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  • Writer's pictureNathan Foley

But the Demon Told Me To Do It - CRC 2019

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

You’re in a room full of people. You can hear everyone conversing, but you can’t actually listen to the content of their words. Faces blur past you, each without any clear detail with which you can discern the name to accompany the face. It was very nice of your boyfriend to put on this birthday party for you, but did he really have to invite so many people? Sure, they are all considered friends and family of varying degrees, but did you really want everyone over at your apartment all at once? On top of the horde of faces within your walls, you’ve felt nauseous all day for seemingly no reason. That nauseating, sinking feeling took up permanent residence in your gut just a few months ago, but it definitely enjoyed a lifetime as a frequent visitor prior to that. Last thing you really wanted was a huge hoopla of a party for your birthday. Recently you’ve been struggling with school and staying motivated with your internship. For whatever reason, you have found it so incredibly difficult to stay focused on any task you’ve undertaken and that has been a serious source of stress as of late. With all of the stress lately, all you wanted to do for your birthday was sit at home and do absolutely nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely true. You originally asked for this party. There was one night just a few short weeks ago where you felt much better than your new normal. You noticed it immediately and relished in that high for that short time while it lasted. It was that night you decided you wanted to have a party. But that decision was almost a drunken one. You know those unfortunate decisions you can make while drunk or stoned, where you hop on the computer and make a few frivolous purchases and wake up the next morning wondering why in the hell did you buy that Roomba vacuum for your 800 square foot apartment when you already have a perfectly functioning vacuum. This decision much is much like your ill-advised roomba purchase, but with a twist. You know deep down that you really do want this party, but in your new normal, your perspective is completely flipped. Why in the world is it that when you make a sound decision that would otherwise have a positive effect on your mental well-being, you regret the decision?

The party quiets down--you’ve noticed that much. The small apartment was buzzing with laughter and booze, but now it’s growing silent and eyes start turning your direction. They all start whispering in near silence to each other. The thumping and ringing of a loud party has evolved into a light hum you’d experience in a library. None of them are actually looking at one another as they silently communicate, but rather they’re whispering through the corners of their mouths, all with their eyes still locked on you. This realization painfully yanks you from your solitude. How long have they been staring at you? You know you noticed the shift, but you don’t know how long it has taken. You watched the progression of the party, but you didn’t comprehend the time in which it progressed. The crowd forms a half circle of sorts around you, leaving you trapped in the corner. You feel like an an endangered animal on display at a zoo, seeing the faces of your observers, knowing that they are talking about you, but you can’t make out the words. All you can think right now is, “Thank God I didn’t drink that much tonight.” This experience is already too much for your mind to handle without that additional impairment.

Their heads begin to turn, one by one, to face the opposite end of your small living room. Your heart starts pounding in your throat. You know what’s going to happen, and you know how you should handle it, but you’re paralyzed in fear. Grins take over the crowd like a wave gathering in the far corner, gathering momentum on its way to you, and cresting, crashing upon your petrified form. The whispers and murmurs slow down to a full stop. The only sound you hear now is the slow shuffling of feet that gets steadily louder as he makes his way across to you. He emerges from the parting crowd like a sole actor materializing onto the stage from behind an impossibly red curtain. Emerging from the barricade, his final three steps towards you feel like an eternity. Finally, he is just a foot and a half from your feet, and he slinks down to one knee, pulling a small box from his sport coat. Like I said, you knew this would happen. He’s an incredible person and he loves you deeply. You love him deeply too, but you have this voice in the back of your head that is raising concerns. The voice doesn’t care about all of the great times you both cherish, or for the several years you both have dedicated to this relationship. You’ve fantasized about this, but all you can think of right now is the mental anguish you are experiencing this moment. Thoughts escape you.

You can’t remember your anniversary. You try to access romantic memories with him that would normally bring a smile to your face, but you fail. Your very name escapes you. You only sit there, running all of the possible what if scenarios through your head that tell you this can only result in disaster. It doesn’t matter if any of those what ifs are even feasible, all that matters is that they’re there and you’re listening to them. Nothing else matters right now but that voice. The voice you are listening so intently to, but the very same voice that fills you with absolute dread. All while you’re sitting there enveloped in a poisonous presence of your mind’s own creation, he’s kneeling. Watching... Waiting...

