant. From this confusion, I developed a love of horror, and Alien was the film that began it all.
I suffer from depression. I know it when it's arriving, it begins with a sense of worry that escalate without reason. My mind does its best to rationalise the impending doom, ascribing it to anything from 'off-comments' made by friends to 'evidence' that global warfare is certain. There is rarely anything real to which my anxiety corresponds. It is a mysterious thing, appearing and vanishing seemingly of its own will. It has the power to stop me leaving my home, and prevents me from looking others in the eye, even my nearest and dearest.
Recently I've taken to thinking about the make-believe monsters of horror in relation to my own inner demons. It has proven a helpful tool in coping with these nebulous forces. Allow me to explain my thoughts.
Horror fiction plays with our biological threat response mechanisms, making us feel under attack while we sit in the safety of our homes or a local cinema. Its modus operandi is fear, which H. P. Lovecraft (a patron saint of the genre) described as our "oldest and strongest emotion". It is fear that drives anxiety, which under ancestral conditions kept us alert - read to fight or fly - when the prying eyes of hungry beasts stalked the night, with many-toothed maws dripping in true predatory intent. Nowadays, many of us are lucky enough to be free from such real and present danger. Horror fiction provides an opportunity to experience this fear, and also to feel brave in its presence.
The monsters spawned in the imaginations of writers and filmmakers share characteristics with depression. Constantly reanimating zombies and curse-conjured demons relentlessly pursuing their prey share depression's implacability: These beasts will get you, you just can't be sure when or how. Invisible spirits that torment unsuspecting victims terrify because of their indefinable motives: You cannot reason with an entity whose purpose is beyond your comprehension. Depression goes further by generating a sense of utmost purposelessness, which can seem unresponsive to any consolation.
The implacable and inscrutable creep of depression is a truly terrifying beast, and one that has claimed lives. It's insistence on uncertainty means that antidotes that work one-day might fail another, and its inherent hopelessness can make it feel eternal when it has you in its thrall. Depression is almost the embodiment of difficulty, but for the fact that it lacks a body of its own, instead preferring to snatch the bodies of its victims.
To be faithful to my analogy, this description paints depression as an external agent. However, this is where it is important to draw a distinction. Although external events can summon our worries and fears, depression is that which lies within. As I see it, this is the crux of both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The implacable, seemingly inevitable, recurrence of depression - though horrifying to the beholder - makes it vulnerable to one of humanity's greatest assets: Our ability to learn and adapt.
I have come to take a deep and intimate interest in my depression. I know that reading the news will normally make it worse, and that a stroll through greenery will normally make it better. I have uncovered the twisted roads that this inner-demon has accompanied me along, from family conflicts long-gone to over-inflated ambitions to cure all the world's ills. I have learnt that it can be helpful to let an imaginary argument with a friend play-out, but only if my attention remains focussed on what I am trying to express (through either person's voice, it's all me in there after-all). Thought processes without specific aim can be creative, but cycling rumination through the dark woods of the past towards an unknowable horizon without any cause to guide me ... this way lies madness.
I now take time, when sliding or emerging from that chasm in my mind, to research depression as a social and psychological phenomenon, as well as my own personal brand. As my understanding has grown, the shroud of mystery has begun to unravel. The apparent imperviousness to scrutiny, which keeps the monsters of horror in a state of ever-terrifying maliciousness, gives way to things quite perceptible, and just as fascinating. There aren't any gnashing maws or demonic spectres in my mind, only a scared kid that sometimes can't keep the arguments out of his head. Ghosts haunting my mind just want to know why they're trapped in there, and I have begun to discover those reasons, and construct windows that give them a view on the world today. The powers that summoned them now transform them into a determination to go on seeking happiness for myself and others. Mummified anger about lost raincoats can become a wish to help others find shelter from the storm.
In undertaking this study I have come to see the wailings and lashings of other people for what they are: their own demons seeking exorcism. Every part of us, good and bad, wants to be free. I have come to believe that our demons can be granted their freedom through exploration and expression that need not create demons for others.
So the message I think I'm aiming for is this: Forces of depression and anxiety, which can seem implacable and inscrutable, are not monsters beyond our comprehension. They are part of us, and are vulnerable to our in-built powers of examination. When use our mental-apparatus to look at them, it is possible not only to strip them of their power, but syphon it away and use it to fulfil the aims and purposes that we have set for ourselves. Depression can take root in anybody's psyche, at any time, and finding ways to face it takes solitary introspection as well as the help of our friends and trained professionals. Use all the tools at your disposal. Fear is one of our oldest emotions, but intellect is one of our defining characteristics. Know your demons.
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