Wednesday, 13 August 2014


I was going to blog this week about how much I hate decorating (we're in week four of a big four-room job around our house, with at least another three to go), but then Robin Williams died yesterday and my Facebook feed filled up with people talking about depression, and today that's all still on my mind, so that's what you're getting.

It might have been the biggest outpouring of grief over the passing of a celebrity I've ever seen. It was certainly pretty close. Everyone seems to have loved Mr. Williams, and much to my surprise that includes me, despite never having seen any of his films all the way through. I know him mainly from standup and interviews (this one is a particular fave), which are more than enough to understand why so many people are so saddened by his loss.

What's harder to understand is what killed him. One of the bright spots about the outpouring yesterday was how much understanding there was among the people I regularly hear from about depression and suicide, but as I know mainly writers and musicians, there's a lot of first-hand experience to go around. There were still a few questions like 'how can someone who had so much feel depressed?', though.

I can't speak for Mr. Williams, or indeed for any other depressed person. I'm also neither a psychologist nor a pharmacist, so I won't try to speak for the (still contentious) science of depression. I want to speak, perhaps selfishly, of my own relatively mild case. It goes like this:

There are times when I feel, instinctively and deeply, that nothing I can do will improve my mood. That none of the luxuries I have access to - my music, my writing, the internet, video games, the wonderful people I live with - can possibly make me happier. I don't really think of this as sadness, so much as anti-happiness. It's a listless, heavy feeling; nothing like, for example, the cathartic grief of mourning.

It can come on at random, though more often when I look back I'll be able to see something that set it off. The most common cause for me personally is waiting to hear back from someone I've tried to contact, particularly if something I want to do is waiting on their response. It can also be triggered by what I think of as 'purely biological' things, like getting strung out from a few days of poor sleeping, or an illness.

Again, I want to stress: this is my experience and not necessarily anyone else's. It's also a mild case (I have more problems with anxiety than depression - it's anxiety I've had counselling for - though the two are closely related).

I want to draw one more distinction. There's a difference between the causes of individual episodes of depression, which I've already talked about, and the cause of the condition overall. It's a bit like coldsores; you get the virus once and it's with you forever, largely harmless except when something causes it to throw out a sore. My depression is more a case of being prone to episodes of depression than a constant thing.

I have a pretty good idea what it is that made me prone to episodes of depression, which episodes of my life to date have contributed to the condition. They're part of my past, though, facts that nothing in my future can change. Counselling and other therapies can help me handle the episodes, and indeed have already done so, but the episodes will keep coming.

Looking for a causal explanation for any individual person's depression - as some people have already started doing with Mr. Williams - isn't really the best way to grapple with it. Like asking someone who it was they kissed to get their coldsore virus from, it's a little bit invasive, unless you're a medical professional with responsibility for treating the problem.

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