Hello, Dear Readers!
Sorry for the long hiatus, and thanks for coming back. In this post I'm going to share a coping skill that I've been working on in a Depression support group, and I normally wouldn't foist this on you all, but I think it's a really interesting way to use one's skill at narrative as a tool for healing.
This exercise happens in three parts:
- The exercise is to take your perceptions of yourself and to write that as a description of a character under a different name.
- Write a healthy version of that character (the trick here is to be realistic about expectations. Healthy you is not necessarily super(wo)man).
- Set aside some time to role-play that healthy version of your character.
So for example, here's a version of my exercise, describing myself under the name Isaiah.
1) Perception of Self under fictitious name:
Isaiah is a mediocre cook, a lazy guy. He plays games all day and dreams about being a writer without doing any of the hard work. He hates himself, because he knows what he's doing wrong in his life, but he can't quite seem to stop himself from failing preemptively. Isaiah does his best to at least help make life comfortable and nice for his partner, even though he feels like dying much of the time. Keeping his partner well-fed and making sure she doesn't have t o do too much of the housework at least lets Isaiah believe that he isn't a complete waste of space , even if he isn't spending his life earning a real living or even on pursuing his own goals. When he's around other people he's considered droll – even witty – or smart, but alone his thoughts shatter on inspection, cutting shards that burrow into his mind. Some shards become seeds and grow and probe out roots, threatening to break open his mind like saplings near a cliff face – strong enough to crumble stone, but too weak to bear the weight once the rock is cleft. He's been depressed for so long that he can't tell what's him (the real him) and what's the illness. Is illness all there is to Isaiah, or is there something beneath the tangle of roots and debris?
2) Healthy Version of Self under same fictitious name:
With the roots and stumps hacked away and yanked out, Isaiah discovered that beneath the fractured face, lay a bedrock of self. He writes more but still feels like it's not enough, but he forgives himself. Daily tasks don't paralyze him, and he feels like life is worth living for himself, for his own worth. He dedicates time to helping his partner and to helping others. He takes rejections from editors in stride, because it means that he's getting his work out there, and he's actively learning his trade. There are still hard days, and he's maybe not happy, but he's not so, so sad. Pleasure exists again in the small things and in the large. He's present during sex – engaged, not anxiety-ridden. On most days he is thoroughly convinced that life is worth living.
3) Role-play Healthy You
So this is where the work you've done really hits the road. For me that means writing even on the bad days, that means celebrating small writing victories and reminding myself that even in my darkest days, I've taken time out to help other people – whether it was loaning them a few dollars or talking them down from crisis-mode.
Celebrate your Healthy you, and reward yourself for Role-playing the healthy you, and keep playing like you're that healthy person until you are. It's a great way to pull in other coping skills and to get the most out of your therapy. Also, it's a way to literally bring your Narrative skills to life.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. For Concerned Readers: While that first example may seem extreme or melodramatic (or dangerously desperate), much of what I expressed is experienced by the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who suffer major depression. If you have a friend or family member who talks to you about wanting to kill themselves, LISTEN. Even (ESPECIALLY) if they've talked about it a lot before. The average person remains actively suicidal for only a period of a few minutes, so even delaying someone with 10 to 15 minutes of pleasantries can be enough to save a life. Try to get that person to a therapist or ask them to consider hospitalization – if they don't want to dial the suicide prevention Lifeline, offer to dial for them 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255). If you or someone you know has struggled with depression, educate yourself through a Mental Health First Aid course or any of a number of wonderful works on the subject, including Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression or even Allie Brosh's "Adventures in Depression".
P.P.S. Thanks for being awesome, impressive people.