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Worse Games to Play: Katniss’s Gratitude and Depression} ?> When you go through a deeply painful and life changing experience, how do you move on? The stories I love answer this question again and again through characters like Frodo from The Lord of the Rings and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games—protagonists who go through traumatic experiences. They lost people they loved. They sustained mental and physical injuries that will never fully heal. Frodo could never completely move on, so he had to leave his world for the Gray Havens to find peace. However, Katniss didn’t have that option of escape and had to find a way to be at peace in her own world.
After Panem’s revolution had been won, Katniss married Peeta Mellark and together they had two children, something Katniss swore she would never do at the beginning of The Hunger Games. The Girl on Fire has watched countless people die and even caused death by her own hands. She’s seen her friends tortured and severely injured. Katniss has gone through so much, yet somehow she finds peace. At the end of Mockingjay Part 2, when her son cries as he awakens, she explains to him and the audience what has changed in her heart:
“Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I can remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. It gets a little tedious after all these years. But there are much worse games to play.”
Hate and bitterness come so easily to those who have endured deep pain and trauma. Katniss could have easily become hard and calloused after all she’d seen and done. She could have chosen never to have children because of her experience watching children die in the Capitol and in the Games. She could have stopped hunting because she remembered killing people with a bow. She could have pushed everyone who loved her away. She could have killed herself to avoid the work it took to find peace after the trauma. But she didn’t. She chose to make an effort to heal. No, she would never be the same. No, she would never forget what happened to her. But that didn’t mean peace was unreachable for her.
I’ve gone through a lot of tough phases in my life: emotional abuse and rejection from family members, abruptly leaving the home I’d had for ten years, enduring shaming in the workplace for having depression, and a traumatizing car wreck. I won’t forget those experiences. At times I still fear that those same family members will hurt me again, that I’ll be ripped out of my home again, that I’ll get written up for not smiling enough at my job again, and that I’ll get into another car accident that will leave me in pain for weeks. Like Katniss, I’ve had these memories haunt my nightmares.
But if I let those hurts from the past stop me from trusting people again, I would live in constant fear, always worrying about the next disaster. Instead, I choose to enjoy where I live, combat depression, and get into my vehicle to drive every day. I survived those bad experiences and I’m not going to let them make me forget about the good things in my life. Sometimes, like in the middle of depression, it’s hard to focus on those good things. And that’s okay, because I know at some point I will be able to again. Even if I can find one thing to be thankful for that day while everything else seems dark, I count that as a win.
Like Katniss, sometimes I have to stop and remember the good things in life so they shine a light on my current condition, whether it’s my experiences traveling, my friends who love me, the stories I write, and even the birds singing in my backyard. Studies even show that gratitude has a “direct effect on depression symptoms (the more gratitude, the less depression).” Our brains are actually wired to function better when we are thankful.
I don’t think constant happiness is possible for anyone, mental illness or not, but I do think peace is attainable. I believe it’s possible to be at peace with what has happened in the past and not let it taint your future. Trying to remember something good about life can get tedious over time and even tiring, because sometimes it does take a remarkable effort to pull a piece of joy out of our memories, but there are much worse games to play.