I just finished rereading the entire Calvin and Hobbes collection for the umpteenth time. I’m so familiar with the eponymous boy and tiger that I found myself looking forward to specific strips, especially the Sunday ones with their bold colors and creative layouts.
Some of my favorites are when Bill Watterson shows little Calvins running around with goggles and helmets in Calvin’s brain. These mini versions of Calvin operate his life like the crew of a spaceship. They attempt to recalculate when Calvin missteps and falls down the stairs. They descend to the subconscious, a cluttered dump of a place, to retrieve movie reels for that night’s dreams.
I like this imagery. There’s something appealing about personifying the decisions and operations of one’s brain, perhaps because it makes it seem like there are little allies inside one’s head working to one’s consistent benefit. After all, if they’re part of you, they must want your wellbeing, right?
Depression, to me, feels like a mutiny. It feels like I can never quite trust the little workers running around in my head because they get bored, or they get lazy, or they get moody, and without consulting the protocol for Normal Operations or checking in with Management (which would ideally be, y’know, me) they decide that the Mood Balance should shift to sad. Or irritable. Or let’s just throw the whole system into neutral, and coast for a while, which is not as bad as sadness or anger but is still less than ideal for a productive, happy life.
I can do certain things to prevent these shifts. I can be mindful of my stress levels, my eating habits, my sleep schedule, my exercise routine. I can watch that Christian the lion video if I need to cry. I can read Calvin and Hobbes if I want to cheer up.
But all of that feels like placating the tiny workers, keeping them in check. It feels like I am not in control. And shouldn’t I be? This is my brain, mine, but I’m not calling the shots.
This, I think, is the problem with mental health. It’s invisible, and even when it is made visible, whether through the images of neurons firing in our high school textbooks or through the imagined Mini-Me workers of a cartoonist, there remains a certain expectation of ownership. The owner of the brain in question is supposed to be able to squash any rebellion. But how do you do that when the center of control is the part of you that’s rebelling?