(Spoiler alert if you haven’t watched both seasons.)
Hearing his voice from behind the walls, his mom yelled, “Where are you?”
Will answered, “It’s like home, only it’s cold, dark and lonely.”
Imagine being transported to a place that looks like home, only there’s no light, and no one else is there. At times, you can communicate briefly with someone you know, but you still aren’t exactly where they are.
How did you get here?
Where are you?
You are in the Upside Down, also referred to as the Vale of Shadows. An alternate dimension that is a dark copy of the home you knew.
After you realize what is happening, and while your heart is racing, and you are terrified, exhausted, and trying to get back home – there’s also a monster after you. The Demogorgon. You’ve already seen it kill. It has taken the lives of people you know, and you could be next.
This is what depression feels like to me.
The graphic above is just a small window into the imagery, fear, darkness, including the full-on spiritual battles we face, and everything else portrayed in the Netflix original series, Stranger Things – that’s where depression and anxiety live. In the Upside Down.
“The Vale of Shadows is a dimension that is a dark reflection, or echo, of our world. It is a place of decay and death, a plane out of phase, a [place] with monsters. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it.” -Dustin
I started watching the series again after this revelation came to me one morning. I was standing in front of the mirror and had lines of code passing in my brain like something from The Matrix. I was trying to figure out how to explain the last three years if I wrote it all down, because it is so discouraging when you attempt to describe how you feel and another person either doesn’t get it, or just doesn’t believe you.
People, family included, cannot see inside your brain or your heart, like they can see a broken bone or a cast. The wounds, scars, pain and brokenness of depression or anxiety cannot be documented with an x-ray or blood test.
The characters in this show represent so many seasons of my own life and that is why I love it so much. It also has so many spiritual parallels, even though I am sure that is probably not what the writers intended.
This blog post… these words… are an attempt to piece together how depression, friendship, love, spiritual warfare, anger, resentment and loss have played out in my own life – exactly like so many plotlines in Stranger Things. I am actually excited to explore writing about this. Maybe I have finally found something that will not only help me move past some traumatic events, but also resonate with anyone else standing at the edge of those dark woods. Or, underneath the woods, in The Upside Down.
No, this isn’t a flowery self-help book. It’s a science-fiction, television series set in the 1980’s with friends who ride bikes all day, don’t have cell phones and play endless rounds of dungeons and dragons in the town of Hawkins.
Who knew that could be so therapeutic?
The main family is Joyce and her two sons, Jonathan and Will. In the very first episode, something follows and takes Will as he rides his bike home from a marathon D&D game with his three best friends, Mike, Lucas and Dustin.
I could write for hours about just the spinoff meanings of their roles, but I will try to stay on point. I type this statement after I’ve worked on this blog post for two weeks and can’t seem to get it just right. I even deleted one whole post with over 3,000 words and started over. Stay. on. point.
Will is missing. There are a variety of reactions to this just like in real life…ones of immediate panic and concern, and others with the notion that he’s just skipping school or maybe went to his dad’s. Perhaps he’s hiding out in the clubhouse he and Jonathan built. However, Will isn’t found in any of those places, and his bike is discovered in a pile of leaves on the side of the road.
Will’s friends hop on their bikes, very reminiscent of The Goonies, and are racing through the woods, down well-worn paths, yelling his name. Instead of finding Will that night, they stumble upon a girl wearing a hospital gown, with a shaved head and apparently unable to speak. All they can initially get from her is the name, Eleven, which matches the numbered tatoo on her wrist, and that bad people are after her.
Then, a body is discovered in a quarry.
The state police say it is Will, and it looks like Will. Everyone else thinks it is Will…except for Joyce, and Eleven (El), but no one knows about El yet because she’s hiding in Mike’s basement.
At first, Joyce gets a pass for her denial from Chief Hopper and Jonathan because she’s grieving. Hopper shares what he went through after the death of his little girl, and Jonathan pleads with his mom to think rationally.
Jonathan is closer to Joyce than anyone else, as the only immediate family member, but even his patience grows thread-thin when she will not alter her story that Will has tried to call her on the phone and claims she recognized his breathing. He becomes furious when she says Will is communicating with her through Christmas lights, blinking once for yes and twice for no.
Jonathan is the one having to take responsibility and plan his little brother’s funeral and feels his mom just cannot accept that Will is gone. She is obviously delusional and making Will appear in her own insane reality in order to hold on to him. But, things take a different turn when she says a faceless creature tried to come through the wall of their house. She takes an ax and chops a hole straight through to the outside of their front porch in an attempt to get to Will and save him from the monster.
Then Barb, a teenage girl, disappears while waiting beside a pool while her friends party inside. She is the best friend to Mike’s sister, Nancy. After Jonathan has some awkward moments, including a fight, with her and her boyfriend (Steve), Jonathan learns Nancy has seen something in the woods that she described as “without a face.” Jonathan shares with her that his mom has also seen this creature, and he and Nancy become an unlikely team in searching for what took Barb and Will.
Hopper is the next person to begin to believe Joyce, but not for the same reasons as Jonathan and Nancy. The handling of the body by the “state,” and how no one local can get close to any evidence, in his town, makes him dig further into what is happening. He begins to uncover falsified information and conspiracy.
