Thursday, August 21, 2008

Battling Depression with Some Help from Harry Potter and Thomas Covenant

In the Harry Potter series, Harry has to battle creatures known as Dementors. Dementors are hooded corpse-like beings that guard the wizard prison, Azkaban. They attack their victims psychologically. The Dementors embody fear and make their victims confront their worst memories. Most of the prisoners in Azkaban eventually go insane from their torments. As their ultimate weapon, Dementors can even suck out the soul of their victim. J. K. Rowling is someone who has suffered from depression and I suspect that it may have influenced her description of Dementor attacks. It is a spot-on description of what an attack of depression is like. One is hit by this overwhelming wave of despair which ensnares you so that it is difficult to even move. All of your worst memories, everything that you fear, start playing over and over in your head. There is nothing you can do about it; you are completely helpless in front of it. Given enough time, depression can destroy your sanity and even drive you to suicide.

What do I fear? I fear that, despite all my charm and intelligence, I am ultimately unlovable and that people will simply use me for as long as it suits them and then toss me aside when I am no longer convenient. The fact that I have Asperger Syndrome and have a difficult time making and keeping social contacts obviously plays a role in this. I readily admit that none of this is rational. Intellectually I know that people are not out to get me or hurt me, but that is of little use when facing an attack of depression. My depression feeds off of those moments in my life which seem to reflect this notion of people using me and abandoning me. In particular, what haunts my depressive phases are the various times when women in my life suddenly broke off, when I thought things were good, and would not even speak to me and explain why they were doing this. I have been left with things that I needed to say to them, but which they would not let no matter how much I begged. So I am left with these conversations in my head, where they go around and around, tormenting me. This again has a lot to do with Asperger Syndrome. I cannot deal with things being left hanging and I need things to be put in some sort of language format for it to be real to me.

Harry uses a Patronus charm to ward off the Dementors. A Patronus is the manifestation of a happy memory and of joy. Harry’s Patronus takes the form of a stag. I have no Patronus to protect me from depression. What I do have is my sense of humor and my willingness to laugh at myself. I know that everything that I feel is just in my head and is not real. I know that all this is absurd. To refer to another dark creature from Harry Potter, the Boggart; Boggarts take the form of whatever the person fears. It can be defeated if its victim can find it absurd enough to laugh at. Similarly, the ability to see the absurdity of depression and laugh at it makes it powerless. This is, of course, easier said than done. The moments when I can just chase my depression back and beat it down are sweet but rare.

I live with my depression, keeping it at bay, in a similar fashion to how Thomas Covenant, the main character of Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever deals with his leprosy. Covenant is able to survive as a leper, one, because he knows that it is not his fault and, two, because he accepts the fact that there is nothing he can do about it. This shields him from the full emotional impact of what has happened to him. Since he is not at fault, he cannot be blamed for what happened to him. His leprosy is not a punishment from God. His wife leaving him and taking their child away had nothing to do with him being a bad person. He did nothing to cause the people of the town to shun him and force him to live by himself. The fact that he is powerless to cure himself also shields him from blame. If he could cure himself then the fact that he did not means that he failed to do something and is, therefore, at fault.

I did nothing to bring about my depression; it is just a glitch in my brain chemistry. No one can blame me for it. They could have just as easily been afflicted with it, and with as good a reason, as me. Also, there is nothing I can do about it; there is no cure. Since there is no cure, I am not responsible for curing myself and the fact that I have not cured myself is not my fault. This creates a separation between me and my depression and keeps me from having to face its full torment, allowing me to live my life in some relative measure of peace.


anon said...

There is a medical ethics conference @ Wilf Campus/Yu on Sept 14th. Lots of interesting doctors/educators will present. Perhaps you need to get out of your shell a bit....

Izgad said...

Good to hear about it. I am sure it will be wonderful. I doubt I will be able to make it, though, as at the moment I am in Columbus OH and have no particular plans to be in New York anytime soon.
Not to worry. At the moment I am getting professional help. I am capable of functioning with my depression for the most part, thank God.

Miss S. said...

Quite a powerful elucidation on your condition. Please excuse my tasteless flippancy by suggesting that you can cash in on the mainstreaming of depression and write some lyrics for an indie emo band.

Rhetorical question: "Is it worse to be clinically depressed or to possess a life where you really don't have too much to be genuinely happy/positive about?"

Izgad said...

As I see it depression has always been a big motivating force behind art, particularly in dealing with the highs and lows.

"Is it worse to be clinically depressed or to possess a life where you really don't have too much to be genuinely happy/positive about?"

Well there is an easy way to solve the problem of not having much to be positive about. Do something with your life! On the other hand if you really have done nothing worthwhile then you probably should start thinking about "making an early exit."

It was really nice meeting you in McKeesport. I have been going through a tough few weeks. Talking to you was the highlight so thank you.

Miss S. said...

No problem; I am glad you had a respite from your troubles -- that is nice to hear. I miss your Bubbe though :-/

Izgad said...

I miss her too. :)
I hope to actually be in Mckeesport this Rosh HaShana along with my father even though my Savta is not going to be there. You can take the Chinn out of Mckeesport, but you can't take the Mckeesport out of the Chinn.