Monsters and Metaphor, Part 2

To recap the previous post:

There are a lot of horror stories that like to use monsters as a metaphor for people with mental illnesses. I prefer to think of the monsters as the mental illnesses themselves, whereas the people dealing with them are more the Buffy-esque badasses who deal with them.

An unrelated conversation got me pondering a fairly common question: “Why do kids these days have to put a label on everything?”

Well, since I’ve already got the metaphor onhand, let’s talk about the thing:

See, there’s this process that happens in horror movies.

The protagonists freak out about the thing chasing them. Is it just a freaky-ass person being creepy? No, clearly something else is going on. When you cut the thing, it doesn’t bleed. It’s unnaturally strong. It doesn’t move right.

Maybe the protagonists tried pepper-spraying the thing, but it’s not working. It’s not gonna work, no matter how hard they try, because that’s a very human solution that doesn’t really work on things that aren’t human.

Usually with trial and error and an inevitable search either through a non-proprietary search engine or a suitably ancient-looking tome, they identify it.

The thing chasing them isn’t a human: it’s a zombie, or a ghost, or a werewolf, or a vampire.

But they start by finding out what it’s called. Not its True Name or whatever– just what it is.

See, that part is important. Because knowing what it is is the first step to dealing with it.

  • If it’s a zombie, then you probably have to go for a headshot. Expect a zombie apocalypse on the news.
  • If it’s a ghost, you try finding what it’s pissed about and appease it if at all possible. Salt and brick dust are a plus.
  • If it’s a werewolf, find something silver and try holing yourself up until dawn.
  • If it’s a vampire, get out the garlic and holy tokens. Consider throwing rice on the floor.

Sure, none of those things is guaranteed to work against the monster, even after you know what it is. Maybe it’s the kind of vampire that can come inside without an invitation, but it burns in sunlight. Maybe it’s the kind that is fine out in the day, but doesn’t like roses. It’ll still take trial and error to get it right, but at least now you know where to start. You won’t be wasting your time throwing garlic at a zombie, or shooting silver bullets at a ghost.

I feel like mental illness (and other kinds of disabilities and chronic conditions, while we’re at it) works the same way.

Finding out that I had chronic depression, a sleep disorder, and face blindness didn’t change the situation I was in– but it did allow me to change the way I dealt with those things in order to be more effective. After that point, I stopped wasting hours of my day second-guessing if I wasn’t pepper-spraying the vampire hard enough, so to speak, and instead started investing in metaphorical rice and crucifixes.

Now that you know the name of the thing you’re dealing with, you know how to ask your fellow monster hunters how they’ve dealt with their demons. You can swap stories of stuff you’ve dealt with. You can laugh about close calls. Most importantly, though, you know you’re not fighting alone against an army of the metaphorical undead.

((Note: This is reflective of my experiences with my own mental illness, and conversations I’ve had with others. It won’t be an accurate representation of everyone’s experiences. This is also not reflective of all facets of self-labeling, because that’s a more complicated phenomenon than I think can be comprehensively covered in a single metaphor.))

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