I like Hopper. Before Will’s disappearance, he was content with his small-town trailer, cigarettes and six-packs. He strolls into work each morning hearing only police reports like who might have stolen a yard gnome. He appears to enjoy his numb retreat away from the life he lost…his daughter, and then his wife. He had worked in a big city prior to moving to Hawkins, and his deputies reference how the strange happenings must remind me of his old job after Will disappears, a diner owner is found dead, and Barb disappears.
Hopper is forced to open his eyes to a realm he never dreamed existed. Once seeing the evidence and where that uncertain path will take him, he had a choice to make. He could have ignored the warnings from others (the secret government police, and the secret military lab developing ways to fight the Russians) and saved himself a lot of grief. But, there was a hero character buried within him, someone who would always be a dad, and he knew he had to do the right thing for Joyce, Will, Barb and the others in his town. Even though his deputies thought him unstable and questioned him, he stayed the course. Their eyes were covered or veiled, from the true reality around them, kind of like when we don’t recognize there is a spiritual realm to the world in which we live.
Let me pause here. We don’t know what others have seen. We don’t know what path God has asked them to take. We don’t know why some are sensitive or sarcastic, and even though a negative behavior doesn’t have to be excused, we can try and understand, or just pray to understand. Sometimes, in the middle of a trial, when we’re in The Upside Down, we aren’t thinking clearly.
It always reminds me of Elijah running from Jezebel, where he collapses under a tree and asked God to just take his life.
Elijah. The same one who called down fire from heaven in front of the Baal-worshippers and priests, and completely dominated with God’s power just a few hours or days before he learns Jezebel seeks to kill him. Did he forget all God had supernaturally done and suddenly become afraid of one crazy woman?
The Bible says that after he wanted to die…he fell asleep and rested. It says that as he slept, an angel attended to his nourishment, then he rested more “for the journey ahead.” In today’s human terms, Elijah’s adrenaline had probably crashed after seeing fire consume a soaking wet altar and sacrifice, emotions swept over him and the sheer human exhaustion of all he had done temporarily clouded his mind. It happens to all of us when we are just so weary.
I have been that weary.
The deputies I mentioned before could not understand why their chief was acting erratically because they could not see the monster he was battling.
The monster. The Demogorgon. In the game Dungeons and Dragons played by Will and his friends, the Demogorgon is the powerful demon prince, known as the Prince of Demons.
In the shadows, unseen for a while, it strikes the kind of fear we’ve all had when there is an unusual sound in the woods, or when you walk more quickly to your car through a dark parking lot. It doesn’t belong in our world, but it found a gateway into their town in order to steal, kill and destroy.
The monster reminds me of satan. He’s also from the underworld, roaming to and fro on this earth seeking whom he may devour…to steal, kill and destroy. He has a temporary gateway to attack as many as he can, and he’s not alone, just like we see in The Upside Down.
In The Upside Down, Will became very weak. He’s shown curled up, pale, sick and dying. He was eventually covered in dark, vine-like tendrils that kept him in a trance, as the monster tried to take his life.
Will is rescued. Against all odds – and hours of details I couldn’t begin to describe – Joyce and Hopper are able to enter The Upside Down and find him. They were able to do this because at the same time, Jonathan and Mike’s sister are setting a trap for the Demogorgon back at his house, hoping to draw it away from his mom while she searches for Will. Let’s not forget about Eleven, whose role is far more important than I’ve mentioned, who is with back at the school with Mike, Lucas and Dustin. Without her personal sacrifices they wouldn’t have been able to determine Will was still alive and how to locate him.
But, Will is not really free. Just like in the spiritual warfare we face as Christians, escaping the Demogorgon from The Upside Down was just the first step. I compare this to our salvation. Once we’ve been rescued, the monster cannot physically drag us back to hell, but he can certainly remind us of it…of our past…of our sin, mistakes and cause us to be in chains.
Will continues to see visions of The Upside Down and is even tormented by other kids at school. The monster continues to pursue him, and Will describes it to Mike as being “stuck,” between two worlds.
Trying to escape depression is like trying to escape from The Upside Down. It typically cannot be done by the person alone, and am thankful that I also had a group of friends, like Will, who continually searched for me even when things didn’t make sense.
Some really crazy things happened to me as I encountered my own Demogorgon, and had people doubt me, like Joyce did. My story is almost as unbelievable as what happened in the town of Hawkins, and my close friends state if they had not been there to see it, they wouldn’t have believed it either.
So, I escaped, but I am not yet free, I don’t think.
Depression can keep you stuck between the two worlds. I imagine it might be like an addiction, where someone has to choose daily not to give in to the temptation of giving up.
For now, this is the shirt I just bought myself for Christmas:
To be continued.
Copyright © 2017 Keysha Thomaston®. All Rights Reserved.
*In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, Demogorgon is a powerful demon prince. He is known as the Prince of Demons, a self-proclaimed title he holds by virtue of his power and influence, which, in turn, is a title acknowledged by both mortals and his fellow demons. Demogorgon was also named as one of the greatest villains in D&D history by the final print issue of Dragon.