An example of this might be the television show Gilligan’s Island, which originally aired in the mid ‘60s. The main characters have been shipwrecked and stranded on an uncharted island near Hawaii, and the show is generally based around their (failed) attempts to get rescued. As a sitcom, the viewer is not really expected to believe the whole premise. There are numerous instances where we are asked to do away with logic and go along with the story.
The castaways are frequently visited out of the blue by other people who have somehow also ended up on the island, but the visitors always find a way off the island while the main cast never gets rescued. In the show the characters are able to fashion incredible items and inventions out of the bamboo that grows on the island, but they never manage to create anything that will help them escape the island. The radio announcements that they are able to pick up from Hawaii always come on at just the right time with just the information needed to advance the plot.
Obviously these story elements are necessary to keep the show going. If the cast was restricted to just the five main characters, we might soon get tired of them, and if the group was rescued, there would no longer be a story to tell. So rather than look at the implausibility of the whole set up, we are willing – for the sake of entertainment – to drop the realism and go along with the outlandish premises that the show is based on.
In dealing with depression, sometimes we need to suspend our disbelief about our ability to recover, and about the efficacy of our treatment. Like the laughter therapy that I mention in a previous post. When I’m really depressed, the notion that forcing myself to smile and laugh is going to help my mood seems pretty ludicrous. And yet clinical studies have shown that there is validity to that notion.
There are numerous other facets of treatment that just don’t make sense at times when we are at our lowest. If we are able to get out of our own thinking ruts and are willing to give some of the therapeutic suggestions a try, we may surprise ourselves and actually see benefits.
I found art therapy to be that way for me. It was one of the modes of treatment offered at the outpatient clinic I attended. I tried to get out of art therapy because it sounded like a total waste of time. I opted to go into the group psychotherapy sessions that were offered in the same time slot. When the therapists figured out that I wasn’t speaking in the psychotherapy sessions – at all – they gave me the boot and sent
me back to art therapy.
Since I was kind of stuck there, I started actually doing the assigned projects each day. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. I just did whatever struck me in the moment. I remember one assignment where the art therapist set out boxes of multi-colored tissue paper and asked us to create something 3-dimensional that represented our anger. Everyone started grabbing for the bright red and orange pieces of paper. I was drawn to the dark blue and black colors. I ended up making a flap out of the dark blue piece and crinkling up a small piece of the black paper into a tight little ball which I glued beneath the flap. I wasn’t thinking about any specific symbolism, but when it came time to discuss our work, the therapist found a whole lot of meaning within my simple little piece, much of which actually rang true. And so I discovered things about myself that I wouldn’t have learned had I not been willing to try something I didn’t even believe in.
It’s a lot easier to suspend our reliance on reality when watching a comedy than it is to allow our ourselves to question our beliefs around our mental health, but there’s a lot bigger payoff than just a half hour’s worth of entertainment. Whether we believe it or not, maybe we can just give an inch of space to the thought that there may be another reality than what our depressed minds are having us see. Unlike forsaking reality to promote the fiction, maybe we are believing the fiction and we need to suspend that in order to see the reality.
It’s worth a try. We’re not destined to be castaways forever.