A few years before my Dad died, my sister gave me a rather interesting Christmas gift: a ticket stub scrapbook. I was already well into my habit of seeing movies regularly, but there was something a bit more to the scrapbook than just a place to keep a record of what I’d seen. I put every ticket stub I had into it, which meant we went to see National Treasure 2 that weekend. As time went on, though, I meant to try to keep a perfect record of my cinematic consumption from there on out.
I love movies, but more than just watching them I love going to the movies. A theater is, for me, a place of refuge, where I can set aside the troubles of the real world for a couple of hours and watch someone else’s story unfold before me. There is peace to be found in even the most gleefully violent turn-your-brain-off action cliche heap. And it’s all larger than life, larger than is possible to replicate at home. I won’t ever give up my huge flatscreen, but it’s nothing compared to a glorious DLP IMAX wall of film. So I go to the movies, because some movies just plain deserve to be seen that way.
In Cleveland– actually Macedonia– I would almost like clockwork go to the theater and see one or two movies each Saturday. It was a comfortable and peaceful routine. I kept it up when I moved to Pittsburgh, but as I started to get back to collecting games and anime series for my library, I found myself more and more spending those Saturdays at home, marathonning a game or TV box set. I had almost ended the practice.
The scrapbook changed that. I started paying attention to release dates; if there was something I wanted to see, I tried to go on opening weekend. Funnily enough this also meant seeing some big-ticket Ghibli films, too, like the theatrical runs for Ponyo and Arietty. And, of course, the Marvel movies were starting up again. It was a good time to go catch some flicks.
And then depression hit. One of the first things that depression does is take things you once loved to do and make you feel bored by them. Actually, you don’t feel bored. You don’t feel enjoyment. You don’t feel pleasure. You just plain don’t feel anything. The technical term for this is anhedonia, from the same Greek root that gives us hedonist. Someone who is anhedonic is literally unable to feel pleasure or happiness. You can tickle them all you like but the laughter will be a mere unconscious physiological response; there will be no sincere mirth in it. Kind of like baking out a tray of cookies, only to open the oven and find absolutely nothing inside, not even the baking sheet the cookies were on. You wanted cookies. You got a puzzlingly intractible nothingness.
Movies, either at home or in a theater, just didn’t do it for me anymore. It baffled me, because while I was in the theater I was laughing along with the punch lines, gasping at the villains, and generally appeared to be enjoying myself. But it never sank in the way it used to. Of all of the things that I could say about depression, that is the most frustrating topic to discuss because there literally is no vocabulary in any language on earth to accurately express the complete and total void within my mind. Even the word void doesn’t cut it: it implies a contrast with non-void. If it had been just a dead chunk of my brain– like I’d had a stroke or something– eventually neurons would reroute themselves within the healthy parts to restore proper order (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). Depression isn’t so much having to make detours in your brain’s highway system as it is waking up one morning to discover that every square millimeter of asphalt in said system has spontaneously become molten lava, and your car’s magnesium rims have just exploded, setting your garage on fire, and you have to be at work in ten minutes. Still not accurate. But close. The reality is worse.
The kicker of it is that it’s completely out of one’s conscious control. It’s all to do with neurotransmitter levels in the brain, the internal messaging system that allows four pounds of flesh to safely run the other hundred-odd pounds. The brain, already awash in a faulty mix of those signaling chemicals, overcorrects for their influence. Unfortunately, at this point the damage is done, because the overcorrection becomes the new “how to fix this” procedure. When next the sads hit, the brain goes overboard in the other direction, unbalancing itself unwittingly because it has difficulty telling whether or not a little grief is going to germinate into a full-blown crash.
I used to wonder why people drink to excess, or use drugs that they know are not good for them, or do other self-destructive things in the name of avoiding feeling bad. I don’t anymore. At a certain point, you become desperate to feel happy again– to feel anything again, even just for a little while. I hit that point. Hard. But I still count myself extremely lucky that I was lucid enough to know the dangers were far worse than the potential benefits. Not everyone does. Worse, not everyone who hits that point even cares.
But I got help. I am on medicine now– it’s not a cure-all, but I’m not the zombie I feared I would be, either. I’m back in therapy. And, probably most importantly, I’m going to the movies again. Today was a double-feature, Jurassic World and Inside Out. I lost the stub for the first one, which upsets me (but not that much– it was a pretty basic monster movie, saved only by Chris Pratt’s outstanding performance). But the second flick… it felt great to go back into the theater and sit down as the lights dimmed.
For the first time in a very long time, I found peace in the darkness.