I’ve talked at arm’s length here about my challenges with chronic depression, which is fitting because just the other night I acknowledged out loud for the first time that while I’m hasty about drawing people to me at that distance, I make maniacal, anxiety driven work of keeping them at arm’s length and no closer.
I recently played a computer game that’s been getting a lot of attention as a cult hit, Doki Doki Literature Club, and I was thoroughly impressed by the issues it confronts. Without spoiling it for anyone, I’ll say that the game does grapple with the challenges of depression and loneliness. At one point, a character in the narrative confesses first that she struggles with depression, and that it’s getting more and more difficult for her, she also confesses that part of what’s making it worse, she feels, is her feelings of unrequited love for you the player character.
The game gives you two options of how to respond and neither leads to anything but tragedy, and neither is the right response to someone coping with depression in the real world. You can either say you love her back and want to help heal her, or that you’re her best friend and will do everything you can to help pull her out of her depression.
Here I am, again, speaking at arm’s length by way of analyzing a video game. I had a conversation with a friend the other night about this topic. The same conversation where I opened up about the manic need to want and keep people at a very specific distance because I’m terrified of them being both too close and too far. She told me not to try to save her, and I told her not to try to do the same for me.
I bring up Doki Doki above because it’s a tangible example of something I truly believe in regards to living with, battling, and time and again overcoming depression to soldier on: you have to save yourself.
Therapy and counseling isn’t going to “fix” you, what therapy ideally does is help you identify and map your emotional patterns and responses, and give you the healthy methods of confronting and overcoming them. Friends, family, significant others: they shouldn’t promise to save you. That’s some white knight, Hollywood bullshit. The only decision worth a damn is if you decide to save yourself, and for those of us with depression it’s the decision we have to make every day.
Let me spin this back to media, to end on a lighter note. I submitted a piece on moments in pop culture that I think perfectly capture the struggle of depression for a friend’s website PopLurker (Loryn Stone is open to submissions and pitches, I strongly recommend reaching out if you’re interested). It was an expanded article from my bit on The End of the F***ing World, and Bojack featured pretty prominently in it.
For how well Bojack Horseman represents characters struggling with depression, I’ll give it credit with regards to this piece as well: it’s damned good at representing how we’re supposed to confront and grapple with it by showing both healthy and unhealthy ways.
There’s the episode where Bojack has started listening to self help tapes narrated by George Takei, and his new attitude and lease on life is a fragile veneer that’s quickly cracked and leaves him in deeper despair when it does because he simply can’t function productively being so consciously “happy” (or what he thinks happy means).
But I think the best of them all is the queen herself known as Princess Carolyn. There are two distinct moments of that agency and decision, and it ramps up for her time and again. However, it’s key to note: Princess Carolyn stands alone. Bojack has her, Diane, Todd and a few dozen others pulling to keep him moving and going. Even Diane has Mr. Peanut Butter.
Princess Carolyn has conversations with her client, Bojack, where he barely half listens to what she has to say, and her own challenges with depression of losing what seemed like a strong relationship and multiple miscarriages. What the show does well is it gives her complete agency, both in how she proceeds and what she pursues, but also in how she wallows and decides to claw her own way out of her depression.
Maybe we’re not Mr. Peanut Butters, maybe we’re a Todd or a Diane, but whichever one you are, you have your agency. I’m sure you have people who want to help, or to support you getting help so that you can make the decision, day after day, to save yourself and soldier on.
I personally guarantee and promise there are people that want to see you save yourself.
I’m one of them.