When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for Saturday nights when Louisville’s independent television station, WDRB-TV Channel 41, would run a double-feature of horror movies in a venue known as Fright Night.
I fell in love with these old classics. I loved the campy acting and contrived story lines that characterized so many of these films. One I’ve never forgotten was the 1933 Universal production of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man.
To my eight-year-old self, Claude Rains’ portrayal of the tragic scientist who discovers the secret of invisibility was deliciously spine-tingling.
Rains played Dr. Jack Griffin who identified an obscure drug, monocaine, as possessing the chemical catalyst necessary for physical transparency. However, Griffin, after serving as his own guinea pig, was to soon learn the price paid for scientific advancement was his sanity. I can still close my eyes and hear the lunacy of his uncontrolled laughter after the effect of the drug changed his psyche.
It was only at the end of his life, when his mortality was abandoning him, that his true self was once again revealed.
I see myself as the Invisible Man. I’m Claude Rains mimicking a character who is hanging onto his reason in the midst of a Gordian Knot of darkness and slowly losing the battle. Getting up each day and going through the motions of living is my experiment.
The depression I’ve known throughout my life is my monocaine.
The human condition can seldom be characterized in absolutes. While natural science can take comfort in truths and laws outlining these truths, social science cannot. The study of people is an inexact thing that stymies the brightest and best intentioned of people. I’ve read extensively about depression and mental illness.
I know the jargon. I understand the symptoms. Yet, what my head knows is something my heart cannot comprehend. When it comes to the understanding of our own emotions, I believe people mostly fly blind. Happiness, esteem, confidence are seldom the results of a concentrated effort—they either exist in one’s personality, or they don’t.
We don’t work on our mental health the same way in which we pay attention to how we pad a résumé.
Depression is the greatest thief the world has ever known. Each day, it slowly and insidiously takes the often slim hope people have and leaves in its stead a palpable darkness. It changes their outlook and perception to where their views of life are seen through a foul, tepid lens of melancholy.
Medical professionals I’ve seen over the past thirty years have told me that I have major depressive disorder with psychotic features. My depression is accompanied by my seeing things that simply aren’t there. Years ago, I would have been the relative that Southern families out of some sense of Gothic embarrassment would have relegated to a small attic bedroom.
Each night when I go to sleep I wonder if this is the last night I’ll enjoy some degree of rationality. I’ll wake the next day and what I am and was will be no more because I will have simply come to the point where my mind can no longer resist the encroaching madness.
My fears may be ungrounded, but they are real to me. I believe the great lie about my life and ignore the sweeter truths.
I’m a professor. I’m good at what I do. I care for my students and although my teaching style is at times unorthodox, it is effective. A few years ago, I was even named “Educator of the Year” at my university. Yet, I don’t believe I’m worthy of it. I have a wife and son who love me. I know this, but don’t appreciate it because deep down I don’t believe I’m deserving of their affections.
I am blessed with incredible friends who I have distanced myself from because I believe I offer little to the equation of fraternity.
Yes, I’m Claude Rains playing Jack Griffin and have muddled through life hamstrung by an illness I wouldn’t wish on Mrs. Hitler’s obstetrician. The pain at times is nearly unbearable, but it can be borne. There are consequences to this enduring though, at least for me. My countenance is a mirror to my dark thoughts and feelings. My stone-face and shyness turns people away.
I don’t wear smiles well.
However, there is one reason I keep waking each morning and participating in the experiment of life.
That reason is hope. A damned slim, ragged hope.
Rains’ character had madness, not the tepid, oft dull, optimism which I sporadically get a glimmer of. As long as that keeps happening, I’ll still hope and pray and plead to my God that I may enjoy some of life.
It is simply what I do.
Author: George Richards
Editor: Renée Picard