Shadowlands

 

Self portrait in pencil, completed on 26 July 2017. Initially, I drew this hoping I might get to know myself better if I spent time trying to replicate what I saw in my own eyes whenever I stared into a mirror. Unfortunately, self-awareness remains an elusive goal. 

     The title is taken from Shadowlands, a biographical film about Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis directed by Richard Attenborough and written by William Nicholson. To quote the script, “We live in the shadowlands. Sun is always shining somewhere else… around a bend in the road… over the brow of a hill.” 

     The depression I’ve grappled with for almost twenty years are my personal shadowlands. The figures behind me in the image represent the viewpoint of the world surrounding the depressive mind: depression and social anxiety forces one’s focus inward rather than outward; in time, the rest of the world barely registers. The people you love become hollow shadow-people in your mind, vapors moving in the background, in the distance, just beyond the range of the senses. The rest of the world swirls around like ether, and you can’t really touch it. You feel nothing. The world fails to move you as it once did, and everything melts into various empty shades of black and gray. 

     To see a larger version of the image, click on the picture — or on this link — to be taken to the relevant page in my DeviantArt portfolio. 

Exiting Darkness

Depression  /dɪˈprɛʃ(ə)n / [mass noun] A mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep.
~ Oxford Living Dictionaries, 2017
 
 

Shortly after high school, I fell deep into depression. I can think of no better term for the experience than that: “fell”. The emotional journey itself was gradual, but once that mental state took hold, I felt like I was falling into a deep oubliette… or perhaps it was more like a grave. I scarcely recall many things from that time, just black noise and painful memories best left forgotten. 

     If living through depression is like falling into a tomb, trying to fight your way out is like climbing out of the catacombs to discover yourself in an entirely different era than when you first fell inside. Like Plato’s allegorical cave dweller, the world outside the tomb seems alien and foreboding; not only has the depressive existed in a realm without light for so long that his eyes no longer accustomed to it, but he has been lost for so long that an entirely new generation has arisen, and the world the depressive once knew its irretrievably lost. 

     Almost twenty years have passed since I first fell into depression, and I’ve only recently taken my first halting steps toward the light. Much like Rip Van Winkle, the world I find around me seems too strange and alien to be real, and I hardly even recognize myself. (Not that I recognize the man I once was, either, but that’s a story for another time.) I’ve finally awoken, and only now do I realize how atrophied I am inside and how truly messed up my life has become. 

     I decided to start writing again not only to chronicle my journey out of depression for the purposes of illustration (“This is how screwed up I was”), education (“Don’t be like I was”), and accountability (“I never, ever want to be that screwed up again”), but also to describe the process of exploration that I now find myself undertaking. Whether I want to be or not, I have become an alien to myself and to the world around me, an extraterrestrial visitor who has “reached these lands but newly, ” and frankly, you Earthlings are really damn weird

     I figured I should probably record my discoveries and my interpretations thereof. I’m certain the academics on my planet would get some laughs of it. 

     I’ll try to update this journal every Sunday. Once I feel confident enough to return to my artistic and literary endeavors habitually, I’ll post those here, too. I humbly invite you on this journey with me. Maybe I’ll entertain you… and if you’ve been on a similar journey through the shadowlands of clinical depression, maybe you’ll find something useful here, or at least you’ll find a fellow traveler. 

 

— Dunebat,
     West Texas
     9 August 2017