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Home arrow Psychology arrow Subjective Darkness: Depression as a Loss of Connection, Narrative, Meaning, and the Capacity for Self-Representation


At its core, subjective darkness is characterized by feelings of hopelessness and despair. At its worst, waking life becomes synonymous with suffering. These feelings can be manifested as a variety of symptoms that represent this underlying pain. It is not uncommon for people who are depressed to think in absolute terms; everything bad always happens to them, people hate them and treat them badly, and so on. This can lead depressed individuals to believe that they are singled out or targeted for negativity. For Alexa, these characteristics manifested as paranoid symptoms in which she believed literally that she had been abducted, that she had died and gone to hell, and that people were trying to violate her, kill her, or otherwise cause her harm. The following are some examples that Alexa provided:

I started saying is a man on the planet? Have I been abducted? Because I love science fiction and I have a fantastic imagination and my (laughing) imagination was going, going, going and I had been abducted, and this was in the 70s and they had a lot of the UFOs and all of that and I’m going I’ve been abdu- abducted. . . .

Alien abduction was a recurring theme: “I said this is the this is the aliens the intelligence that has gone astray and they’re trying to and they’re trying to kill me and get my soul and they’re and they won’t let me go to heaven and I was tortured.” This prompted multiple instances of flight, as Alexa tried to escape the persecutory elements that surrounded her. This feeling invaded everything, including the people to whom she was the closest. Alexa recounted a memory in which she was crying and saying goodbye to her family before one of these attempts to escape. She remembered saying, “I’m looking for people who know me and I said I do love you, I know deep down I do love you, that you’ve been good to me but I just can’t trust you now- right now. And I have to find people that I can trust.” Another evening when Alexa was feeling particularly unsafe, her brother came to pick her up from a friend’s house. She said,

My brother came and got me and ah with the car and I felt that I couldn’t sit in the car because there was there was a bomb underneath and they wanted me to go in first I made sure that he got in first and I sat right next to him so I said if I go he’s going to go too.

Even as she fled from the specific people who made her feel unsafe, Alexa carried this torment with her:

I felt people were following me. Every person that I saw, that I saw I felt were people from different aspects of my family. Or from different families: my school family, my work families and they were following me and I couldn’t get away. So I just kept on running.

The first night she experienced paranoid symptoms, Alexa contemplated suicide as a means of escape. Death became a recurring preoccupation for her. However, even Alexa’s fantasies of escape through death took on a quality of being trapped. Like so many people who suffer from depression, Alexa believed that she was doomed to a lifetime of anguish. When the natural progression of her thoughts led to death as an escape, she found no solace there either. She believed that “the devil will let me jump down and then I will become paralyzed and I will be with these thoughts for the rest of my life so this will be my hell because . . . there’s different explanations of hell . . . and I said this is going to be my hell.” Perhaps the thought that she would be unsuccessful in her attempts to escape and would therefore be condemned to hell is what prevented Alexa from acting on the suicidal ideas that infiltrated her mind.

This thought also reveals evidence of the structural organization within her psyche. The devil that perpetually threatened Alexa with ongoing torment can be seen as the internalized representation of cruel or sadistic primary objects; as Bollas (1987) suggests, the ways in which we speak to ourselves as our own object echo the voices that we have learned early on to imitate. We manage our fears, desires, needs, and emotions in a similar way to how they were managed for us by significant others in our childhood. It is possible that at some point in her childhood, Alexa internalized this harsh form of selfmanagement and that this contributed to the vulnerability that she later faced when attempting to cope with unmanageable pain.

Alexa’s fears took on the quality of a vivid, persecutory nightmare in which the terrors that gripped her mind manifested themselves in scenarios where life, death, and violation were a constant threat. After her first suicide attempt, Alexa was taken to the hospital to be medically examined. She described the experience as a terrifying ordeal in which she feared being completely exposed and exploited:

They took x-rays and again, I was totally paranoid. And I said this is not for real. This is not for real and it is real and when I was being x-rayed I felt that they were they were—‘cause I had to undress—that people were gonna make uhm sex movies about me and and and show me undress, and horrib- just horrible things.

Later on that night, even at home, these horrors followed Alexa and would not allow her any reprieve. It was a struggle falling asleep: “And I felt that they were a light that was a camera shining on me but it was just light from the moon reflecting on something and I stared at the light.” Later on that night: “After a while I fell asleep and then I woke up and I felt I was holding a snake. A, a, a- the big ones that that swallow a person. Anaconda and she felt so cold, she felt like like . . . the snake it cold it has coldness.” Imminent danger lay around every corner. Alexa was petrified by what her world had become, and even the slightest movement could mean death. She said, “And then I was afraid to step on the floor because I felt if I stepped I would go through and I would go right straight to hell . . . or someplace horrible.” Alexa battled these demons for many years. In the aftermath, looking back, she was able to describe the devastating toll that these experiences had made on her life.

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