One of the best bits of advice I was given by a therapist involved a lot of creative thinking on how I interact with depression in my head. I told my therapist how this meddlesome mental illness sometimes rants away like a perpetual, self-defeating commentator deriding almost everything I do. It’s a bit like a vinyl record skipping and playing the same section of some dreadful music over and over, and you can’t shut it off. Ever. This voice tells me again and again that the depression is my fault, or that I’m a failure and a burden to others, or that I can’t love nor do I deserve to be loved.
I know these statements are all untrue, but the voice is always there. It’ll find the right alignment of words and sentences to crack open a bottomless chasm in my chest when I should be experiencing a sense of excitement and vitality.
For example, when I came out of the closet in my 20s and began dating men for the first time, that voice would lean in close during a date, its cracked lips just inches from my ear as it whispered, “This guy is going to abandon you once he knows about me.”
This voice has been rattling around in my skull since I was a kid, but I’m old enough now to separate myself from that persistent diatribe using various strategies. And one of the most useful strategies came from a terrific therapist who advised me to personify that voice — turn it into a caricature with physical features I can picture in my mind.
My voice has clammy, white skin wet to the touch, pulled tightly around his skull. He’s taller than me, with sharp cheek bones tucked firmly under a set of hollow, obsidian eyes that never blink. He wears a threadbare suit of green that hangs loosely over a thin frame of bones and flesh, topped with long, greasy black hair that droops in clumps over his broad, razor-sharp smile. He usually looms over me, his long fingers with sharp fingernails lightly tapping my shoulder as he whispers in my ear: “You’re a failure. Cut yourself. End it all before you hurt someone.”
It plays like a scene out of a horror movie, perhaps, but personifying that voice gave me the opportunity to engage depression in a way I never had before. Instead of trying to ignore the voice, run away from it, or drown it in a deluge of beer and whiskey, I just calmly reply to it.
The trick for me was not putting so much energy in trying to ignore or argue with that voice. Rather, I turned my head and stared back at that clammy face and those unblinking, vacuous eyes. I’ve had conversations alone in my apartment that would have sent me to the mental ward had someone overheard me without any context, but personifying aspects of my mental illness has been one of my most effective weapons in the duel with depression.
And it’s easier than you might think.
Just imagine that last scene in the movie Labyrinth when Jennifer Connelly tells the superbly dressed David Bowie, “You have no power over me!”