Time to Be Honest: Depression, Film And Me

By Bianca Garner

Trigger warning: Discusses depression and complex PTSD.

“So, for how long have you been depressed for?” This was the question once posed to me by a counsellor during our first counselling session. “I dunno.” I shrugged in response. “Ever since I was a kid, I think.” It sounds like an exaggeration but to some extent, it’s true. In my life there have been two consistencies: depression and film. Both elements are so entwined in my life that it’s easier for me to recall the events of a film rather than the events of my life. Each tragedy that I have faced is associated with a film that I had seen at that time. My first tragedy occurred when I was three years old and caught my dress on fire. I had been sat downstairs watching a videotape cassette of “Cinderella” when I decided to sit in front of our fireplace to get warm. It’s some what ironic that I would be in the cinders watching a film about a girl who got her name because her evil stepmother and stepsisters made her sleep in the cinders of the fireplace.

In order to cope with the distress of this event and all the events that would follow me in my life afterwards, I try to disconnect myself. It’s easier to imagine it as a movie, happening to an actor and having it all staged and faked. There a bits of being in hospital that I remember but I have pushed them back to my mind, burying them and repressing them. When they do resurface, then I try to treat them as if it’s a scene from a movie that I shouldn’t have been watching at the time. According to Maury Joseph, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., when your brain registers something too distressing, “it drops the memory into a ‘nonconscious’ zone, a realm of the mind you don’t think about.” The ‘nonconscious’ zone sounds like the title for a bad 1950s sci-fi TV series, but if it helps me functioning as a human being then I’ll keep it in my brain.

Cinderella (1950) Walt Disney
“Cinderella” (1950) | Walt Disney

When I spoke about what had occurred with the dressing catching on fire incident with my counsellor, she stated that it’s more than likely that I had complex PTSD from the event that hadn’t been addressed before. No-one had ever brought the idea of PTSD up to me before. According to the NHS website: “As it may take years for the symptoms of complex PTSD to be recognised, a child’s development, including their behaviour and self-confidence, can be altered as they get older. Adults with complex PTSD may lose their trust in people and feel separated from others.” This actually made a lot of sense, I don’t know how many times I have cut people out of my life because I get worried that I’ll be a disappointment if they found out about the ‘real me’.

I found myself drawn to films about friendships as a kid, because I felt lonely and found it hard to open up to other people. Films such as “The Fox and the Hound”, and “Matilda” have a special place in my heart. “The Fox and the Hound” is such a powerful story of genuine friendship and I haven’t watched it in years but still recall big sections of the film. I don’t know if I would be able to sit all the way through it and not be deeply saddened by it. There’s a few films which I have only watched once or twice because they have had such a profound effect on me, films such as “Shoplifters”, “Nobody Knows” and “The Grave of the Fireflies” have all left their mark on me and they’re some of my favourite films, but I’m not ready to return to them…I might never be ready. You might see a familiar pattern/theme with these three movies, they all deal with the concept of family and trauma.

Nobody Knows (2004) by Hirokazu Koreeda | Japanese Film Reviews
Still from “Nobody Knows” (2004)

“Matilda” was a film that I really connected with. The character of Matilda was my superhero before the likes of Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel or Black Widow. Matilda was a quiet girl, who existed in a dysfunctional household and preferred to lose herself in the world of fiction (as a kid I would either be reading or watching movies). It was her intelligence, not her physical strength that led her to make a real difference in her life for the better. There’s something so admirable about that message that I instantly felt reassured that I had it in me to be just like Matilda.

Aside from Matilda, I was drawn to several other key female characters throughout my childhood. Films such as “Cutthroat Island” and “Terminator” and “Tank Girl” all left their impression on me (so much so that I wrote this piece here). Women like Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley and Morgan Adams were badass because they weren’t presented as sex objects, they were seen as intelligent and resourceful women. To some extent, they had all overcome their own trauma to become strong, independent individuals who saved the world from time traveling robots, man-eating aliens and bloodthirsty pirates.

Depression has followed me throughout my life, events such as the death of my father at the age of 11 years old, problems at school (being bullied and moving schools frequently), and the death of my stepfather back in 2018 have also left me deeply affected. Like clockwork around this time of the year (my birthday, which is on the 11th August) I go through a meltdown where I feel useless and don’t feel like I have achieved anything. However, I know that this isn’t necessarily the case. I have managed to get through huge traumatic events and come out on the other side. Yes, I may have physical and emotional scars, but I have it in me to keep going. It’s my passion and love for film which has helped me get through some tough times. It’s through certain films and characters that I have managed to address my own struggles and be inspired.

Amazon.com: Watch Matilda | Prime Video
Still from “Matilda” (1996)

This is just a quick piece to get a few things off my chest and try to explain where I’ve been for the last few months. I really want to focus on building up this site and keeping it going, but I also have to focus on keeping myself going. I hope people don’t mind me speaking openly about my own past and the trauma I have faced and in some sort of way, I really hope this has helped you. Yes, there’s still work to be done in order to overcome my depression and PTSD. There are good days and some really, really bad days. However, if I continue to hold onto my passion for film, then I know I will be able to keep fighting in my own way. I will include some links below in case you also have depression and need some help. Also, please feel free to message me or email me if you need to talk. You are stronger than you think.

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/nhs-voluntary-charity-services/charity-and-voluntary-services/get-help-from-mental-health-helplines/

http://www.sane.org.uk/home

http://depressionuk.org/

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/

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