Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Fringe of Depression

Okay. Let’s put this out there. I’m wondering who else feels this way.

Depression is something that I’ve dealt with, on and off, since... I don’t know. A long while. Professionally, since second year university. I actually had a really good run from some time in 2005 to early 2014 when I didn’t have any professional guidance. That’s not to say I didn’t necessarily NEED it towards the end (looking at you Exam Debris), but writing serves as a bit of a catharsis, and I have friends who keep me sane.

But what sort of depression is this? I don’t take medication. I never consider suicide in any meaningful way. I know I have many friends, and many other reasons to live. All it usually takes is a reminder of those things, and I feel better. So am I really a depressive?

Well, let’s talk about death.

Welcome to my dry/dark humour.


Let’s start with the death you’ve likely heard about: Robin Williams, who killed himself on August 11th, 2014. I happened to be in the UK at the time, with a number of teenagers and chaperones from the high school where I teach. This because we’d been given the opportunity to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I learned of his death in the evening, from another chaperone, who had seen it on TV.

It didn’t really resonate with me at the time. But then, things don’t often resonate with me.

The show the students were performing there was “Pygmalion”. You may know the plot, it’s essentially the same as “My Fair Lady”. If that still doesn’t help, all you really need to know for the purposes of my post is that a professor of linguistics tries to take a common flower girl (Eliza) and pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. Someone at the Ball denounces her as a fraud, not because he realizes her origins, but because he believes “She is Hungarian!”

Something very interesting happens in our production at that point.

After everyone shouts “Hungarian?” and the script continues downstage left, Freddy looks to Eliza, on stage right. He points at her in confusion, and mouths something like ‘Are you Hungarian?’ To which she shakes her head. He then points back at himself, mouthing ‘Then am I Hungarian?’ (Because the topic had to come up somehow, right?)

It’s funny. It’s subtle. It’s likely missed by most of the audience, and perhaps even some of the other actors. I grant that I myself might not have realized, had I not been chatting with the lead actress at one point. All that said, this reaction feels completely right.

What happens next?
Often it’s the actions of others that make us question ourselves.

Often it goes unnoticed by the majority.

It was brief, but the death of Robin Williams did make me question whether things could ever be that bad for me. But let’s remove him from the equation. Let’s talk about Justin Carmical, aka “JewWario”, an internet reviewer. He killed himself back in late January 2014. Just over a year ago. That’s why I’m posting this entry now, though I’ve been writing it in pieces for months now.

His death hit me a little harder than Williams’, despite the fact that I don’t watch much in the way of video game reviewers (I had seen him in crossovers). Granted, it might have been the time of year (January exam time is already stressful) but I believe my greater reaction was that I felt more of a connection to who he was and what he did. He was a great guy, posting content onto the internet - not unlike me. If you’ve never heard of Justin, go watch this video of his: You are not stupid. I’ll wait.


When these deaths happen (and there’s another one I might add, that of a former role-player I knew, except death may have been accidental), there’s two extremes. The first camp is those who never saw it coming, and genuinely do not understand how it could have happened. The second camp is those who do get it, and who often lead the discussion about depression. I would say the majority of people are in a spectrum somewhere between those camps, but of course I have no research to that effect.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of the second group.

I get it. But I don’t feel like I could explain things being THAT bad. Could I? Can I even be a depressive if I’ve never been formally diagnosed? If I’ve never been on medication? If “Cognitive Behaviour Therapy” tends to be enough for me?

After Williams’ death, there were a number of posts out there, written by people who (it seemed to me) had it worse than I do. But what is “worse”? Perhaps it’s merely “different”? More troublingly, was I questioning myself because I saw that state as a possible future? Or was it more personal desire to “fit in” with that group somehow, so that I might finally understand myself?

Back to the actions of others. Even something we may know with CERTAINTY can be doubted in the face of someone else’s reaction to it. (Issues of Global Warming aside.) As a teacher, I often question myself, academically or otherwise, based on the actions of my students. As a writer, I often question myself based on the actions of my readers... or more frequently the seeming lack of readers. (Calling it now, this one shot in the dark post will get more views than the weekly scheduled stories that I write!) And as someone who’s experienced depression, I question myself based on suicides. To what degree is that normal?

