Filmmaker Woody Allen has hinted in both interviews and films (case in point: his latest, To Rome With Love) that he equates retirement with death. He is continuing to make movies well into his seventies, he says, so that he doesn’t have too much time on his hands to sit and wait for the inevitable.
He might describe the life of man in nature in the words of Thomas Hobbes: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In other words, Allen figures there’s a lot to be unhappy about in life, so it’s best not to spend too much time thinking about it.
All this is to say that I should have gotten a job in the summer I turned 16.
Instead, I sat around at home. I watched movies. It was About Schmidt, a 2002 film starring Jack Nicholson, that set me off. In the movie, Warren Schmidt retired from his career as an actuary. Soon after, his wife died. He had little to do but mope around the house, feeling useless as he tried in vain to prevent his daughter from marrying a waterbed salesman.
It got to me. I was young, and my life was a good one. But somehow, watching Warren Schmidt wonder how he was going to spend the final sad years of his life hit a nerve.
That summer, I got depressed. It hung over me every day, from when I woke up until I went to bed.
I didn’t expect it to happen to me. I couldn’t really name the source of it, either. I felt stupid about it. What did I have to be depressed about? How were my problems unique or worthy? I didn’t talk about it.
I understand now that what I felt that summer was a relatively mild version of what a lot of students here at Mac go through. I wasn’t suicidal, and once school started up again, I got better. That’s not the case for everyone.
McMaster’s Student Wellness Centre is trying to “stomp out stigma” around depression this week. Its events will present statistics gathered by the Wellness Centre to make the case that depression is serious problem affecting a significant chunk of the student population.
It’s a great and necessary campaign. But I’ve got a word of caution.
Among the statistics, words like “anxious,” “overwhelmed” and “stressed” will get mixed up with more severe ones like “hopeless” and “suicidal.” Truth is, we students are supposed to get a little bummed out when we bite off more schoolwork than we can chew. We complain about being overworked to our friends. We work through it, learn something, and then blow off steam on a free weekend.
Depression is something else entirely. It’s isolating. It’s frightening. Piles of homework might not help it, but depression is deeper than the plight of your average struggling student.
You don’t need a good reason to be depressed. That it’s happening while school weighs you down doesn’t make you weak. Like any illness, I’ve learned, depression can take you by surprise, and you might not know where it came from.
Take it from me, or Woody Allen or Thomas Hobbes or Warren Schmidt; life’s a bitch. So don’t be hard on yourself.