Indulge me, I’m depressed.
My parents and I have watched the entirety of The Lord of the Rings every winter since I was twelve. I will always be in love with the Legolas-ed Orlando Bloom, and I will always SnapChat the battles of Helms Deep and Minas Tirith. My Elvish name is Falathriel of Talath Dirnen (thank you Elvish Name Generator), and any future children of mine will *probably* have a Tolkienized name.
But this past six night viewing of the trilogy’s extended edition felt fresh, yet somewhat nostalgic, for this story is not purely fantasy, but a metaphor for the burden of depression.
In addition to being a huge Lord of the Rings fan, I am clinically depressed and have diagnosed OCD. I’ve struggled for years now and have been through the ups and downs of therapy and medications, and I certainly didn’t ask for this no more than Frodo asked for the ring. But there’s a certain obsession that can develop around a mental disorder because its symptoms become a part of how you live. Depression bears a weight, yes, but I don’t know who I am without it. I promised myself that I would never let my mental health define me, but it is such a huge part of my life and one of two priorities I actively care about (the other being my acting training).
I can’t speak for anyone’s experience with mental illnesses except for my own, for everyone experiences depression, OCD, and every disorder in their own way. But I cannot overemphasize how much I empathized with Frodo, because his journey to Mordor feels exactly like my life with depression.
Frodo lives with his burden every day. Every day it gets harder and harder to bear the ring’s weight, though some days are worse than others. He is supported by the Fellowship, a group bound by integrity, honor, and friendship. They each offer their own strengths: Gandalf, his wisdom; Aragorn, his kingly promise of protection; Legolas, his bow; Gimli, his ax; Sam, his relentless compassion and kindness; they are all strong, yet all weak under the power of the ring. Every character in the movie that comes into contact or presence with the ring handles its power differently: Boromir becomes blindly selfish (though his ultimate sacrifice is selfless); Aragorn recognizes his insecurities under the ring’s influence but is able to give the ring back to Frodo; Gandalf adamantly refuses the ring, deeming it Frodo’s responsibility to have and to destroy; and even the ever dutiful Sam falters in his short time with the ring. These encounters are brief but powerful, save Bilbo, Frodo, and Smeagol/Gollum’s extensive and demonizing keepings of this ring to rule them all.
Bilbo is perhaps the least wounded of the three. He is momentarily possessed by the ring in Rivendell, but it’s nowhere close to Smeagol’s intense episodes of schizoid personality disorder. But even Frodo isn’t able to give up the ring and destroy it. You’ve been watching this journey for hours on end, and Frodo finally gets to Mount Doom just to say “The ring is mine.” What the heck! But ultimately, I get it. How can you part with something that is so deeply apart of you, even though you know it’s evil? You’ve forgotten how you functioned before, and, as heavy as it is, don’t want to part with the very token that’s made you unique, that defining factor that makes Frodo somewhat of a “chosen one”.
No good deed goes unpunished. Frodo may have saved Middle Earth, but he does not leave Mount Doom unscathed. The physical gashes on his chest, neck, and face are truly representative of what depression feels like on the inside (and sometimes, for some people, it’s what the outside looks like as well). In the sixth ending of Return of the King, Frodo confides in Sam that he can still feel the pain in his shoulder four years after he was stabbed at Weathertop, which to me, is a self-harm incident.
No, Frodo did not stab himself, but in putting on the ring, he indulged in its power. He, in conjunction with his burden, decide to let the Nazgul see him. He brings this darkness upon himself, not with the intention to get stabbed, but still resulting in a lasting (mental and physical) scar that represents his journey to Mordor. (Funny enough, I feel my own depression near my left shoulder. This hole near my heart tenses and relaxes day-to-day, controlling my every thought, mood, and action every day.)
I always know how long Frodo’s journey is going to last (about twelve hours), but I’m still on my way to Mordor. Luckily, I have my own Sam to fight with me (it’s my cat). I may never “beat” depression, all I can do is choose what to do with the time that is given to me (thanks Gandalf) and to one day sail into the Grey Havens.