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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