How Take Shelter helped me address my mental health

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Dec 28, 2018, 6:00 PM EST

Depression isn't fair. It comes like a thief in the night, draining you of energy and the will to do anything before the day even begins. At least, that’s how I feel most times while dealing with my depression. I thought I had been doing a pretty good job of managing it on my own. Recently, I learned I wasn’t.

Sometimes we need something, or a culmination of things, to show us we’re being stubborn or just genuinely unable to see. One of those things was the film Take Shelter, which I watched while in an overwhelming depressive funk.

While mindlessly surfing a streaming service, I came across the Jeff Nichols film. Genre movies are always a comfort for me, so that was partly why the film caught my eye. It was listed under the science fiction category, which was probably a stretch in terms of classification, and it didn’t hurt that the co-leads were Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Surprisingly, I knew nothing about the movie prior to that fateful night. The synopsis made it sound like a film in which a husband was having visions of a coming disastrous event and became obsessed with making sure he and his family were prepared. After I watched, I understood just how much the synopsis undersold this amazing film.


I went in expecting nothing more than a sleepy-voiced Shannon trying to get his wife Chastain and friends to heed his warnings of the impending storm. I left the film with a new appreciation for his acting and a gut punch to my already exhausted state of mind. As the credits began to roll, I was left deep in my thoughts about why the film struck such a heavy blow with me. Take Shelter was about a man dealing with a possible mental health disorder, schizophrenia. His dreams may or may have not been real visions, but they showcased how he was dealing with the onset of his mental illness and, as a result, how he thought his loved ones would handle the possibility of him being schizophrenic. Even though I was dealing with depression, I still found similarities in myself and Shannon’s character, Curtis.

Like Curtis, my attempts at handling my mental health on my own were starting to take a toll on my day-to-day life. While I didn’t take out a huge loan with the bank to finance an empty trailer to build as an extension to a storm shelter I don’t own, I was doing other things that were taxing in their own way. Eventually, those things began to get increasingly destructive. Also, similar to Curtis, part of my unwillingness to seek help was because I felt like once I accepted how much of a bad space I was in, I wouldn’t be the strong person others viewed me as, a view I'd grown accustomed to. Trying to keep up the mask I presented to the world, even when it was causing me more harm than good, was so similar to Curtis' refusal to come clean to his wife about what was actually going on with him.

There is only so long one can keep functioning in that manner before things come crashing down, something I know wasn’t fair to myself or anyone who genuinely cared about my well-being. I wasn’t being sincere to myself or giving others a chance to help me in the ways I needed to be helped.


It’s one thing to understand what you’re dealing with, but sometimes it's almost impossible to have enough clarity to ask for help. Take Shelter was part of the clarity I found and some of the courage I would use a month later when my life truly depended on it.

It was my son's third birthday, something I should have been ecstatic about, but I was very deep in a depressive episode. I couldn't pull myself out of it, as much as I tried. But then something happened at work, just a minor, petty work thing, but on this day, it pushed me off of the ledge I was barely hanging onto. I'd gone past that breaking point I'd so desperately been trying to fend off on my own. This was the first time I had suicidal thoughts in a very long time. It became the second time I had to call the suicide prevention hotline.

What gave me the will to finally do what I needed to in order to address my mental health came later that night when I felt a lump in my breast. That's when I realized no matter the outcome, I needed to be here. More importantly, I wanted to be here. In the days that followed, I started taking the steps to get myself the help that was available to me. I was reminded of Curtis' breaking point and how it almost took him away from the family he'd desperately been trying to keep safe, as I had been keeping how bad I was doing to myself in an attempt not to burden those who wouldn't see me as a burden despite my thoughts. It’s amazing how you can find what you need when you aren’t necessarily looking for it. It’s even more phenomenal when it comes in a form you least expected.

Take Shelter was the lighthouse I needed in the midst of one of the worst depressive fogs I’ve experienced in my life. A fog I’m still dealing with and trying to find healthier ways of navigating until it hopefully lifts. Even if it never subsides, at least now I’ve finally reached out for help.

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