In Which I Use Pac-Man As a Metaphor for Depression

In Which I Use Pac-Man As a Metaphor for Depression

Sad Dean and Sam from Supernatural 4.10 “Heaven and Hell”

{Content warning/Trigger warning: depression and depressive thinking}

I suppose I should start this entry by apologizing for the two and a half months of radio silence. I’m truly sorry that I’m unable to write on a consistent schedule due to my persistent depression. Currently my primary mental health diagnosis is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), but I suspect my psychiatrist may change it to Cyclothymia (aka Bipolar 3) at my next appointment on July 1. Cyclothymia is considered the “mild” form of Bipolar Disorder (BPD), as if it isn’t just as soul-sucking and life-destroying as the other two kinds.

When I was in my twenties I did have a primary diagnosis of Bipolar 2, which is the kind that causes hypomania (which is a mostly enjoyable period of elevated mood, decreased need for sleep, and high creativity and/or productivity) rather than full-on psychotic mania (which is the intense, destructive, hearing-Jesus-talk-to-you-through-the-TV 1 I believe that image is from Carrie Fisher’s The Best Awful There Is, but I read it more than 20 years ago, so I’m not entirely sure kind of mania that you see most often in the media). However, after several years of unremitting depression without any signs of hypomania, my diagnosis was changed.

The thing is, it’s really hard to tell the difference between my natural affect and personality and hypomania. When I’m not depressed (which, unfortunately, is only a few small slices of the past eighteen years), my natural state is upbeat, loquacious, creative, and productive. At least, that’s what I usually experience when I’m not depressed. But over the last five years or so, I can only positively identify two or three periods of possible hypomania, each lasting for two to three months, and if I had periods of neither depression nor hypomania, I was unable to identify them as such.

So maybe I don’t even know what I’m like or how I behave when I’m not at one pole or the other. I hate to admit it, but people around me are often more accurate at judging what I’m thinking or feeling than I am. It’s taken me almost eighteen years to start noticing and documenting the warning signs that I’m sliding into depression. I only started keeping a daily mood log in mid-April, and in that time I’ve mostly been mildly and persistently depressed; however, it’s possible that I started coming down from a hypomanic period around that time.

It is absolutely terrifying to think that there might not be anything left of my natural personality — the Real Me — outside of the extremes of the disorder. If I don’t know what I’m like when I’m not hypomanic or depressed, who the hell does? Most articles about Cyclothymia mention that periods of normal mood may only last for 4 weeks or less. If that’s the case, if I’m the Real Me for only a month or two every year, then can I even consider the Real Me to be my primary identity? Or have Depressed Me and Hypomanic Me taken over my identity and swallowed Real Me up, Pac-Man style, leaving only the ghosts in their wake?

And somehow, despite the fact that I’ve been depressed for most of my adult life, I still haven’t figured out how to function as a human being while depressed. I mean, I can go to work when I’m depressed and even turn on the cheery, vacuous Customer Service persona so that no one can tell the difference. I can feel content and satisfied (about a 6-7 on a happiness scale of 1-10) during pleasant experiences like buying a new car 2 which I just did last week! It’s a 2018 Subaru Outback and it’s the BEST CAR EVER. or sitting out on the patio at my favorite vineyard with a wine slushie and bacon cheese fries, enjoying the cool breeze and sunshine.

But once those experiences are over, I return to a 3 or 4 on the happiness scale and start torturing myself for sitting around doing nothing instead of writing, working on my podcast, cleaning my bedroom and bathroom, leaving the house, talking to my RL friends, or anything else that I deem more productive than lying on my bed playing Cookie Jam and watching TheStrawHatNO! Let’s Plays on YouTube. 3 I highly recommend their LPs of Sleeping Dogs and BioShock Infinite And then the shame and guilt spiral begins anew as I beat myself up for failing to adult and then I beat myself up for beating myself up instead of exercising self-compassion and self-care. And then I feel like absolute shit and I have to distract myself from the misery by eating junk food or bidding on Hello Kitty clothing lots on eBay or buying my 200th self-help Kindle book, which just gives me more bad choices to feel guilty and shameful about, and it never. Fucking. ENDS.

And it certainly doesn’t help that depression usually brings with it a writer’s block the size of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic—and with similarly destructive effects. The last thing I wrote was terrible and didn’t make sense, and so far I’m not real thrilled with this either, but at least it makes sense and has a chronological structure, which means I can probably publish it if I can get over my debilitating perfectionism and bring myself to post it even though it’s not The Best Thing I’ve Ever Written. Because if it’s not The Best Thing I’ve Ever Written, then what’s the goddamn point? Posting something imperfect (i.e., awful and a waste of time) isn’t going to make me feel like a Real Writer, it’s going to make me feel like a fucking failure. Black-and-white thinking: it’s a real bitch.

And now I have to figure out how to end this monstrosity. I need to put a tourniquet on this vein I’ve opened and stanch the flow of self-loathing recrimination that spilled onto the page when I sat down at the keyboard. So now it’s just going to build up inside my brain until I drown it out with McDonald’s triple cheeseburgers or Wendy’s frosties or yet another spiritual self-improvement course.

There was an article in the local newspaper that referred to river dams as “drowning machines.” My brain is a fucking drowning machine, and the Real Me is sinking fast.

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