People who were depressed often want to share their stories of overcoming depression. The details of these can be quite different and sometimes vague. They know the most important point is that there’s hope. Do you know the famous “learned helplessness” experiment? Dogs that had been shocked unpredictably didn’t move when allowed to leave, because they had learned that there was no way out. The same effect is a part of depression.
One reason Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter and Janina Scarlet’s Superhero Therapy use superheroes is to elicit a powerful frame of mind. Heroes are people who hope and keep trying when the challenges facing them seem insurmountable and there’s no hope to be found. Seeing yourself as a superhero lets your unconscious mind tap into the complex web of concepts that you know as “how superhero stories go.” That’s not frivolous pretending at all. It’s a powerful unconscious effect, and enduring psychological blocks are based in the unconscious.
“You’ll never win, hero! You’re doomed!” is just part of the script. Difficulties and challenges are to be expected, and even part of the fun. The more you internalize that way of looking at the world, the more you can rise to the occasion rather than be discouraged (although getting discouraged sometimes is part of the superhero script too!)
SuperBetter also emphasizes that little things are first steps. When you complete a simple quest like drinking a glass of water, your overall progress bars go up. That’s an experience of having some power to affect your depression.
Rebecca Solnit said that “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency.” To adopt the narrative framework of Scarlet and co. for a moment, it’s time you got yourself a weapon, adventurer! Try one of these to start you off:
- Look for some personal stories right now where people with major depression in their pasts overcame it.
- Think of yourself as a superhero or similar figure who stands for qualities like hope, determination, and getting up when you fall. If you have one in mind, like McGonigal’s “Jane the Concussion Slayer,” so much the better.
- Imagine a future for yourself that you could be happy about even if things aren’t perfect, in vivid detail. Maybe a space that’s yours, or a beloved hobby, or a couple more good buddies.