You know something is wrong, but you don’t know what. You know that you are being irrational, but you don’t know how to stop it. You know what to say, but you can’t force the words out of your mouth. It wasn’t always this hard, but where to even begin to fix it? You used to be able to trust yourself, but now you trust no one. You used to have full autonomy over yourself, but now you’re just a passenger. You used to experience life, but now you’re just there as life happens to you. Until now, the only struggles you’ve had with this dread have been in not-so life-altering situations. You were paralyzed at the Vans Outlet store while looking at shirts. That wall of shirts somehow overwhelmed you so much that you had to leave, without purchasing what you went there for. Just the other day, you sat at your computer staring at a blank page, battling with the blinking cursor like you’ve never before.

But now, this is different. This decision has the potential of changing your entire life. Those other decisions were just day-to-day struggles that were easily avoided. You can’t run away from this one. You can’t keep running away from this, and you know it. You had a feeling that you should do something about it, but until now, you haven’t had any significant situations that were terrorized by whatever it is.

Without intervention, depression is detrimental to not only mental health, but overall well-being because it can hijack your mind’s ability to make calm and rational decisions, leading to the very decay of one’s life. Depression has a wide range of effects from person to person. According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression symptoms include but are not limited to: irritability, loss of appetite, persistent sadness, anxiousness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions. Depression is not an emotion, therefore it is not fleeting like being sad is a fleeting emotion. These symptoms can become ingrained into the very fabric of a person’s being. Anxiety becomes a frequent companion. Loss of appetite becomes all too familiar. Keeping concentrated and making decisions become a daily battle. Without intervention, these symptoms truly become you. They do not just affect your mood, but your very ability to function as a productive human being. Each of these symptoms could be dealt with fairly easily if they were experienced on their own. It would be a simple undertaking to combat even just a couple of these symptoms at a time, but all at once? That is where the challenge lies.

Imagine having a nonexistent appetite, though you are hungry nonetheless, while not only being sad and tired, but having no real way to lift up your spirits because your interest in your normally enjoyable activities has all but disappeared. Now imagine having that cocktail of discomforts most days out of every week of your life. The loss of appetite especially amplifies many of the other symptoms that accompany it in depressive people. Everyone has experienced a “hangry” person, or experienced being “hangry” themselves. Hunger, especially when it creeps towards starvation, can lead to extreme irritability, loss of concentration, and can affect the brain’s ability to learn new information. Without a steady source of nutrients, the brain suffers. As stated in the abstract for “Malnutrition and Brain Function,” “nutritional deficiency can disrupt the structure and function of the nervous system of humans and other mammals, with consequences more or less devastating for the whole organism…” Loss of appetite is an often overlooked symptom for many illnesses, but it can be one of the most dangerous in that it has the ability to amplify the effects of the accompanying symptoms. If you are not putting into it what your body needs to properly function, then it is not going to properly function as a result.

Beyond the malnutrition that can accompany depression, the most dangerous destruction can arise from the neurological effects. As with our birthday girl, depression can taint a person’s very ability to think in even the least significant of situations. According to Kunisato et al., in their study on the effects of depression on decision making, “The present study showed that depressive participants have a deficit in reward-based decision making in probabilistic learning contexts.” In the depressive participants, their ability to make what was deemed to be most rewarding decisions in the study, was impaired compared to their nondepressive counterparts. The differences in decisions between the depressive and nondepressive participants primarily surfaced through the reward-based decisions, as opposed to non-reward-based decisions. As further stated in the study, “Depression selectively affects reward-based decision making. This deficit is likely associated with hyposensitivity to reward.” Hyposensitivity, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “exhibiting or marked by deficient response to stimulation.” If a depressed individual has a lack of sensitivity to positive stimulation, then they will not achieve any enjoyment or rational interaction with positive situations.

