Well, last week’s solution didn’t work…

As I did last weekend, I am feeling like a sad, depressed, lonely bugger for no identifiable reason. Last week this lead to the disjointed and distinctly odd post on the subject of death, murder and assorted weird things, and as a method of letting out emotion it failed truly spectacularly. So today, I thought I might as well instead talk about depression.
I am not, incidentally, going to talk about this in a strict medical sense- I am neither qualified nor able to do so. But just-being-bloody-depressed-and-unhappy-half-the-time is something I have had to cope with for a large proportion of my life, and it is not something I have found to be well understood or, especially, appreciated.
Depression can arise from a wide variety of causes. For some people it’s  getting too philosophical and deciding there is no actual point to life, for others it’s an alternative to anger with the way their life is working out, and for some it’s just loneliness and boredom. The latter is actually an especially interesting scenario- people are generally only depressed when their mind is not occupied. A case in point is Robbie Williams, who for years suffered terribly with offstage depression whilst onstage having the time of his life. One thing, however, crops up when the matter is given thought- depression does not happen to anyone. Some people will never have a reason to, some will always be surrounded by friends, some will spend their entire lives kept too busy to really get depressed, but many simply don’t have the personality for it. Depressives tend to be people who think a lot- they may not necessarily be intelligent, but they will almost certainly be introverted to an extent and self-reflect a lot. The trouble is, bouncing ideas off yourself is not the same as bouncing them off friends, and it is unhealthy for a normal human brain.
The big problem with this is that the kind of people who get depressed are, therefore, those least likely to seek help. If you are an introverted person, you may have an unimpressive social life, perhaps be bad in the company of others or had some embarrassing rejections, and you are often unlikely to feel that opening up is going to help you. Plus… there is something delightfully selfish in wallowing in your own misery. It feels good. While everyone passes by and doesn’t help you, you feel better than them, which for a depressive is often a rare and satisfying feeling (Many depressives have major self-esteem issues; the irony is that these are often completely unfounded, and often caused by obsessive perfectionism or overambitiousness). The natural instinct of a depressive is to revert to their lifelong tactic and turn in on themselves, and it can take a seriously analytical and critical mind to realise that this is what is causing all the mental damage. Some people will never get out of this cycle, and will go to their grave with the same depressed tendencies that have dogged them all their lives, never telling a soul. These people are few- after an extended period of time, only the strongest-willed of depressives will not have thought of suicide, and it’s an option far too many have taken. Herein lies the issue- depressives hide from the rest of the world to prevent it from helping them, but often refuse to help themselves.
I must interrupt the flow here- if anyone who ever ends up reading this suffers from depression, make a beeline for your nearest counsellor. This can feel incredibly defeatist, like you’re giving up on yourself, but some things cannot be handled on your own. Counselling does not mean you are some psycho with mental issues, and counsellors are not psychoanalysts or quacks. Think of a counsellor as a professional friend- someone who you can talk about stuff to with no fear that it’s going to get spread, and who knows the best way to help you. If you really can’t persuade yourself that you should be getting counselling, or just want another tactic, throw yourself into your social life. Focus on a group of mates you’re sure you can trust (disloyal friends are killers to your self-esteem (and possibly wallet), as well as being amoral scum), and focus all of your efforts into enjoyment. Buy the first round, have an extra beer or two, be as wild as your inhibitions will let you. It may not work, but it’s worth a try, and if you manage to get yourself a stable social circle then the fight is as good as won.
However, there is one almost sure-fire way to help a depressive, and that is to break  their idea that introspection is a good tactic- to show them that the world is, actually, a good place full of good people. This not uncommonly happens by accident- the stressed-out worker with entering a spiral of depression receiving a rise and getting back on top of his rent. Many new parents may find coping with a new baby incredibly hard, and start getting depressed after the third night in a row that their little bundle of joy has woken up at 1am screaming their eyes out, and for them the release may come when such episodes stop becoming a nightly occurrence- circumstance too can be a saviour. But for many circumstances may not simply fall their way again, and this is where other people come in. I can speak from experience when I say that nothing cheers up a depressive more than somebody coming up to ask them what’s wrong, and persisting past the initial mumbled ‘Nothing’ or ‘I’m fine’ (although be warned anyone who tries this- make sure you know when to back off, because people who happened to just be staring vacantly that day may not take kindly to you asking deep questions about their mental fragility).  Somebody who genuinely wants to hear your problems and help you out is manna from heaven for a depressive, and there is also something deeply satisfying about knowing you’ve helped somebody else out. Depressives can sometimes be hard people to like- some have a tendency to be clingy while others demonstrate that there is clearly a reason they were out of the social loop. But if treated properly and pointed in the right direction, they are generally as nice enough people as the rest of us.
A little while ago, I heard a story about a schoolboy that I thought I could leave you with. He missed the bus home after school and, since he didn’t live too far away, decided to walk home. On the way back he met a guy in his year who was walking the same way- he didn’t know him well, only really as a face and name (I believe he was new to the school), but he seemed like an OK guy. They got talking, in the way schoolboys do, and spent most of the way back talking about football. It was a Friday, and as they parted the first boy asked his new mate if he wanted to come for a kickabout in the park over the weekend- he’d already arranged it with a few of his mates, and thought they could use an extra player to make up the numbers. The guy agreed, they parted, and met the next day at the football.
About a year later, the two having become pretty close friends, they got to talking about the day they first met. The second boy said that, for all the time he had been going to that school, that was the first time he’d had anyone to talk to on the way home. He also said that in his schoolbag that day had been a length of rope and, for but a missed bus and a few friendly words, he would have hung himself that evening.

