When depression is weighing me down, I feel like I am staring down the dark pit Rey faces on the island of Ahch-To.
Note: This is part of an ongoing series on what mental illness feels like for me. Read the introduction and associated disclaimers here.
Early in my experience with mental illness in the summer of 2018, I was trying to explain how I was feeling to my wife. I had the idea to show her a clip from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The first time Rey learned from Luke Skywalker about the Force, she saw various aspects of the island, and the balance that existed. She saw the pit on the island, and sensed the great darkness it represented. For a few seconds, her perspective was poised over the pit, looking down into the depths as it looked larger and larger.
My diagnosis does not include clinical depression. So when I speak of my experience with depression, it is in the context of depression associated with OCD and anxiety. Many mental illnesses are related—feeling anxious leads you to a mental state that is discouraging and feels depressive.
With that disclaimer, I will state that I have felt the crushing effects of depression. There have been many days since I started to grapple with these issues that I have felt that I was floating in the air above that dark pit, ready to plunge down at any moment.
Most of the time that I recognize the pit in my mind, it is accompanied with feelings of hopelessness. When I am staring down into the darkness, it feels like it will never end. My mind revolves around the darkness, and starts telling me that there is no light at the end, and I will never escape these feelings. Those are dark days.
In the movie, the scene climaxes with a huge fountain of water spurting up through the pit like a geyser and Rey collapsing on the rocks. This seems like it would be the perfect end to one of my depressive episodes. No matter what, I know that I am going to be exhausted, and left gasping for air, either physically or mentally. But to have the sweet cleansing rush of water course through the last bits of my mind feels like the best possible outcome.
This cleansing purge is not always what comes to me at the end of a depressive episode. When it does come, it is often in the form of writing. I am able to process the overwhelming thoughts and feelings I am having through getting them out on the page. As I write, and read what I have written, I am able to identify destructive patterns and distorted thoughts that I can confront with compassion and truth. The reality is that things are rarely as bleak as my mind sees them. And nearly always they are more nuanced. I have a tendency to see everything in black and white, and the more that I can see in between two extremes, the healthier my mind can be.
The most important thing for me to remember is that any episodes, or even days, in which I am staring down the pit will come to an end. The darkness does not last forever. If you find yourself floating above a fictitious island, looking down in a dark pit, remind yourself that this, too, shall pass.