I wrote this a few weeks ago, but now seems as good as any to post it.
I think the film Melancholia does a good job showcasing mental illness from two opposing points of view. It is centred around a woman named Justine who has depression and is unable to achieve much in life. It seems that whenever she makes an effort it results in more sadness. In one of the more extreme examples we see her sit down to enjoy some of her favourite food with her family; she musters up some positivity but before she’s finished her first mouthful she collapses, sobbing that the food tastes like ashes. From her perspective there is little point in investing in anything because she’s only going to feel new misery.
There’s a growing sense of separation between her and the rest of the population who are busy enjoying life. At the best of times Justine is a chore to be around. As her state degenerates she is profoundly debilitated and her melancholia saps the joy out of the room. I feel like the way that she is ostracised for her misery is quite realistic; sympathy only stretches so far and when the tolerance wears out they wish that she would just pull herself together.
Then, half way through the film Earth faces an apocalyptic threat. It’s revealed that a previously undetected planet is set to collide with our planet in a number of days. All of the adults stop investing in life in any meaningful way. The looming annihilation drives everyone into a nihilistic frenzy. They make some futile attempts to desperately revive their happiness, but ultimately they know they’re destined to experience nothing more than an ashy aftertaste.
For me, this is a perfect picture of what it is like to live with depression. From a depressed standpoint the world looks miserable. The only thing keeping people here is their blissful hedonism and all of these efforts are temporary. We suffer and we cause suffering upon others for our short stint on Earth and when we’re done we are soon forgotten. Eventually the sun will cease to nurture the planet before the universe winds down into a perfect chaos of entropy. Whatever the case, our effect in the long term is ultimately futile.
This is the most coherent example of my depressed thinking that I can put to print. Most of it is not that coherent. Actually most of my depressed thinking is absurd. But the solidity of my thinking is of little importance, it still colours the world in greys and turns every flavour to ash. This is my experience with depression, of course everyone is different, YMMV.
On occasion when I’ve been in the midst of this some people have insinuated that I should pull myself together or make a fresh start. This is impractical. From my perspective there might as well be a planet about to collide with earth and this person is suggesting that I should lighten-the-fuck-up and enjoy a glass of wine. Regardless of how I present, there is no enjoyment at times like these. Negative emotions echo every effort. I feel my experiences are limited to a lonely sense of gloom and doom with the occasional suicidal impulse.
I started writing about this because I’d been reading about the recent suicide of Aaron Swartz. I spent a few weeks trying to distil some thoughts regarding his death. I’ve read a lot of opinions, but at best I think we can only have a good guess regarding what happened and his state of mind.
The only conclusions that I can draw are that we need to keep pushing for more effective and easier to access psychiatric services, and we need to look out for those around us. Those at risk need to be nurtured. In a perfect world this would be unconditional. They would never be turned away or assaulted by the justice system as was the case with Aaron.
Instead we’re left with another tragic loss.