I recently watched one of my favourite shows again. It’s called Flowers. There is only one season so far, made up of six 30 minute episodes, and it tackles the topic of mental illness in a family setting.
I watch things with this particular theme almost obsessively, and in my humble opinion few works of fiction get it as right as this series does. It is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking.
The character I identify with most is Maurice Flowers, a middle aged husband and father who suffers deeply from depression. The way his story and those of his loved ones are told through bleak honesty and dark humour really touched me.
There is one scene that hit home particularly hard for me and that is when he is finally discussing his condition with his exasperated wife. The conversation goes like this:
Deborah: how can I help to stop you being so sad?
Maurice: I’m just having a bit of a bad patch.
D: OK, well how long will this dark patch last because it’s getting frankly quite boring.
M: I know, I’m trying.
D: Well, whatever you’re doing it’s not working is it? Do you want to try something else, maybe go to see a doctor, perhaps?
M: I can’t really explain it.
D: Could you try? Because if I don’t know what’s going on with you I can’t help. And I love you, Maurice. (Pause) I used to be quite a happy person before I met you.
M: It’s like….it’s like an invisible monster with no shape, no form, but it’s loud and fierce and it never ends.
D: Right, OK, is that the clearest way you can think of to explain it?
M: I’m trying, I’m sorry.
D: No, right, it’s OK. (Pause) So what do we do to defeat this monster?
M: We can’t.
D: There must be some way. All monsters have a weakness. (Pause) Maybe it’s love. Maybe love is how we defeat this monster, together.
M: Love makes it worse.
To someone who has never experienced depression I would imagine that that last line could be quite confusing. How can love make it worse? Surely having support from those that care can only make things better?
Sadly, I understand exactly what Maurice means. When in the depths of a depressive episode I not only feel alone but I usually want to be alone too. Having to face how my condition hurts those I love is beyond what I can handle when just staying alive is in itself a challenge. I see how they try to help, I feel their frustration when their efforts fail (through no fault of their own, they are up against the mightiest contender – my brain) and I hurt even more when I see the pain they go through trying to understand what’s wrong.
Depression truly is a monster. It is soul destroying for everyone it touches, directly and indirectly. Maurice describes it well in a later scene when he confesses his suicide attempt to his wife:
Please just know that I’m not unhappy because of you, I’m just ….. this is just who I am, I guess, and I don’t know how to change that and how, and what I can do to make it stop. Every morning I wake up and the first thing I think of is killing myself. I feel exhausted all the time, and impossible to gain any kind of pleasure from anything even when I think of the things which should make me happiest, when I think of our love and our children and everything we have ever done together. It’s as if I’ve had a set amount of life assigned to me and I’ve used it all up. There’s nothing left.
Throughout the show I cried quite a bit, but this was the part when I almost drowned. It is so spot on that I felt like I was hearing a script from my own head (with different personal details of course).
I feel that a show like this is so important because it exposes the bare bones of mental illness and what it can do to a person and their family. It doesn’t glamorize it or gloss over the ugly parts; it accurately depicts how devastating it can be.
I am utterly in love with Flowers. I love how I can relate to it so much. I love how it manages to find humour even in the most awful situations, without cheapening the message. It’s fantastically written and acted and I would highly recommend it to everyone.