Writing the Depressed Character

My main character struggles with depression and anxiety. I want to make him interesting, while also being honest about the challenges he deals with.

Here is the problem. Conflict is key to storytelling, but most conflicts are dramatic. These are conflicts like fighting against an evil foe, or going on a fascinating adventure. These are fun conflicts to witness and to write about. It's easy to get drawn into these kinds of stories.

My character's biggest conflict in the first few chapter is trying to get out of bed. It sounds stupid. It feels stupid. It's not exactly ripe for narrative wonder. But it does feel pretty true to life. When I've been at my worst, it's been very hard for me to get out of bed and do what I'm supposed to do for the day.

Here is what I envision. My main character's name is Bear. Bear is struggling with common life tasks, and he is struggling because of his depression. He has trouble getting out of bed, he has trouble taking a shower and brushing his teeth. He has trouble making it to work on time. He gets panic attacks when he goes to the grocery store. And yet, he has to face these things every single day. How can I make these repetitive scenes interesting, even engrossing when they seem so banal?

Bear is a video game designer, so I had the idea to make these scenes like a game that you can play. The scenes will be written in the second person, and so the reader will take Bear's place and try to accomplish his tasks for him. Here's an example:

<excerpt> After the therapy session you lie in bed for a long time. You know you should get up. You need to pee. You need to take a shower. You need to eat something. You feel ashamed of yourself, you feel angry at yourself. But thinking hurts so much. It feels like there is something wrong inside you, like there is a dark spot of cancer where your heart is meant to be. How can it be so painful just to do nothing, just to lie here. You're not in danger, no one is attacking you, no one is angry at you, no one is here judging you, and yet you feel like you are doomed. You have three choices: A) Get out of bed (Ha, not actually a choice, more like a mirage) B) Cry uncontrollably and feel terrible C) Roll slowly onto the floor and wish you were dead </excerpt>

It probably comes across as pretty dark, but being depressed is dark. There is darkness in your head, in your mind, in the future. You feel fuzzy a lot, and making decisions is very hard, even when there is a real decision that it is possible to make. I like the juxtaposition in this scene between a game which is meant to be fun, and the reality of depression which is at the same time boring and sad.

However, the problem is that there won't be just one scene like this. Bear has to get out of bed over and over again. Every day in fact. It's always hard. The struggle is always like this. But if I write the same scene over and over again, it will get repetitive and boring, which isn't exactly what I want. I want the reader to understand and experience a little bit of Bear's distress, but I also want the reader to get pulled into the story, and I'm not sure how to accomplish both goals.

So the question is, how can I write a part of my novel from the second person point of view, bring my character Bear to life, share this experience of depression, and pain, and keep things interesting? Is that even possible?

An example that I have been thinking recently is the movie Groundhog's Day. If you haven't seen it before, it is the story of a self-centered weatherman, Phil Connors, who has traveled to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to report on whether the local groundhog will see it's shadow, and if there will be six more weeks of winter. He is rude and dismissive of the townspeople during his visit there, and can't wait to get out of town. Except when he wakes up the next morning, he is back in the hotel reliving the same day over and over again. The script for this movie does a fantastic job of telling the story of Phil as he slowly learns to be a better person. Each time the day starts over again, the movie replays enough of the scene to let us know that the same day is happening again, but at the same time it explores how the day could end differently based on Phil's choices.

Being depressed is a lot like being stuck in this movie. Every day, you are stuck with the same feelings of sadness, loneliness, disappointment. The struggles are often the same too, going to work, dealing with panic attacks, fighting to have enough energy to accomplish basic activities of daily living, like taking a shower or buying groceries. However, your choices and actions change a little bit from day to day.

The movie Groundhog's Day does a great job of repeating only enough to help you know where in the story you are at, but not so much that it becomes boring or redundant.

I want to write about depression in the same way. I want to repeat the key scenes my main character deals with in a way that you can get to know him and the struggles he's dealing with, while at the same time not repeating the scenes so much that they become boring. I just haven't figured out how to do that yet.