The Inside Part of “Inside Out”



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You’ve been warned.

This last Sunday I finally got around to seeing “Inside Out”. My partner asked several times if I liked the film. My answers were along the lines of, “it was incredibly well written”. Or, “very accurate”. Or even, “I loved the inside jokes”.[Inside Jokes! Ha Ha! -Ed] Finally Jarys pinned me down to, “but did you enjoy watching it?”

About three hours later I was finally able to answer, “no, but I’m glad I saw it”.

I started to worry this film would be difficult for me when we reached the part involving an interstate move from the inner perspective of the young girl, Riley. Her move was from wide-open Minnesota to up-close-and-personal San Francisco.

My experience of coming to the states occurred when I was almost nine, not far off from eleven, Riley’s age. I’d moved so many times since then, in multiple cities in three different states, and three different countries; I thought I was partially numbed to the whole thing. Sure it’s stressful, but it’s no big deal, not anymore.

But the makers of “Inside Out” had stumbled on a method of reconnecting my feelings to the first time, the most traumatic time. The time I lost a great deal of hair, and I had to learn to live in a country that utterly confounded me. (As opposed to now, when most societies confound me.) That first time, I left rural England and miles of open fields, for the suburbs of Palo Alto in the Bay Area, CA. Orderly queues of children waiting to wash their hands were replaced by a squeezing mob that I got in trouble for rebuking for not waiting their turn. I was already wired differently from the kids back home, but at least those social rules made sense. I was lost but trying to stay happy, and failing.

To climb out of the past and get back to the movie, as concerned as I was that this would hit harder than I expected, I was okay at first. I enjoyed the jabs at San Francisco (yes you can get broccoli on your pizza in SF, and there are plenty of bears to be found), and relaxed a little. When joy and sadness were sucked up out of headquarters, I still had yet to suspect just what this movie would do. It was when the “personality islands” turned gray I found my chest tightened. But the biggest punch was still coming.

As soon as the first one crumbled and collapsed I was in tears. This wasn’t about England anymore, this was about February 2004 – February 2014. And about a week out of every six since. Those ten years spanned the longest depression of my life. I was watching, on screen, a perfect representation to the erasure of my entire identity during that time. As most of you know, I’m Bipolar, and I still slide down. My partner always misses the sound of my laughter for the three or four days I’m under. But that’s nothing compared to what started in 2004.

I lost friends, I lost my ability to work, I eventually stopped caring for myself and am still paying (literally) the price of those years. The visual destruction of Riley on screen connected with me to the point I was sobbing my eyes out just watching it. It took me a while to calm down because right there, for everyone to see, was what had happened to me for so long.

I’ve spent years trying to find words to accurately describe depression. Years. Most of them in the middle of it, fighting to reach out and explain. Yet in that single scene they had captured the essence. That wasn’t all “Inside Out” had in store. The screenwriters had to know what they were doing, what they were showing. Because that wasn’t the only parallel, oh no! They captured the progression perfectly.

First comes a sense of numbness that is not quite sad but is certainly a lack of joy. Then something goes through and paints all your old memories as negative ones, like sadness touching all the globes. Every time you look back at the things you used to think on fondly, it is tainted by the dark lenses of the sinking mood.

Joy and Sadness do become abstract thought – as they briefly do so in the movie. you lose touch of feeling the acute sweet tears of sadness because the oppression that is depressive pain is more than sadness its something else. More potent and dangerous, it’s an anguish that permeates the soul and sometimes stops you from feeling anything.

Like joy? What’s joy? Will I ever feel it again? That’s the question for those lucky enough to remember a life before the utter desolation of the self. And as the years progress it comes easier to assume the answer will be, “No!” It becomes harder to escape and Joy does fall down into the place of forgetting. She falls all the way into the darkness where some people never see her again. And should you be lucky enough to get her back, the movie got that right too. You will be a different person.

For that I suppose I should be glad. The me now wouldn’t much get along with the me that slipped away into nothingness. But, despite the changes I’ve made over the years, the growth I continue to pursue, the final climax of the movie still left me in tears. Because, once more, it brought me right back to being a child in a bigger, wilder place that is nothing like home. It showed the reality of a move that big in a way most films shy from. The whole family hurts. Everyone misses home. And while we are no doubt supposed to feel catharsis at this point, for me, putting me back in that time, placed me at the beginning of a journey that is far too long and painful to recount in one blog post.

I make it through most tear-jerking films with dry eyes, it’s hard to get me to cry even when I would really like to. But my cheek was soaked again. Because it reconnected me with my first truly big trauma that lead to many more. And make no mistake, when you are little, that first pain is deep, and acute, and overwhelming. And while we think we get past it as we age, it’s possible to be put right back in that moment.

I wasn’t expecting that experience from the movie at all. I was expecting to have some reflection on mental health after the film. I had a notion I would discuss the arguing emotions as being similar to some of the discussions that went on in my head with my voices. I was intrigued about what they would have to say and the effects they would have. What I got instead was the language to describe what happens inside, when my mood crumbles so far into nothingness my own self is destroyed.

Maybe I’ll never find the words for the page. But at least now I can tell people what movie to watch. Whether that makes a difference to others understanding depression I don’t know. I really hope so.

Before I end this on a sad note, let me pick things back up the way the movie expertly showed. The new core memory was bittersweet. Because joy realized that sadness was just as important as she was. Because when we share our sadness that allows us to connect with others and it’s usually connecting with others that is our salvation from depression.

From there, positive memories started forming. Riley was herself again, and then the movie credits played while they showed the insides of other people’s heads, finally a dog and ultimately, for the best and most needed laughter of the night, the inside of a cat. It did give a plausible reason to some of my own kittie’s behavior I will say.

So if after all this, you feel you’ve traveled too far down the line of suffering just remember. Cats are hilarious and that’s what the internet was invented for. Here, I’ll get you started. There are more recent compilations, maybe find one and share it.

Oh and the necessary mention. If you are concerned you are experiencing depression, please do not blame yourself, and please seek the help of a psychiatrist. Not a regular doctor. Not a therapist. (Though that could help too) But someone who can diagnose you properly, and prescribe medication. You wouldn’t think anything of treating a broken foot would you? Mood disorders are no different. They are a chemical imbalance that must be treated.

It might save more than just yourself.


Melissa Devlin
Mike asked for a bio. I hate writing my own bio so I’m stealing parts of it from my own website. Why? Whenever I try spitting one of these out I either sound crazy, arrogant, insecure, or all three. It’s like sitting down at a wedding and being asked by a perfect stranger, “So tell me about yourself”. My mind always blanks and I’m left with the following: I’m the daughter of Keith Devlin, the internationally famous mathematician who sleeps with his socks on (Also known as NPR’s Math Guy). And Janet Devlin, internationally published playwright. Her recent work has been produced in Greece. Much earlier her Radio plays were performed by the BBC. I was born in the UK, as was my sister. My brother is American. I am deeply in love with Ace of Geeks cofounder, Jarys Maragopoulos. And I can confirm half of our arguments boil down to me being raised in a 1970’s time capsule of England transplanted to the states, and Jarys actually being from somewhere real. I tend to most often write about mental health issues (I’m openly Bipolar I), and what it’s like to emerge from a rock after ten years and discover there’s been a geek explosion in my absence. There. A bio that barely reveals anything about me. I really am English.

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