Pop culture addresses mental illness in different ways. Either directly as in the Doctor Who episode Vincent and the Doctor or as an allegory like in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode Once More with Feeling (Available on Netflix here).
You don’t really have to be a fan of Buffy to understand the examples I’m going to provide. I’m going to give you a video of each song (which isn’t necessary but fun), a snippet of the lyrics, and then I’ll explain why and how they speak to me and my own struggle with depression.
Going Through the Motions
Will I stay this way forever?
Sleepwalk through my life’s endeavor?
I don’t want to be
Going through the motions
Losing all my drive
I can’t even see
If this is really me
And I just want to be
Why this spoke to me: This song describes the life of someone who is functionally depressed. I think I made that term up so I’ll explain; being functionally depressed means that you are still able to go to work and do all of the absolutely necessary things but, you are doing so while your depression is lingering in your mind all day and you don’t have the energy or room in your head to better your situation or start anything new even if it would help a lot. In my experience I can only go so long in this state before I crash and burn. It could be that the depression just grows stronger and takes over or it could be some emergency circumstance that throws a monkey wrench into the works and I just come to a full stop.
“Sleepwalk through my life’s endeavor” explains functional depression rather well. You’re “going through the motions, losing all [your] drive” The part that really hits me is “I can’t even see, if this is really me” That is something I feel whether I am having a major depressive episode or functionally depressed. I suffer from Identity Confusion it’s one of the many things that makes my mind a very noisy and disorganized place. This constant uncertainty of whether I’m doing what I should be doing in my work, personal life, heck in every area of my life. This may not affect all people with depression but, if you’ve had trauma you may have faced it.
“And I just want to be alive” may seem the opposite of some folks with depression who suffer from suicidal tendencies but, for the rest of us I think that is a very accurate statement. Depression dulls your senses, it can cause you to be unable to enjoy things you once loved, and it can cause you to isolate. Facebook doesn’t help quell the isolating tendencies. Everyone posts the fun things they are doing; vacations, bar hopping, art classes, etc. It can make you feel like you’re not living and you want to be living. You want to be able to take a vacation or to have vacation time left after you used all of it on your major depressive episodes. You want to be able to enjoy the activities that you once found so fun. You want to be able to get out of bed.
Walk Through the Fire
I touch the fire and it freezes me
I look into it and it’s black
Why can’t I feel?
My skin should crack and peel
I want the fire back
Why this spoke to me: I don’t think I need to quote the lyrics for this one, it’s short and to the point. This, to me, represents that numbness you can feel when you’re depressed. When you’ve been in bed all day for days. You don’t necessarily feel “sad” you just feel like you want to stay in bed. I can’t explain why I have those days. I am currently on Long Term Disability and have nothing to do with my life so it isn’t about avoidance. Maybe I just want to sleep through the nothing that is my life. That reminds me, I think The NeverEnding Story may be an allegory for depression too but, back to the point. I don’t think I always recognize the numbness as soon as it comes on. Sometimes when I realize, I feel like it is necessary but sometimes when I realize I’m numb I want out. I want to feel again.
Give Me Something to Sing About
Don’t give me songs
Give me something to sing about
I need something to sing about
Life’s a song
You don’t get to rehearse
And every single verse
Can make it that much worse
Still, my friends don’t know why I ignore
The million things or more
I should be dancing for
Why this spoke to me: When you’re depressed your thinking often becomes very negative. You don’t see that you brushed your teeth today, you see that you didn’t do the 100 other things you “should” have done. Sometimes you feel like “[you] need something to sing about” because you feel like your life is as bad as it can get. You just can’t see anything that you’re doing right. You can’t see the good in yourself. If someone were to ask me about family I’d say yeah I have kids but, I’ve been a terrible Mother. I have a great boyfriend but, I’m isolating myself from him for no reason. Everything positive has a but attached to it.
The lines “life’s a song, you don’t get to rehearse, and every single verse, can make it that much worse” describe my thinking when I’m depressed. I think I stay inactive because I’m subconsciously afraid any action will make things worse because I’m such a screw up. Again the negative thinking can consume you.
“Still, my friends don’t know why I ignore, the million things or more, I should be dancing for” explains perfectly how some other people view depression. Whether they say it or not I know people think it. People do say, including my therapist, “You have a lot of good things going for you; you’re smart, you’ve raised two kids who have never been in any sort of trouble and are in college or heading to college, heck your son got a scholarship, you have a caring boyfriend, you own your own home, you have a loving family, and you’re not struggling financially.”
I think they say this to convince me things aren’t as bad as I think but, it doesn’t help. I hear these things and feel worse for being depressed. I feel (even though it wasn’t their intent) that I have no right to be depressed when there are homeless people, abuse victims, starving people, refugees, people with cancer, etc. I know I am in a much better situation than a lot of people but I also know it doesn’t stop me from being depressed because clinical depression is chemical. I’ve had major depressive spells come on when I was as happy as I could be. I have also had panic attacks for no apparent reason. These illnesses can be worsened by our situations but you are not free from them just because you are in a good place in your life.
So I can relate to Buffy. She’s going through the motions, she feels numb, she doesn’t feel like she has anything to sing about, she knows her friends can’t understand what she’s going through and that they expect her to feel better by now whether they say it or not. I’m not sure if Joss Whedon realized when he wrote this that it would really hit home for people struggling with depression but, it did at least for me.
Let me know if you can relate to the lyrics I’ve discussed and how in the comments below. I hope this post finds you well or on your way to wellness.