Tuesday, January 24, 2017

So Your Character has Depression ...

Usually I have a "featuring" in that blog title but today I'm not because the person who's being interview is well ... me. This is a really hard post for me to write, because it's a very personal issue and one I really struggled with last year in particular, but I'm hoping talking about it will be therapeutic.

  I've had moderate depression since I was fifteen. That's about nine years ago at the time this was first posted. It's had its ups and downs, but it's always been there with me. I didn't really know much about depression until I was seventeen and decided to google the symptoms. I was horrified to discover I experienced all of them. I ignored this until last year when my depression got so bad that I had to seek help then I was officially diagnosed. 

Depression isn't as uncommon as you might think. As of 2016, statistics state that one in ten Americans experience depression. Below is a fun little Depression chart. Depression also isn't just feeling sad. It's a brain chemical imbalance that affects much of how I live life. 

How does your depression physically feel? How do you think it compares to those who don’t have it?
On a normal basis, not much since it's being treated medically, but when it acts up I feel more tired than usual even if I get lots of sleep. During bad times, I feel back pain, muscle aches, lack of appetite, and headaches. 

How do you feel about having depression?

It's been with me so long that it's hard to remember life not having it. It's become a part of me. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing at this point. 

What challenges does depression pose?
When my depression acts up, I sometimes have to take a break from what I'm doing because I can't focus at all and I just end up staring blankly at the screen or crying. At those times, I have to do something relaxing like watch some of my favorite shows or a movie until I can focus again. At bad times, I have to stop for the night or even days.

Depression also makes finding an entry level job difficult, since most entry-level jobs involve customer service so there are requirements like "Now hiring smiling faces!" I can fake happiness long enough to make an interview, but on down days, as I call them, it is really hard to make myself smile. I actually had a past employer talk to me in his office about my default facial expression being too sad and that it's offputting to customers. 

Is there anything you like about depression?
People with depression feel emotions different than others. This can be neat to experience. 

Do you think your day differs from others because of depression?
On down days yes. It is very difficult for me to smile when I'm experiencing heaviness that literally feels like a barbell on my chest. When I'm depressed I often don't like to do things I normally do like read or write. When I got really depressed a while back, I stopped reading entirely for over a year. 

Do you have any cultural differences between others who have depression and those who are don't?
Depression isn't something a lot of people openly talk about so I haven't interacted with a lot of people who have depression, but the ones who have admitted it to me have been really accepting and have been good to talk to when I'm having down days. 

What are some stereotypes about depression that irk you?

  • Depression = suicide. Because I have depression doesn't mean I think about that all of the time. 
  • Depression = crazy. No, I'm not crazy because I have trouble smiling and completing simple tasks on down days. 
  • Depression = Oh you're just sad. Get over it.  - Depression is not just something you can get over. It sticks with you and is really hard to get off. It makes feeling positive an effort. It makes you feel frustrated when people offer all of this positive thinking advice about controlling how you react and you can't make any of it work no matter how much you try. 

What media portrays depression badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I can't think of anything in particular, but if I do I'll add it to this post. 

What media portrays depression well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
In the Hunger Games especially. Katniss's mother experienced severe depression. It's why she neglected her kids, but neglecting things you normally care about is one of the prime depression symptoms. She checked out and became numb to cope, which is one way that people with depression deal with an overload of negative emotions. Van Gogh from Doctor Who was also an amazing portrayal. I've watched that episode over and over again because I relate to him so much and cried every time. XD

Who are your top three favorite characters who have depression in books, movies, or shows?

  • Charles Xavier (X-Men) - He experiences moderate depression in X-Men: Days of Future Past. He's tired, he's drinking to try to drown the symptoms (even though drinking actually makes them worse), and he neglects something he loves: his school.
  • Korra (The Legend of Korra) - After losing her abilities in season three, she has a period where she doesn't want to contact many of her old friends and doesn't even want to be the Avatar. She is tired and stops wanting to even try to get better. She tries to redirect her focus to other things, things she didn't originally like to drown her symptoms.
  • Tris (Insurgent) - Some people believe she had a mild form of PTSD, but I think Tris's issue after losing her parents was depression. She didn't want to do much. She was impulsive and felt guilty and couldn't forgive herself. Self-hatred is another big symptom of depression.

Well that was a difficult post for me, but I feel like posts like this can help people write more accurate characters.

Are you interested in participating in this project? Shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail.com.

Do you have any characters with depression? Did this inspire you to write a character with depression? Do you have depression and you have further input? Feel free to share! 

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