I've also written fiction about depression.
To reiterate: I have never seriously considered suicide. I have sometimes considered future scenarios when I’m dead or not around any more - is that something more than merely being prudent? I have self-harmed (not this century), yet it was more to advertise that I needed help than anything else. This article link points out that such things may also be a pain thing more than a suicide thing. Then there’s the discussion of links between comedy and depression, which always ring true for me... but as a statistician, I have to ask whether this article has it right, when it says that link gets more attention than others. Certainly more variables could be involved.

Then to what extent am I depressive? Am I merely particularly empathetic? Is it that I’m really lousy at finding the bright side of things? That’s not unique. EVERYONE has those sort of moments. Right? Isn’t that what it’s like to be human? Then, do I merely have them with greater frequency?

What about when it goes further? Does everyone have moments where they think can do NO right? Where the thought of causing short term pain of loss to others might be better than drawing it out over the long term? Where a counselling session isn’t merely a good idea, but a necessity?

What makes what I feel “depression” and not “being human”?

I don’t know. I can’t see what others are thinking. I can only continue to question my beliefs based on their actions. And wonder if, some day, the balance will finally tip, and I will no longer be on the fringe of depression.


  1. Suicide is more a symptom of severe depression. It's possible to be depressed without wanting to kill oneself. And depression isn't just having the blues. There's more to it, involving brain chemistry. So, yes, you can have depression but still be functional. The hard part is that it's hard to know what normal is when you never experience it. It's impossible to return to a baseline that you've never seen. Mental health is tricky.

    Now, nine years is a great span of success. I've had to use anti-depressants, last time was 2010. I haven't felt the need to get a new prescription since then, but I do monitor mow my head feels. That may be the big difference - those of us who have or have gone through mental health issues are always monitoring and wondering, just like you do.


    1. Yeah, it's sort of an active versus passive deal. The thing is, "normal" is useless without a point of reference, so I would argue that we all DO experience being normal, we simply experience it differently. But along with that is a desire to fit in, and the society definition of "normal", and what it takes to function within such a society, and that gets even trickier.

      Nice to hear from someone else on this though. I guess monitoring is all we can do, using ourselves as a baseline. Unless/Until someone comes up with a better plan.

  2. I had a very long comments and it got poofed. Drat. But yes--this kind of thinking kept me out of therapy for depression for many, many years.

    Summary: A good heuristic to use: People who are not depressed don't wonder about it. People who are depressed very, very frequently question whether they are or if it's really that serious, etc. Minimizing depression (and as a consequence, making it less likely you do anything about it) is a very common feature of depression. So in general, if you are wondering if you might be depressed, you probably are.

    1. (Drat indeed. I've noticed that blogger always seems to eat the first comment as it logs you in...) Interesting point. Almost like "seeing is believing" in one's head. I've been thinking about it less lately, which by that logic is positive - it's just every so often...

  3. I'm late to this, but as a fellow dysthymic, I thought I'd add this:

    I suspect we will find that depression and suicide are only tangentially related. Suicide is a capability that is probably genetic or inherited. Depression is a state of mind, also probably chemically or genetically caused.

    So someone can be profoundly depressed and never even think of suicide, while another person may not be particularly depressed and kill himself.

    There is a crossover--that is, there can be a point at which severe depressives can think, "this is it" and kill themselves despite their fear of death. But it's not a continuous spectrum, I don't think. There is a spectrum for "people capable of suicide" and then one for "people who are depressed." Some people are on both spectrums, others aren't.

    So Robin Williams, for example, was from all accounts a severe depressive. But it appears that it was Parkinson's disease that drove him to decide that pushing through the depression once again wasn't worth it. I'm not sure what his suicide capacity was--from my reading, though, he sounds like someone who wasn't easily capable of suicide, not genetically predisposed to it. But the thought of career failure and Parkinsons while being in the middle of a depression might have just been enough for him to cross the line.

    Other people, like Tony Scott, clearly appear to have had a capacity for suicide unlinked to depression.

    1. I have learned a new word here. Neat. It's a good point - I'm not sure about the idea that suicide is inherited, but there's liable to be other variables in there that could make the depression/suicide connection tenuous.

      For one thing, the media reports on the deaths, not (generally) the survivals. Likely because people don't report those anyway. For another, there's the question of accessibility - how "spur of the moment" it can be. Perhaps for anyone there comes a point (a "window", if you will) where suicide is a serious option, but then beyond that 5 minutes (or more?), if there was no means for it to happen, you wonder why you ever considered it. And maybe that's a window that exists irrelevant to mood, but mood can extend the duration.

      I'm glad I don't study the human mind - I have enough trouble making sense of the statistics related to it for my courses.