Looking back on my youth, I realize that I frequently fought through bouts of what would now be designated depression. There were times when I wanted my life to end; and there were one of two times when I wanted it very much not to end, but was almost terrified that I would be unable to keep myself from pulling the plug. I never asked for anyone’s help at any such moment, partly due to pride, to shame… perhaps mostly that. But I also think I was aware that any meaningful, durable solution would have to come from my own wrestling with the invisible tormentor. No one could wage that battle for me.
Of course, we now know (italics of irony) that depression has no ratiocinative component: it’s just a hormonal imbalance. Silly me! Thinking never causes anything or resolves anything. We’re just bags of DNA and enzymes.
Not too long ago, I was treated to a round of contemptuous hoots from several coeds when I made an off-hand, jocular reference to suicide in class. One would have thought that I had drawn an obscene cartoon about Muhammad on the wall of a mosque while worship was in progress. Today’s young souls “in jeopardy”, from where I stand, are indeed rather wimpy in their approach to the subject. Above all, I should say that they want to be noticed. They want their issues of depression and suicide to be taken very, very, VERY seriously… because when they feel down, it’s a result of their being non-entities among their peer group—and the world’s appropriate response must be instantly and utterly to stop everything else and notice their crisis, thus remedying the potentially fatal attack of negligence.
I can’t help harboring a certain callousness here. By the grace of God, I managed to crawl through Hell and back when I was the same age as these drama queens, and my isolation was several exponents more intense than theirs. No one cried for me, and I sought no one’s tears. In fact, being noticed in such a state would have disgusted me—with myself most of all, but perhaps a little with the Good Samaritan who offered consolation. I’m not saying that my sentiments were healthy ones; I’m saying that I cannot recognize the youth that I was then in the young people I see today.
Something else I might note along the same lines: my distress was fundamentally rooted in the collapse of every traditional value—courage, honor, honesty, self-sacrifice, humility—that I observed proceeding apace all around me. Romantic love and torrid sexual adventures were indistinguishable; attention to personal grooming lest one inflict discomfort on one’s neighbors was considered a sell-out to bourgeois hypocrisy; plangent insistence that one’s selfish needs be served did not seem to stir any accompanying sense of shame. I could see no open path to being a young man of honor and principle in the era of Woodstock, reefers, and shack-ups.
In contrast, I see today’s vulnerable youth as hitting rock-bottom when they fail to catch onto the coattails of some bypassing trend. For a while, having too few friends on Facebook—or getting lit up by one of them in a posted comment—was clear grounds for hara kiri. Maybe it still is… but my hunch is that the angst has largely shifted to “social media” venues like Instagram about which I know nothing. The problem now isn’t that there are no more Mohicans and the ways of a past you worshiped are all desecrated; it’s that you can’t acquire enough feathers in time to join the latest tribe.
Suicide is suicide: no wanton waste of a life is ever trivial. But at least the battle I fought was one to exist as an honest, adult human in an evolving world of counterfeit, vulgarity, and even bestiality. I don’t see these distressed kids around me as being in the least concerned about claiming an identity in God as the toxic swill of the world soils their shoes: they simply seem to want to be Bubble Number 89 in the malodorous froth.
And, yeah, that gets me depressed, to this very day and hour. If you can’t even have the dignity and sense to feel blue about something worth worrying about, then you’re not evidence of a social trajectory that would inspire optimism in a thoughtful person.