Friday, 11 March 2016


In 'Monsters of the Sea', Richard Ellis writes, “To qualify as a proper monster, the creature has to be large and mysterious, but it also has to pose some sort of a threat.”

Depression has often been represented and portrayed as a monster. The unknown. The other.
It's all consuming, and yet reserves a sense of mystery with so much about mental illness remaining unknown. It's also hard to escape the argument that it represents a threat; not only to happiness, normality, but to life as well.

Winston Churchill's 'Black Dog' continues to be used as a metaphor for the terrors of depression. It follows you around, stands in your way, drags you down. Recently, Roddy's Doyle's 'Brilliant' borrowed the metaphor of the mysterious black dog in the context of an Irish children's story.

I think looking back, monstrous is the best description I can give of my depression. It terrified and controlled me. It was everywhere and all I could see. It was dark and deep and I couldn't get out. There was no escape.

But it's a monster I defeated, albeit only somewhat. I continue to take my anti-depressants daily. I continue to have lows, seemingly without warning or reason. I continue to fear what will happen if I 'slip'. But I haven’t returned to the fear that gripped and held me down as a teenager.

What's more difficult for me to accept, is how it came about in the first place.
"Sometimes human places create inhuman monsters." - Stephen King, 'The Shining'
As part of Embrace Your Past month, I have found myself examining, and often getting lost, in the dark-depression era of Zoe. From looking at my darkest feelings and fears, and placing myself back in those same shoes I was wearing five years ago, I remembered some of the questions that swirled around in my head at the time. Questions that felt essential for me to answer if I were ever to get better, find peace and defeat my own monster.

Why me? Was I born with a predisposition for depression? Was it purely down to life circumstances? Why have others, who have gone through the same life circumstances, not developed depression?

Why are some of us faced with these monsters and others aren't?

Once I started to work in mental health awareness and activism programmes, I began to realise the sheer complexity of mental illness. I couldn't answer these questions by placing myself in the centre. The answer to 'Why me?' didn't actually reflect on me at all. Sometimes, there was a bigger picture at play.

Matthias Classen, assistant professor of literature and media at Aarhus University in Denmark, studies the portrayal of monsters in literature. He argues that "Monsters say something about human psychology, not the world." Do we invent our own monsters?

On the other hand, mental illness is described as 'a natural, rational response to adverse experience' in this Guardian article by Claire Allan. Which of these reflects how I came to experience my own monsters?

But maybe having the answers wouldn't help. I could hold those answers closely and still be depressed. It's not always possible to know why we have monsters, where they come from, how long they'll stay. It's not always possible to find the answers.

We all have our own monsters. Some are larger than others. Some more powerful, overwhelming and fierce than others. Sometimes we have the skills to keep the monsters at bay. Other times, we don't. And when we don't have the skills we get trapped by the monsters. They can take over.
“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”― Werner Herzog
Having a monster isn't the end of world. Having a monster that has control over you (rather than the other way around) can feel like the end of the world. We don't need to fear them. And we can learn to live with them.

I feel more at ease with my own monster knowing everyone has their own struggles they have to deal with. It's reassuring to not feel so alone; a feeling I was overburdened with during my depression.

Monsters are scary, there is no denying that. But we can learn to overcome the fear, and we can learn to conquer the monsters.

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