Failure and Happiness

To anyone who may end up reading this who does not currently have a wordpress blog, please allow me to inform you as to one feature of it. In the top left-hand corner of the screen, there is shown a small graph, demonstrating activity on your blog for the last 48 hours. For the last few days, mine has been empty. I have had no views of my blog.
Now, a blogger’s task is, ostensibly, to attract attention and traffic- the average blog is started by someone with a pressing need for attention and validation, which certainly explains why I’m here, and so this fact basically means that I am failing as a blogger.
So, I thought I might share with the internet something on the subject of failure, something with which I have extensive experience. For example, the rugby side play for are basically out of this year’s league competition having won 5 from 13 matches- this coming after a season in which we won the league, lost only 3 times and were undefeated for around 5 months, while the side I support are currently lying 11th out of 12 in the league and have lost either 5 or 6 games on the bounce, just 4 years after they won the league. From the social front, I can count the number of friends I consider to have had over the years on my fingers, am perpetually single and not long ago finished a period of counselling- this helped, but I now find myself in the midst of even greater psychological issues. My mood cycles between mental and deeply depressed on an annoyingly regular basis and I see little sign of my situation improving. I could go on. I consider myself to have failed, to some extent, in every aspect of my life- and yet as I sit writing this, I exist as a happy person, or if happy appear too strong, then to say the very least I am content.
Why? This seems to make no sense- my reasons for happiness seem minimal. The experienced conscience-attackers among you may like to point to the fact that, from the very fact I am writing this, I have access to a computer, I am able to play and watch sport for enjoyment, have access to psychological support, have a roof over my head, food in the fridge etc, etc, but the kind of people who say these kinds of things have probably been shouted down often enough to know the kinds of arguments that can be proposed against them. But what they have to say does have relevance. You see, to someone without a roof over their head, a house may seem an impossible luxury. To a child who gets one meal a day and is developing kwashiorkor, the delicacies of a fridge may seem unparalleled delights. To the manager of a small business struggling during the economic downturn, the stability and prosperity of a larger, more successful business may seem a cruel injustice- and yet the manager of this business, surviving far easier than it’s smaller compatriot, may consider his stability to be just as bad as his struggling compatriot, compared to the prosperity he may have experienced in recent years. Conclusion- the satisfaction a person shows with their state of existence is entirely relative to their personal experiences.
When you think about this, you know it already, but it is genuinely astonishing as to the amount of stuff that can be understood simply by thinking over stuff you know. For example, any parents or soon-to-be’s reading this, for example, who want my advice on avoiding bringing up the kind of spoilt brat every parent dreads, could well consider this principle. Children who are ‘spoilt’ are basically always wanting more. The reason (it seems to me from my experiences anyway) for this is that their experiences of asking for something are that if they are showered with the modern, expensive, toys, then always having the latest toy or gadget seems to them a normal state of existence. When this changes, and they are not allowed their new favourite, this seems to them akin to an invasion of their human rights, and as such they complain and get the ‘spoilt’ tag (N.B. I know that I am in no way qualified to give this advice, so please don’t treat it as fact- it’s just what seems logical to me).
Now, how then does this relate back to me? Well,  having considered this logic, I began to realise that all my adjudged ‘failures’ were relative to previous experiences. I consider the rugby side I support to be failing, but the side who are in joint 11th with us have just been promoted and their fans are probably glad to be mostly out of the danger of relegation. I consider 5 wins from 13 to be a bad record, but considering the calibre of side some of those losses have been to, I can think of a few teams who would give their eye teeth for that record. And the list goes on- my social life is bad now, and compare to guys I know it’s appalling- but I know that I am a better person, with a better social life, than I was before my counselling- I feel things are bad now because I am not progressing at the same rate as I was previously. As such, I consider all my problems, and realise they are not problems, really at all. And it is this that enables me to consider my life more objectively, remind me of my family, the people I do love spending time with, the epic wins that will stick in my memory together, and the amazing camaraderie of my team- the drinking sessions, the laughs, the mates. And it makes me a happy person.
For one last comment on the subject of failure, I turn to one of the most inspirational quotes I have ever heard, courtesy of Michael Jordan:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”