Thursday, May 14, 2015

Depression and fame


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This afternoon I was watching an interview clip with Sergei Polunin from a few years ago. Sergei was the youngest appointed principal dancer in the Royal Ballet when he decided to leave. At one point in the interview, the interviewer asks: "Was that the issue? It sounds as though you have more freedom now, you are happier now, so, perhaps you didn't have sufficient (freedom) before." Sergei's reply is: "Um, I couldn't say that I am happy now... I'm still just finding... what I am going to do, like, what is the thing to do, I am gonna to explore different directions."



The interview got me thinking about how even people who have achieved incredible success in their lives can struggle with how to find and maintain happiness. After watching the interview, I took a look at the comment thread under the video. Anyone who has ever watched a video on YouTube, knows that this should be avoided; internet comment threads are all too often full of judgmental, logical-less, negativity. As I expected, many of the comments were expressing disapproval that someone would choose to leave such a prestigious position; some comments went as far as to imply that Sergei is selfish for choosing to leave the Royal Ballet; that because he is a talented dancer, he is obligated to share his talent with as large of an audience as possible, regardless of whether he could find happiness in that.

All of this got me thinking about how society responds when someone who is famous and/or wealthy reveals that they struggle with depression. Public response is always disbelief that "someone who has it all" could suffer from depression. I can only assume that this sense of shock is not shared by anyone who has actually ever suffered from depression.

Depressed thoughts usually take one of two very different forms. The first kind are thoughts that have a complete disconnect from reality; where every possible negative thing that happens in your life is exaggerated to cartoonish proportions. You forgot your phone at home today? That is because you are a worthless, stupid idiot who doesn't deserve to own something valuable. You take every mistake and misstep in your life and find a way to berate yourself for it to alarming lengths. The thoughts are so far disconnected from reality that it does not matter how "blessed" or "lucky" others feel you are.

The second kind of depressed thoughts are in a way, the opposite of the first; rather than being completely disconnected from reality, you are too connected to reality. This is where you spend too much time contemplating philosophical questions that no one will be able to answer to your satisfaction. I am hesitant to provide examples of the types of thoughts, because they are all too likely to be dismissed with religious rhetoric. Overspoken phrases like "God has a plan," are of no help when one is contemplating why their life matters (beyond to those who know them). In these kind of thoughts, even if you are in a position of current relative influence in society, it will never seem like much when you are comparing yourself in terms of things like the lifespan of humankind.

Whether someone is depressed because they are disconnected from reality, or because they are too connected to reality, neither fame nor fortune will allow them a "pass." In fact, the rich and famous as likely more susceptible to depression; in addition to the pressure they put on themselves, they also have to deal with significant pressure put on them by society.