Film

My response to seeing the Cormac McCarthy dramatisation ‘The Sunset Limited’, and a meditation on the nature of depression.

I’ve been having a few weird days recently, and asking myself alot of questions. I’d stayed up late watched a film called The Sunset Limited (HBO 2011) , about a suicidal professor who is rescued on a train platform by Samuel L Jackson, who then escorts him to his home and tries to convince him that God exists, following an assertion that regardless of whether the bible is true that its central theme of love, hope and kindness are his salvation. Together, he and the prof, played by Tommy Lee Jones, debate and argue about this philosophy and their beliefs, to which Jones, a cynical agnostic with no friends, suggests that regardless of whether Jesus existed, or if goodness can save mankind, that he doesn’t really want to be saved and he just wants to be far from all the confusion and complications of the world. It reminded me of the two plays I’d watched by Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee, Waiting For Godot (1953) and The Zoo Story (1959), both  of these black comedies featured two men, either drifters or strangers, discussing the meaning of life, morality and the existence of God.

Afterwards I’d slept and had dreamt that the people whom I’d worked with were trying to shoot me with bows and arrows and that I was beckoning them to do so if it was what they wanted, despite my fear of death. The next day I woke up, and thought I might try to somehow categorise all the things that worry me and cause concern, since there didn’t seem to be one particular object that caused me to worry and feel unhappy. In the application of CBT and counselling, you’re advised to keep a record of your negative thoughts in order to map the patterns and the incidents which upset you. In my case, I’d identified the following:

1. Employment (not having a job, or a career, or one which I could say I’d enjoyed or found interesting)

2. Family (The feeling of letting people down. That am a burden or embarrassment to them, or they think I’m weird)

3. Friends (Not having any and  feeling as if I was unable to make them. Not wanting to have friends simply because I don’t think I really like other people, or that I’m afraid they’ll judge me and think I’m stupid, boring or strange).

4. Myself (Sometimes I feel I don’t like myself. I don’t try hard enough not to think about it, or to overcame the points previously listed. I dwell, make excuses not to move forward or take risks, and also worry too much what others think)

5. Love and intimate relationship (I don’t think I can experience this or reciprocate love and reward to a partner the way I imagine a healthy relationship is meant to work – my narcissism and insecurities seem to prevent me really understanding or getting to know anyone personally).

6 The Future (What’s going to happen. Will I be able to resolve these issues, do I have some serious condition like Asperger’s syndrome or bi-polar disorder? Will I be able to find a job or a career and finally experience happiness and love? Will I be accepted, forgiven, become capable of making others happy and proud? Will I take a responsibility and control of my life and clear my debts? Will everything work out in the end?).

Obviously, sometimes these panicky, crazy thoughts can’t be helped and don’t really mean anything, whilst it’s also important to display some awareness and take responsibility for oneself by organising a routine and making an effort to lead healthy lifestyle. To avoid thinking negatively about oneself, judging others unfairly and to understand and respect others. Not to isolate oneself, and also to accept that sometimes others will challenge you and might behave ignorantly or maliciously, and that you shouldn’t necessarily take it personally or let it stop you from achieving your goals.

I do realise that thinking too much is part of the problem, which I alone am responsible for, but then I also feel that there are external issues and events which I have little control over. I can’t change the world, I can only change my perception of it. I can’t change other people’s minds but I can influence their thinking to some extent. That’s probably also true of issues I have about work and in my personal life, ie there are some things I can change and some I can’t, and crucially things I AM responsible for and some which I am not.

It’s a forest for the trees type analogy, I suppose. CBT only deals with tangible issues, like social phobia or your reaction to bullying or certain situations. The thing I have difficulty understanding is the arbitrariness of it, as in one person might say that this example is a bad experience and another person might think it’s not such a big problem, and this can range from breakups, bereavements, unemployment, feelings stemming from childhood, low self-esteem, victimisation, bullying, disease, etc; it all seems subjective and unique to each person. However, GPs and the treatments for symptoms of stress or mental health conditions will either say that it’s normal or it’s severe. Except for the individual it always feels severe, whether the symptoms are general or not. But then, a diagnosis will only determine that it’s severe unless you have a psychotic episode or it’s something medical that impairs your day to day activities. Perhaps this isn’t the same thing as unhappiness, which in theory is curable, and is itself arbitrary.

Someone who’s unhappy or miserable for one reason could be diagnosed with depression if they display medical symptoms, while a happy, healthy person might also be diagnosed with depression if they have similar symptoms or feelings. Ironically, symptoms of depression and feelings of unhappiness or happiness are also arbitrary since these are unique to the person.

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