Today is Diwali, the festival of lights in India. Light is often used as a metaphor for life. Today I want to reflect for a while on the darkness that descends upon the mind, for it is while we are in the dark that we learn the real value of light.
The cold and the dark. These are two metaphors that my protagonists use euphemistically to describe depression. It is not easy to describe depression. The exact reason why depression occurs is not known. It can descend upon anyone like a cloak of darkness, trapping them in a state of inert limbo, leaving them incapacitated of even feeling grief at their condition. For depression is not simply a feeling of intense sorrow, rather it is a total lack of feeling and the resulting helplessness. As Barbara Kingsolver said in her wonderful debut novel The Bean Trees, “Sadness is more or less like a head cold – with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer”
Sylvia Plath who is almost a poster girl for depression wrote an elegant semi-biographical account of her experiences with the disease, called The Bell Jar. Plath likens the world of a depressed person to a dead dream when she says that ‘“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”
Though she described a hopeful ending for her protagonist in the book, Plath died of the dreadful disease, succumbing to the darkness that threatened to take over her brilliant mind about two weeks after it was published.
The Scottish author Muriel Spark whom I greatly admire was another genius who was affected by depression. She describes this chillingly in ‘The Driver’s Seat’, a short book about a young woman alienated from life, which is so intensely written that Spark is said to have been hospitalised when she finished writing it.
J K Rowling gave one of the most apt metaphors for this ugly condition when she created the dementors – faceless, rotting beings that spread a deathly chill in their vicinity and suck out every happy memory and eventually the souls of their victims.
Today depression is no longer restricted to artists and authors, it affects almost anyone and is as one of the many banes of modern life. More often than not, a person realises the condition and yet is unable to do anything about it, which makes them even more vulnerable, setting forth an avalanche of pain and darkness.
I was deeply touched to come across this poem in the author Alana Munro’s blog:
She writes, “They say – ‘what could possibly be making her depressed? She has everything. She needs to wake up and smell the roses. …Don’t you know that this illness warps reality? All I can see are the thorns.”
Again, “I wish I didn’t feel so brittle, so painfully sensitive. Where every idle comment thrown my way could break me.”
This is just how a depressed person feels. How then, does a person cope with this terrible afflication in a competitive, fast paced world where one has to keep running even to stay in one’s position?
This is the place where my hero Sid finds himself, struggling to survive in a hostile world while trying to cope with the darkness that is slowly closing over him.
Sid survives, and makes the leap from the darkness to the light, passing through a boundary which stretches between reality and fiction. This is the theme at the heart of my novel The Reengineers.
To all my readers who celebrate the festival, Happy Diwali. I will write more in future posts about Sid’s journey from the darkness to the light.
Coming soon! The Re-engineers (HarperCollins) A walk through the boundaries between fiction and reality