“Depression resembles a vampire”. The statement sliced through the cacophony of noises clouding my consciousness and conquered my attention. Like a beagle who had just got a sniff of a bone, my eyes lit up and darted across the room towards my best friend of many years, imploring her to explain what she meant by the statement. “I feel depression sucks hope and happiness from its victims just like a vampire would suck blood”, she continued. The people around, myself included shared their thoughts on the comparison but the conversation soon moved on to other topics. Somehow, the comparison she made stuck in my mind and my attempt at writing this is an effort at crystallizing my thoughts as to why I found the particular analogy interesting.
Vampires, ghosts, werewolves and other paranormal beings appear in the folklore of many cultures across the globe and are a part of our collective social conscience. Despite modern advances in science and education, belief in the supernatural remains as strong as ever with many surveys showing that a majority of people profess belief in some form of the supernatural. Many theories abound as to how and why humans as a species tend (and want?) to believe in monsters. One interesting viewpoint is that these beliefs are an irrational response to legitimate fears that imbibed in our ancestors a cultural aversion to places and situations which represented a real danger. For example, it is very likely that large aspects of the legends of monsters which roamed forests at night evolved as a result of early human’s fear of nocturnal predators. But as time passed, the creative wonder that is our minds concocted increasingly eerie and frightening versions of these myths and legends. As with every strong cultural belief that has stood the test of time, it involves a combination of fear and hope. While the “fear” aspect of the supernatural legends needs no explaining, the “hope” aspect is in the form of methods that true-believers could use to dispel these monsters. Some examples included garlic being used to ward off vampires. In fact, one object, in particular, has been so widely used in legends as a defence against the paranormal that it is used to denote a specific, failsafe solution to a problem – the silver bullet. In folklore, a bullet cast from silver is often the only weapon that is effective against a werewolf, witch, or other monsters.
With these facts in mind, my friend’s comparison of a mental health issue to a supernatural entity becomes more credible in my opinion. One of the major impediments to mental illness is denial. Just as people choose to ignore the mountains of evidence against the supernatural since it challenges their deep-set beliefs, very often people dealing with issues of the mind refuse to acknowledge that they need help. Similarly like the monsters of legends, paranoia and insecurity are just irrational reactions to legitimate grievances that we do not wish to acknowledge. However, the one similarity that I find most striking and the one that this article is going to largely deal with is the belief that there exists a silver bullet – a magic cure.
From my own experience, while I refused to actively seek out help from people in dealing with my depression, I clung to this fairy tale idea of a silver bullet – one single incident, person, belief or action that would help me overcome my inner demons. At my most desperate moments, my search for the silver bullet became an obsession. This obsession for immediate, painless redemption latched itself into anything that my mind could interact with. Family, friends, God, self-help books, that award that I always wanted to win, that dream job – the list went on. Like a chain smoker who convinced himself that he would quit the next day, my transformational healing was just around the corner. “If only I won the competition, I would gain my confidence and people would befriend me. “, “I just need to pray hard enough and one day, I ll awaken enlightened”, “If only I loved my friends, they would rescue me from my insecurities”. These were the thoughts that fuelled my paranoia as I spiralled further into the depths of anxiety and depression as each and every entity that I thought would redeem me did not. My blind belief in an external agency that would save me only further alienated me from the ones I cared about. My obsessive need for reassurance that they would pull me out spurned irrational thoughts of insecurity and fear which played havoc with the way I dealt with people.
Perhaps the most enlightening realization that I have had over the past year when I finally decided to reach out and seek professional help is that there is no silver bullet. My belief that one person, thing or event could single-handedly provide me with a new breath of life was badly misplaced. It turned out that defeating with depression wasn’t a quick, painless glorious moment as I had envisioned but instead a long-winding, sometimes messy affair which required commitment from my side and determination to face my darkest fears myself. And while it might seem counter-intuitive at first, the realization that my redemption did not lay in a single object was immensely liberating. I was able to be much more rational and level headed in my relationships with people and my expectations about events. It helped greatly with dealing with my anxiety and identifying and observing irrational thought patterns and I can confidently say that I have become a much happier person than I have been in a long while.
Looking back, I can see why I wanted to believe in a silver bullet. It took responsibility and agency for dealing with my issues away from me and helped me live a life of denial and self-hate. Perhaps, it also tied into the fantasy novels that I read which fed into the idea of war being won with one masterstroke or by a legendary hero. Who wouldn’t have been awestruck by the thundering roar of the brave cavalry galloping into the battlefield, trumpets and all as they swoop in to smash the armies of the bad guys to smithereens? It makes for great literature and gripping movies but does not translate well on a real battlefield. The wars in our world are won by engaging in long winding pitched battles, using strategic retreats and by soldiers fighting on in smelly trenches winning territory in agonizingly slow increments. It might not be glamorous but that’s just the way life is.
I would like to end with this quote:
“’Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were heading for the shore.”
When it comes to mental illness, the silver bullet may paradoxically be the realization that there isn’t one. I have stopped my quest for the silver bullet, have you?