Because of this deficiency in positive stimulation to reward, the otherwise simple act of making decisions can be incredibly difficult when suffering from depression. In “Decision-Making and Depressive Symptomatology” as well, it is discovered that individuals with depressive symptoms are much more likely to have higher difficulty reaching decisions than nondepressed individuals. In the study, it is stated that, “the tendency of depressed persons to be unwilling to take an active approach to decisions might be predicted given the lack on energy and reduced motivation frequently observed in depressed individuals.” The lack of energy and inability to actively make meaningful decisions is just the beginning. It is the beginning to surrendering autonomy for numbness. This leads to second guessing. Second guessing leads to distrust in your own decision making. That distrust is the first step in a downward tumble to forgetting what it means to trust your own instincts. In both studies, the greatest discrepancy is the difference in time it took for depressive participants to reach the same conclusions as nondepressive participants. The most rewarding responses in each study are built to be effectively common sense choices, but in both studies, the depressed participants had a noticeable difficulty compared to their nondepressed counterparts. The nondepressed participants relied more successfully on their instinct. The delay in response for the depressed participants is due to their own self-doubt in their responses. That self-doubt breeds hesitancy.

Instinct is an integral piece of human existence. Trusting your instinct is being in the driver’s seat. It is the ability to act based off of conscience. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, instinct can be defined as: “a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason.” If instinct is weakened by any outside force, decision making is going to suffer. Much of decision making that humans participate in relies at the very least partially upon instinct. If you are an expert in a given subject, you will not always need a copious amount of research each time to answer every question in your field, you can rely on your instinct and previous experiences to answer those questions. Same goes for any real life situation that you encounter in day-to-day life. People rely on their experience, and therefore the instinct they develop off of that experience. However, depression gets in the way of that instinct because it gets in the way of instinct-based decision making by making you doubt your decisions.

The very nature of trusting your instinct is that you are supposed act without doubt. It is because of instinct that allows humans to navigate through life with success and ease. Activity through life is enabled largely by instinct. As stated by Bünger in her article about misleading emotions and depression, “depression can be characterized by a general lack of action, in addition to anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure) which depressive patients often suffer from.” If left to run rampant, depression invades, inhibits the action of, and takes over its victims. Not only does it impede your ability to think, but it infects your ability to function as you once did. It makes you distrust your own instinct. Instinct is part of human nature; without trusting it, you cannot function to the best of your abilities. You become incapable of overseeing your own actions because your actions are dictated by depression’s malevolent presence. Your conscience becomes a servant to the infectious demon that is depression. You sacrifice your autonomy for the demon’s influence over your very body. If left unchecked, it manipulates you. You lose your identity to it. The demon becomes you.

The demon invades and claims ownership over your very skull. In Jordan Peele’s Get Out, the protagonist, Chris is manipulated into a situation of literal enslavement. Rose Armitage, his girlfriend, takes him to her family’s home in the woods of upstate New York. There, he is trapped by her predatory family whose intentions are to hijack his body in order to surgically supplant his mind with another’s. Rose’s family is the malevolent voice that infects and hijacks Chris’ ability to think for himself. He is literally and figuratively hypnotized to the point where he cannot discern between what is real and what is his imagination. He repeatedly goes to Rose to voice his concerns, but she silences those concerns in deceptive ways. Much like how depression invades rational thought, the Armitages invade and hijack Chris’ entire mental well-being. There is a point in the film Logan, another victim who suffered Chris’ potential fate, lunges onto Chris, screaming “Get out!” Chris and Rose then go for a walk and Chris tries to unpack everything going on in his head. He tells her, “Your mom got into my head. And now I’m thinking of all this fucked up shit that I don’t want to think about.” The malevolent demon of a voice that is depression is the same subconscious sewer of thought that invades Chris’ mind. He tells Rose that he needs to go, because at this point he suspects that his physical well-being is at stake. Rose is supposed to be a voice of reason for him. She is supposed to be in his corner, but she abandons him in his time of need by refusing to give him the car keys so they can leave. She is in on the charade the whole time. Because of this, Chris has nowhere to turn. Chris is left to fend for himself, with all of these malevolent forces attacking his mind. He can’t trust his own instincts, because not only does Rose impede his rational thought at every turn by gaslighting him, he feels he can’t trust his own thoughts and eyes because of the bizarre nature of the situation.

