On October 1st, 2006, HBO aired its hit T.V. series, Dexter. I was unaware of this series until 4 years later; it had an interesting plot that kept viewers glued to their televisions week after week. Ironically, Dexter is a serial killer that murders, well…murderers. In this series he describes his urge to commit such acts as the role of a Dark Passenger that drives his decisions–a complete wrongness that Dexter can’t fight. As if he has he had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality, he would often comment on how he wish he didn’t have this “curse” and how it hindered his ability to live a normal life. This notion of a Dark Passenger really hit home with me, because at times living with a mental illness feels like you have a Dark Passenger.
With the countless amount of good days we have, there always feels like there is a cloud that follows us; this cloud–our Dark Passenger–can be relentless and suffocating. Any given event on any given day can spark a visit from this alter ego… and it’s terrifying.
Have you ever been so perplexed, so confused about an action or comment you said? I have, and many others that deal with mental illness. It’s almost as if you lose grip on reality, even if just for a moment. Something in you, a thought, a feeling, or an urge will consume you. And then you’re lost. Lost within the confines of your own mind. The fallout for this temporary lapse in time is mentally overwhelming, to say the least.
Sept. 2007 – I was 18 at the time and I can admit, I didn’t have a great handle on my life. I wanted the mind-racing to stop. My pendulum mood swings resulted in terrible judgement calls. I would say awful things to people I cared deeply about. This wasn’t “me“, but regardless, I still said and did things that were damaging to others.
My Dark Passenger was insidious.
This personality needed to be silenced, but my solutions were never the greatest: smoking drugs, consuming large amounts of alcohol, and lastly excessive use of Nyquil were how I put that part of my mind at peace. This continued chronically for the entire year.
Through these vices, I lost myself. Relationships had become strained, and my work ethic and character came into question. My Dark Passenger was becoming the public representation of myself, and it was ruining my life.
I mentioned in my first blog post for HMC the use of some of my coping mechanisms; in the case of my Dark Passenger my vice was namely fitness. The older I get, the more I realize the role of fitness in my mental health therapy: fitness can be an extremely effective tool to keep an anxious mind at peace, but it can spiral out of control.
I weighed 235 pounds when I began working out. I was not in shape at all. It was my way of fighting back against my Dark Passenger, I suppose. Within months I weighed in at 155 pounds. I lost 80 pounds in less than a year. I was kicking my alter ego’s ass…right? No. It was kicking mine.
I recall the balance of many friendships and relationships at that time.
I would get a call saying: “Let’s hangout later”
My response: “Sure! Just have to work out first.”
Seems harmless, right? Well, it didn’t end there.
Their text: “Want to grab some pizza? I’m starving.”
My abrupt reply: “No, I brought my food with me. I have some spinach, boiled chicken, and broccoli.”
My responses were often met with friends’ claims of me taking dieting too far and expressions of concern from loved ones. I had a six pack, though, so it was all worth it…right? I had never had abs before. I was putting the underlying tone of my Dark Passenger to rest, or so I thought.
I was weak. I was frail. I was obsessed with the timing of my meals. Oftentimes I would neglect social functions so it didn’t interfere with my eating schedule. I would eat every 2-3 hours, and if I fell out of that window, I convinced myself that my results would be lost.
This doesn’t sound like I was parting ways with my Passenger, because I really wasn’t.
Over the following years I would go to countless doctor appointments. They were concerned about my weight. My sex drive was nonexistent. My outbursts and irrational thoughts were only getting worse.
I was my Dark Passenger.
My loved ones knew this wasn’t me, but I distanced myself from many of them, creating friction and unnecessary damage between my friends and family. I wanted solitude, and I wanted to suffer quietly. I knew I was hurting others, but my belief was that my absence was in their best interests.
One day, seemingly out of nowhere, I was tired of feeling weak and frail. I started eating, and I was determined to be a bodybuilder. Once again, I thought I was beating my Passenger. Nothing changed though. I was still obsessive and meticulous with my eating schedule, and still was neglecting my loved ones. Needless to say, it was yet another coping mechanism. This phase passed and severe depression and awful anxiety followed. The fallout was drastic.
My Dark Passenger was unrelenting.
Although my physical health and my views on body image had improved, my mental health became worse. I would say malicious things to the people I loved. I was driving people out of my life and was further isolating myself. I didn’t want help, but I needed it.
My Passenger had developed a sense of intelligence–call it responsive adaptation, if you will. What I mean by that is, the general public would perceive me as normal, funny and caring–but behind the exterior I was a complete mess. What’s worse is that I began to see my mental illness as an excuse.
I’d say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. I was having one of those days.”
“I just couldn’t concentrate and was tired, it was one of those days.”
These statements were true, but that’s not an excuse. Living with mental illness is tough and it comes with struggles that some may not experience, but I still had to be accountable to myself and others.
Everyone may have a different representation of their own Dark Passenger. Maybe it’s addiction, maybe it’s compulsions – it could be anything. Our minds can be battlefields.
For those reading that don’t suffer from mental illness, this is real. At times we do lose track of our thoughts or maybe uncharacteristically display ourselves, but know this is temporary. Our intentions are pure, but sometimes we are drained or in pain. I’ve hurt many, I’m sure. Words can’t begin to express it, but I am sincerely sorry for those days.
We can thrive with mental illness and we are capable of great things, but perhaps to do this, we need to make peace with our Dark Passengers. Maybe it doesn’t need to be a “Dark” Passenger anymore. Sometimes the days will be hard, and the effort needed to get through them will be exhausting, but we can get through them.
Take a moment when you need it, breathe, reevaluate your mindset and continue on from there. In the long run, it can simply be our Passenger. Eminem once said from his song “The Monster“:
“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed. Get along with the voices inside of my head.”
This side of us doesn’t need to be a “monster“. These thoughts or “voices” so to speak, don’t have to consume us. We can be at peace with them and can overcome this aspect of our daily battles. Day by day, we can make it through and show the world our amazing selves.
About Joel Wheeler
Sales Manager for a local supplement company by day, free thinker and mental health advocate by night. Joel has become outspoken about his day to day struggles about mental health and has brought him to Healthy Minds Canada to share his stories with the hope to help others and offer support.