A tragedy at the local railway line, a man stepping out in front of an express train, elicited a comment from a local priest. In the local newspaper he asserted that no situation was so bad that suicide was the way out. He went on to point to the services and agencies that might be contacted. The newspaper then gave details of various addresses and telephone numbers.
It was hard to imagine that he had experienced depression himself. Were a person amenable to his reasonable approach, they would not need advice, they would be able to find their own way through the crisis. Tragedies happen because people believe there is no other way.
The priest meant well; he was attempting to be understanding, attempting to be supportive. He was rather different from the wife of a colleague who would have thought it was all a lot of fuss.
A woman of our mutual acquaintance was going through a particularly hard time.
“I think she is suffering badly from depression”, I told her when she asked after the woman.
“Oh, that’s old hat”, the colleague’s wife responded, “They can stop that now with medication and diet.”
She was a woman whose opinions were always definitive and there seemed little point in trying to argue with her. When she herself went through a bad patch some years later, it was hard to feel sorry for her; perhaps she would have later been more sympathetic in her attitude.
It’s not like a sudden acute moment that can be isolated and identified, allowing one to pick up the list of telephone numbers in the local newspaper and contact the necessary service, it’s more like clouds across the sun: light and shadow. There are moments of brilliant light that are suddenly obscured and dark times that are suddenly illuminated by a piercing light. What the medical world seems to offer is a uniform greyness; no dark moments, but no light moments either.
In the dark moments, I have to persuade myself that this is not the world as it is. But, if the dark moments are unreal, is there also an air of unreality about the light? Is the cost of dismissing sorrow the loss of the counterbalance of joy? Is the price for saying that the pain does not exist, the dismissal of delight as no more than imaginary?
If there were plain answers, there would be no sad stories in the local newspaper and no need for the agencies and maybe, also, the loss of something indefinable. Would it be possible to have a world without tragic moments and a world with a place for people like Vincent van Gogh?