They say good magicians never reveal their secrets. The beauty and mystique of a trick is in not knowing how it was done. Maintaining the illusion; making what seems logically or physically implausible, seem real. After all, the idea is once you know how an illusion works, it is no longer an illusion and therefore loses its appeal.
Of course this idea is itself an illusion. We go to watch a film knowing the actors are not really the people they are pretending to be, yet our enjoyment of the story they tell is not affected. Most wrestling fans acknowledge that the ‘sport’ is largely scripted, yet it does not affect their appreciation of the performers’ effort.
I think for many people, their relationship with depression feels somewhat similar. They occasionally go through days feeling they must maintain the illusion; that if others knew what lay beneath the exterior, their attitude towards them would be affected. So it becomes a skill to maintain the illusion that everything is fine, for fear that if the trick was exposed, everything would presumably change. You could be considered a different kind of person who needs ‘special’ attention.
So it becomes something like a psychological myth, perpetuated by historical attitudes towards mental health and the tendency of some to assume depression is a tangible thing to be solved either by ‘getting over it’ or, if that fails, by simply taking a tablet. It can feel like there’s rarely any middle ground between pretending this thing does not really exist, and thinking it is a terrible monster to be dealt with by medication or therapy with a trained professional. Let’s drop this illusion for the rest of this post.
Now, I can already hear the counter-arguments from people who may have been keeping track of the recent Alps plane crash that has since been linked with possible depression in the co-pilots case. I realise the possibility for mass hysteria in people who (it isn’t as much a stretch as it sounds) may, in the wake of this tragedy, consider anyone who ‘keeps quiet’ about their depression to be not only negligent to themselves but also, potentially, a danger to others. The latter suggestion is nonsense in the vast majority of cases, though I’ll return to the topic further down.
Though it’s not really for me to judge, I’ll admit that I feel I have adequate experience to offer some vague advice on the issue of depression and how to help others deal with it. I have a few thoughts that I’d like to air here in a way that resembles something close to useful. Here goes:
- Depression and mental illness are not necessarily the ‘same thing’. To group these terms together under the same label is kind of like saying Guinness is the same thing as beer. They might well be the same thing in a broad sense, but there are of course many other beers under this umbrella term, and I daresay their respective breweries would not appreciate you associating their image with Guinness.
- There is a difference also between being someone whom people feel they can talk to, and being someone who encourages them ‘to talk to someone’. The latter implies another, different kind of person would be more appropriate for ‘their needs’ – but often that other person may give them a similar response, and a cycle is started whereby the only response is to continually pass on the buck. Seeking out an expert is not always necessary if the simple steps are taken first. All they may wish for is a friend – someone around whom they won’t be made to feel like some kind of ‘special’ case in need of more than you can give.
- One thing you usually don’t need to offer is advice. In fact, be reluctant to do so even if asked in the heat of the moment. It’s likely you can’t singlehandedly fix all their problems within the space of a day, or a conversation, nor should your mind be preoccupied with wanting to. Pride may tell you to do that, because you fear the situation could become awkward otherwise. You may always feel the need to present solutions, to be going towards some kind of destination or conclusion because that’s how most of the world works. Well, in that case, get over yourself. Awkwardness is often only in the mind of its tenant. Embrace it if you have to, and just listen. Getting bogged down in self-pity for ‘not being able to help’ only refocuses the spotlight on yourself when, frankly, you may need to get used to the opposite feeling. Strip yourself down (no, not literally), realise that your qualifications, your status, your intelligence, your looks, your physique, don’t really have any part to play in those moments, unless you wish to make fun of them. Wit can help, even if it’s at the other person’s expense (and, of course, tasteful). But if you just want to sit there, not saying much and not feeling under any pressure to say much, that’s fine too. Just… try not to make a big deal of it. You can do that later when you remind yourself how self-important you are.
- Don’t feel you deserve anything back – what you do get back won’t be because you feel entitled to it. Also don’t go into these situations with ulterior motives related to what you think you can gain for yourself by helping. Though I daresay if you do feel this way, then you’ve completely missed the point in the first place and it’s likely nothing I say will change that.
- Asking if depression can ‘cause’ an event such as the recent Alps plane crash is kind of similar to asking if homelessness causes people to become violent. The answer is yes, for some people, it does play a factor, but to suggest it is ever the sole cause is ludicrous by any reasonable standards. More likely said person’s violent tendencies, if that is what they have, stem from their personality and character, which would have been directly affected by other factors such as upbringing, family life, friends, etc. If one does not have some kind of support group around them providing the very basic needs intrinsic to every human being’s disposition, then it is absolutely a possibility in anyone’s case that they may be driven to things that would not otherwise have been an issue for them. Such issues may indeed be exasperated when going through an episode of depression or finding yourself without a home.
So yes, perhaps depression – along with whatever other mental illness this co-pilot, no doubt a complicated human being like the rest of us, may have suffered from – did have something to do with him crashing the plane and killing 150 people. But remember one thing before you come to what you may then deem an obvious conclusion that all depressives should be treated with suspicion. The media reporting this story want exactly that: a story.
They want to sell their papers, enjoy higher ratings when you tune in, get your clicks to their articles online. The longer they can keep your interest, the better for them. This is the main reason they search for a likely motive, and when there seemingly is none, look into that person’s past to create one of their own making. Check out this article from the BBC on the matter; an interview from an ex-girlfriend of the perpetrator, talking about some random musings from a conversation the two had years ago (and probably something for which she was paid generously). This really was scraping the bottom of the barrel to find the most tenuous of links. Such ‘evidence’ wouldn’t hold up in a court of law. Though for some people, unfortunately, it’s all the excuse they need to start sharpening the pitchforks and say they ‘knew all along there was something wrong with them’.
That of course would mean you surely think the same way about Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Bob Dylan, Anthony Hopkins, Stephen King, Akira Kurosawa, Abraham Lincoln, John Lennon, Isaac Newton, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Leo Tolstoy, Vincent Van Gogh, among many other public figures who suffered from depression at one point or another? For some of them it was a life-long condition that plagued and often inspired their work, though they all had/ have one thing in common. An outlet through which they could express themselves. Every one of them have had positive impacts on the world, for different groups of people, in many different ways.
I wonder if depression therefore caused all of that, too?