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Saturday, July 2, 2011
Hemingway: How courage and depression go together
This article is well-intended, but egregiously judgmental and woefully ignorant:
If it weren't for the inane babble puzzling over why Hemingway lived so intensely, this line would be the Winner of The Most Fatuous Statement award:
"...in January 1961 he told his wife, Mary, that he could no longer write a single good sentence. And Hemingway would only settle for great ones."
It wasn't a question of settling for less than great, it was a question of how important it is to fulfill your purpose and dig some meaning out of life, even amid the unbearable. That purpose and meaning was taken from him, under the mistaken guise of treatment.
Hemingway got electroshock therapy for his depression; a common side effect is to knock out your language abilities and cognition, sometimes for months and sometimes forever. The one thing that made his life endurable -- writing like himself -- was taken from him.
Depressed people have more courage and determination than their non-depressed cohorts. Studies are finally being funded that verify this (which I'll dig up later. Feel free to nudge me with a comment.)
Think about that next time you curl your lip over suicide. It's not about courage. It's about unbearable pain and a degree of mental crippling that puts a valid life out of reach.
Waiting and working at it until things improve is a reasonable thing to do: Hemingway waited and worked at it for 40 years, though with so little real hope for treatment. Talk about courage! It's unthinkable how much courage he brought to bear on his life. His intensity and wild behavior were directly related to making his life bearable -- and his work more compelling. Check his quoted remarks on that subject. What's between the lines is breathtaking.
The article's remark about suicidal lineage is true, but poorly understood. A suicide in the family has the powerful effect of making suicide less unthinkable. There is often a genetic tweak associated with it, but that's not all there is. The thing to know now is, we are not our predecessors; we can do more. Far more.
Hemingway died before we developed SSRIs, SNRIs, and a tremendously improved understanding of neurochemistry, behavior, nutrition and psychodynamics. We have more options now. Lots more. Waiting and working at it is a real success path now.
Be good to your depressed friends. You probably have no idea what they're capable of, when they can be well again. Help them persist.
It's the most important thing to do: persist. A valid and bearable life is a reasonable thing to hold out for. Only death bars the door to healing. Things will change.