In the film, the Armitages are literally invading their victims’ brains by seizing that physical space within their skulls, stealing their identities and replacing those identities with predators who claimed dibs in a silent auction. The predators have no regard for how their actions are destroying not only their victim’s lives, but their entire identity as everyone close to them knows it. They destroy that by methodically undermining their victims’ instincts and supplanting those instincts with self-doubt. Chris and the other victims in Get Out did not suffer from clinical depression, but they experienced a hijacking akin to depression. They were victims to a predatory force that claimed ownership over their minds. They all let their guard down and trusted the intentions of the malevolent demons. That ill-advised trust opened the door to corruption. The process wasn’t immediate in the film, just as it isn’t immediate in depression, it was a methodical breaking down of a person’s very being. As a victim, you no longer identify with your former self because you no longer see yourself as worthy, or as having value, but most importantly as being anything more than what your oppressor has labeled you as. The depths of depression is a Sunken Place. It isn’t a physical place in a dark room somewhere in a scary cabin, but it might as well be, within the confines of your mind.

Not only does depression affect your emotional and mental well-being, it directly puts you in harm’s way by dampening your critical thinking abilities, weakening your resolve, and hijacking your inner voice. Chris’ inner voice is completely undermined in the film, and his weakened resolve inhibits him from maintaining autonomy over his actions and decisions. He didn’t trust his inner voice to begin with, then he didn’t trust the literal voice of his friend Rod, as he was the best and most rational voice of reason to rely on. If he had listened to Rod, essentially a source of strong instinct, Chris might have been able to escape before things were deadly for him. But because of the fact he didn’t listen to his and Rod’s instincts, he was sucked into the depths of the Sunken Place, therefore requiring him to regain confidence and faith in himself in order to survive.

The same goes for Dante in the epic “Inferno,” from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Dante the Pilgrim has lost complete confidence and faith in himself at the beginning of his journey. He must reach the very bottom of his own Sunken Place in order to regain not only his lost confidence, but his lost sense of self. Dante the Pilgrim’s Sunken Place is his own incarnation of Hell. At the very beginning of “Inferno,” Dante details his own straying away from his instinct, “Midway upon the road of our life I found / myself within a dark wood, for the right way had / been missed” (Canto I, 5-7). He has come to a turning point in his life, but he has lossed the correct way. He lost his direction because of his own depression. At this point, his depression held too much influence over his actions.

His depression influenced and drew him to a Hell of his own creation. He allows this to happen because he does not initially know how to combat it. As he delves deeper into Hell, he confronts more of his own demons. In the first legs of his journey, his confidence is still incredibly weak. Dante falls unconscious multiple times, primarily out of paralyzing fear. He relies so heavily on his guide, Virgil, not only because Virgil is a guard of sorts against these spirits and demons, but Virgil is Dante’s voice of reason. It isn’t until the 8th Circle where Virgil fails Dante, but Dante persists nonetheless because at this point, he has gained enough confidence in his abilities to fend for himself and he takes that role upon himself. In the 8th Circle, Virgil is deceived by Malacoda. “Let us go on, for in Heaven it is willed / that I show another this savage road." Then was / his arrogance so fallen that he let the hook drop at / his feet, and said to the rest, ‘Now let him not be / struck.’ / Wicked tail” (Canto XXI, 85-90). Virgil and Dante successfully escape, but Dante’s instinct is undermined by a deceptive force for a moment. To finish his journey through Hell, he must rely heavily on reinforcing his instinct, reassuring himself that his instinct is in fact correct. At the beginning of his journey, Dante is a shell of himself, a shell that allowed depression to dictate and influence his perception of life. By the end of his journey to his Sunken Place, he rediscovers himself. He rediscovers what it means to be confident in himself, his position in life, and perception of his life and faith. Dante at the beginning of “Inferno” is a victim of depression, and by the end of his journey to the depths of Hell, he regains his confidence, but most importantly he rediscovers what it means to truly be himself. Dante survives precisely because while in Hell, he relied on his instinct, Virgil, as his voice of reason. Dante was forced into a Sunken Place of his own creation, only to be saved by his newly rediscovered instinct. It is because he allowed depression to primarily cloud his judgement in real life that he was sucked into his figurative Sunken Place.

