You’re broken, the darkness taunted him. You don’t know how to live like normal people. No wonder nobody loves you. When you die nobody will remember you. That will be your legacy, said the darkness, its disembodied voice filled with fake pity.

The lead protagonist of my novel Storytellers, a blacksmith called Gunnar, suffers from depression, social anxiety, and possibly a form of PTSD. Today we would be able to steer him gently towards a medical professional of some sort – that is, if he managed to break through the internalised stigma of having to be a Strong Man Who Needs No Help Ever. But Gunnar was born in 1888, the novel takes place in 1920, and all he knows about his condition is that 1) it makes him “not normal” and 2) he can never, ever tell anybody about it.

 

Back then

In 1917, Freud “believed that a person’s unconscious anger over his loss leads to self-hatred and self-destructive behavior. He felt that psychoanalysis could help a person resolve these unconscious conflicts, reducing self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. Other doctors during this time, however, saw depression as a brain disorder”. (Source: verywellmind). As time passed, around 1920 “treatments for severe depression were generally not enough to help patients, leading many people desperate for relief to have lobotomies, which are surgeries to destroy the frontal portion of the brain”. Another technique used back then were electroshocks.

Gunnar lives on the outskirts of a small town. The local doctor, despite trying to keep up with the medical news, wouldn’t be able to administer electroshocks or lobotomy. In any case, he would first have to know what Gunnar suffers from, but the blacksmith can’t find words to describe how he feels. His depression comes and goes, and he refers to it as “the darkness”. His social anxiety manifests in ways that he doesn’t realise are even related to people – he thinks he’s afraid of objects, not understanding he is afraid of what would happen (according to his subconscious) if he accidentally broke or stained something that belonged to somebody else.

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TW: mentions of rape, suicide, mental illness

First, a disclaimer: I have nothing in common with this project other than the fact I am very happy to see it’s happening. Here’s the IndieGoGo campaign page. Please consider supporting the movie.

I have often seen kids, I mean – Internet users arguing on various forums about which of them is more Valhalla-worthy. As we all know, Valhalla is the enormous hall in Asgard, where the bravest of the warriors chosen by Odin dwell until Ragnarök, spending their days fighting, eating, drinking, being resurrected, I think I got the order incorrectly but nevermind. A large fraction of people tend to understand all this very literally, envisioning medieval warriors with axes and shields – and nothing more modern than that. They then get into heated discussions about whether uncle Sam who fought in Afghanistan for two years is going to Valhalla if he didn’t actually kill anybody and he came back alive. (Some also get into heated discussions about whether killing others in The Witcher counts.)

First of all, for the sake of uncle Sam I hope he isn’t going to Valhalla, because PTSD is a real thing and being forced to spend an eternity fighting and killing all over again isn’t going to make uncle Sam happy at all.

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I’m writing about depression, because they say “write what you know”. But this advice probably applies to most of us who suffer from various sorts of chronic or recurring illness.

A while ago, I saw a recommendation for a book. I will not quote the title or the author for obvious reasons. The gist of the advice provided was “I know it’s difficult, but you just need to work harder and everything will be hunky dory” coupled with “…and if you don’t work hard enough, then it’s your own fault, enjoy your depression”. (Oh, and “buy my books”.) I managed to get to page 11, therefore I am not qualified to give the full masterpiece a 1-star review. On page 11 the author took someone’s suicide note and applied his wisdom to it, noting – I am paraphrasing, don’t google that – that perhaps if the dead author in question had access to useful resources, such as that book, everything might have been fine. The quotes that appear on previous pages can be summed up with “oh, I get depressed, but that’s awesome because it gives me so much insight into myself and improves my creativity, I am so grateful for depression!”.

This is not depression. It’s called navel-gazing. For a person suffering from actual depression this book is actively dangerous.

 

Depression is an illness that often kills.

Again, there’s no need to quote names of people who were famous, successful, appeared perfectly happy, had money, family, whatever else you could possibly dream of, then died of depression. Their loved ones – and people who have never experienced depression – called them cowards for committing suicide. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t “committing suicide” any more than dying of cancer is “committing suicide”. Death is the final result of the untreated depression and is often brought forward by the sort of good advice provided in the book I mentioned above.

So…what is a creative person supposed to do when they’re depressed?

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