(Trigger warning for depression, anxiety and mention of being suicidal.)
This may or may not* devolve into an incoherent mess as I attempt to write about depression, a kids movie, and my life.
So, I live with what is known as ‘chronic unipolar depression’, which is extremely common for someone on the autistic spectrum. My current ‘cycle’ has been stuck in the ‘depression’ phase for more than nine years now.
I like to sum it up with an anecdote from the time someone thought that CBT would be a good idea (it was not. CBT is generally not helpful for ASD except in super specific circumstances, which were… not mine). Every week that I went (9 weeks total) I had to fill out a ‘mood assessment form’ before my session. Because I’m not a moron it would have been very easy to fake my way through the form and lie to my councillor, but, well, I decided not to (and yes, that does mean that I sometimes/every fucking day lie about how I’m feeling. Not lying about how you’re feeling when you have chronic depression leads to people shunning you. Which fucking sucks whichever way you look at it). Of course, I scored in the ‘severely depressed & anxious’ range every time, but that was fine because I was feeling severely depressed and anxious.
Except, one day, I wasn’t. I felt good. I felt great. I can’t remember why, but I really remember that feeling. I went and I filled in my test thinking ‘this is great, she’s going to be so impressed at the progress I’ve made! Look how great I’m feeling!”
I only scored four points less on that form than I had on the previous week. I think i scored something like 36/46, when a neurotypical non-depressed person feeling the same way would have scored 0-5.
This is what long-term depression and anxiety do to you. I was so fucking happy just to feel the way that other people would experience as borderline suicidal that I thought I felt fantastic. And I did feel fantastic- compared to how I could remember feeling. The next week, of course, I lost those extra points, because happiness when you are depressed is not something that lasts very long. A day or two, maybe, if you’re lucky.
And this is where I want to talk about Inside Out. Because I was diagnosed with depression when I was eleven years old, and I have displayed the same ‘symptoms’ for most of my life. I will probably continue to experience depressive cycles for the rest of my life.
But what if, when I was eleven and Autistic and anxious and depressed and so very, very alone, I had been able to sit down an watch this film? One of the things that I struggle with most, and have my whole life, is a phobia of sadness. Because, Inside Out makes it very clear what those of us living with depression know to be true: Depression is not about feeling sad. It is about not being able to feel sadness. Or joy. Anger, fear, disgust: yes! At least to start with. Stay in a depressive cycle long enough and you’ll loose those too, but to start with, those three are your constant companions.
There is a thing that I have found to be true for a lot of people with recurrent depression, and that is this fear of feeling sad. Because depression in its early stages can feel a lot like sadness. And so you start to feel sad and then you panic because what if it’s happening again? so you try to ignore the sadness and you lie about how you’re feeling, and you hide it so well that you forget it ever was an emotion you felt to begin with. The problem with that is, it is often sadness and vulnerability and the ability to open up to people that forms bonds with others. And so your friendships drift apart, because superficial friendships might be fun but after a while it’s difficult to keep things going without a deeper connection- but that would involve letting yourself be vulnerable and opening yourself up to rejection, which may well lead to depression (because by this point depression may well be your brains go-to method of coping with emotions because why the fuck not)- but the fact that your relationships are falling apart is going to cause you to become depressed in the long run, so in fact, why bother to make friends anyway? You’re just going to end up alone and depressed eventually anyway.
That is honestly how I think most of the time. A huge amount of my mental energy is spend combating thoughts like this to try and stop them from becoming self-fulfilling prophesies. So far it hasn’t worked, but that’s no reason to stop trying.
Inside Out is such an important film because it’s giving kids and adults a clear and simple set of tools to communicate about depression and emotion with. I’ll be honest, I sort of want a set of toys of each of the emotions for myself, since I communicate better in a visual/kinesthetic way, having a set of emotion toys in my bag to help me figure out how I’m feeling sounds fucking fantastic (although it’s a disney film so I’m sort of crying on the inside over how much they’ll probably cost…)
NGL, I cried pretty much the whole way through the goddamn film. and not even subtle crying like you hope you’ll do in the cinema: no, these were fucking FULL ON SOBS that I kept having to breath through (although I was not the only one in the cinema audibly sobbing, so that was nice. SOLIDARITY!)
I will say, though, that I would put a warning on it. If you are currently in the midst of a depressive phase then this might not be the right time for you to see this film. If you’re struggling with your first bout of depression, or, like Riley in the film, situational depression (ie she is depressed for excellent reasons like moving far away from your childhood home, leaving your friends, not fitting in at school, etc etc; my kind of depression is random and not triggered by life events) then go for it, I think this will help you. But while I LOVED them film, I have definitely come away feeling worse. Because I have never got ‘better’. Literally, I have not not been depressed since I was a teenager. I have been less depressed, more depressed but better functioning, more depressed and less functioning, less functioning but also less depressed, and flat-out suicidal. I have had good days, even good weeks and occasionally good months, but I have still been depressed. It has taken a great deal of work and a lot of medication to get me to where I am now- which is very depressed, but mostly okay, and I do think that, while it will take a lot more work and possibly some more medication, I will one day cease to be depressed (for a while at least. My goal is one full depression-free year). I’m just not there yet, and one of the things that I’m feeling having watched Inside Out a few hours ago is: Why can’t it be that easy for me?
(* Of course it will, the question is just: how quickly?) (This quickly. We have now reached full-on incoherent mess status. Abort. Abort!)