Although the effects of depression are becoming increasingly understood by society, some may argue that depression is overdiagnosed in today’s age and those who are correctly diagnosed can combat the symptoms with prescribed medication with increasing ease. As shown in Rottenberg’s article, “Depression: Over-Diagnosed?” a study on “adults who had been told by a clinician that they suffered from depression,” conducted by John Hopkins University, discovered that “only a minority (38.4%)” of their participants “met all of the official diagnostic criteria for depression in the last year.” While it is true that self-diagnosing has grown with the increase of internet based diagnoses be it through online messaging boards, or informative sites like WebMD, it doesn’t change the fact that those who are clinically diagnosed still struggle all the same. Just because there is a sector of society that draws themselves towards self-diagnoses, does not mean that the symptoms and effects of depression are any less detrimental. It is irresponsible to discredit the effects and victims of depression just because people label themselves as depressed.

And while there are plenty of those who are clinically diagnosed and prescribed medication, it doesn’t always do 100% of the trick. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Even though not all details are known, experts believe that depression is caused by an imbalance of certain chemicals like serotonin which then affects some nerve connections.” The fact of the matter is that medication is still in all intents and purposes experimental in that the nuances of depression are still under heavy investigation. Yes there are medications available, and yes they are proven to be effective, like any medication used to treat any ailment, the effectiveness is entirely dependent on the severity of the illness and the patient’s internal system’s interaction with said medication.

In most cases, when untreated, depression is a malevolent force that can snowball from negative emotions to full-blown physical harm and loss of self-autonomy. Dante, Chris, and our birthday girl all encountered the same type of a malevolent force. The forces in each of their stories may look different, but the intention of those forces remains the same. The intention of the malevolence in all three cases was to seize control over the rational thought and autonomy of their respective victims. Chris didn’t suffer from depression, but his malevolent adversary functioned in much the same ways as depression. His experience can be used as an allegory for the effects of debilitating depression--depression being Chris’ Sunken Place. Dante’s situation is that of his depression leading him to create a Sunken Place of his own creation. His Sunken Place wasn’t a black room that some hypnotist locked him into, but a labyrinthine Hell that he painted for his own journey. Our birthday girl is more so in the same boat as Dante. Her mind has created a state of being that she is all too familiar with--a state of being filled with anguish and paralysis that she has come to accept as her new normal.

All of our subjects though, have one thing in common: their surrendering of instinct to the influential power of evil outside forces, be it demons in Hell, an extremely predatory family attempting to enslave you, or your mind betraying what once used to be your very identity. What is to be done against a foe that decays and infects the fabric of your being? All that you know and all that you see is perceived and interpreted by your mind. If your mind is the source of demonic intentions, what do you do to regain control and confidence in your own instinct? What do you do when the only thing in your way, stopping you from reaching your goals and dreams, is yourself?

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. "Inferno." The Divine Comedy, translated by Charles Norton, Digireads Publishing, 2009.

Bünger, Lena. “When Emotions are misleading: Effects of Anxiety and Depression on Decision Making.” Brainy Sundays, 1 Dec. 2016, Accessed 2 Mar. 2019.

Hyposensitive. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 6 Mar. 2019. Accessed 2 Mar. 2019.

Instinct. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 6 Mar. 2019. Accessed 2 Mar. 2019.

Kunisato, Yoshihiko, et al. "Effects of depression on reward-based decision making and variability of action in probabilistic learning." Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 22 May 2012, pp. 1088-1094.

Leykin, Yan, et al. “Decision-Making and Depressive Symptomatology.” 4 May 2010.

Peele, Jordan, director. Get Out. Universal PIctures Home Entertainment, 2017.

Rottenberg, Jonathan. “Depression: Over-Diagnosed?.” Psychology Today, 14 May 2013, Accessed 2 Mar. 2019.

“Symptoms.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2018, Accessed 2 Mar. 2019.

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