Putting on a happy face l Chuck's World

Jan 24, 2018

It’s always tempting to take a couple of pennies and toss them into the pot of public discourse, particularly since I have this space in which to toss them. And particularly when sex and drugs are in the news.

I’ve watched the developments from California with a mixture of curiosity and boredom, as our nation’s most-populous state joins us in having recreational marijuana stores with really awful names. If you view legal cannabis as a progressive, sensible step in our social evolution, all of this news from down south feels old and uninteresting.

If you think it’s another sign of moral degradation, well. We can’t compete with La La Land, so I think we still come out on top.

If you dislike learning that there are a number of puns involving “weed,” I can’t help you. It’s rough out there.

Then there was the latest twist in the #metoo movement, when a previously obscure website published an account of what sounds like a truly bad date. Aziz Ansari, one of the many bright spots in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and now the owner-operator of the Netflix series, “Master of None,” got dragged into another kind of spotlight.

But this time it felt more complicated, and many thought Ansari was being punished too harshly for what they saw as a murky consensual hook-up that turned rude and intimidating. At this point, though, it seems as though Ansari, a rich and famous young man who generally comes across as thoughtful and decent, got embarrassed for bad behavior, not destroyed. We might be capable of nuance after all.

This is all very interesting to me, fertile ground for non-pun (please) jokes and snarky takes, and then I read about Tyler Hilinski. I think I’m just going to write for a bit now.

Full disclosure: I don’t really follow college football. I used to, then cleared out my queue and narrowed my sports interests down to a few. So I didn’t know much about Tyler Hilinski, other than a vague awareness that he was the future of WSU football.

They’re all the future, though, all of these 21-year-olds, regardless of their ability to throw a forward pass. I was less struck by the loss of a promising college quarterback than by the level of despair, although they amplify each other to elevate a personal tragedy into public grief. The road ahead for Hilinski looked bright to many of us. Just not to him.

I’ve lived with this story for a few days now, aware that it was affecting me in a specific way. I’ve never known anyone in as much pain as Tyler apparently was, never known or cared for someone who took their own life, never seriously contemplated taking my own.

But I’ve walked on the same side of the street as suicide. I’ve seen the same horizon, read the same map, understood the direction in which I was heading. I’m not unfamiliar with much of this, as it turns out.

So maybe that’s it. Maybe because I have some experience with depression, as do millions of Americans, I can relate. Maybe that’s all it is.

I’m just an older human who has some darker days, some garden-variety depression that crops up from time to time. Again, I’ve never felt suicidal, or in danger, and I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. When I’ve sensed that my path is heading nowhere good, I’ve also kept a couple of names constantly in my head, friends who would know what to do. Friends who are clear thinkers, and would either listen to me or make sure I was safe. I’m not a stranger to these moments.

And this isn’t about me. This isn’t a cry for help, screamed into the abyss of strangers reading newspapers. I’m in no danger. I’m not telling you about my fairly pedestrian lifelong history of coping with depression so you’ll know I need understanding.

I’m telling you so you know it can be hidden.

You might think you understand this already. And you might.

But I’m 59, and I’ve spent a lifetime hiding various things, things I was ashamed of, or embarrassed by, or frightened of. Some things were harder to obscure than others, and all secrets eventually get out, but depression is easy to hide.

Because depression isn’t about wearing a sad face, or crying spontaneously in the bathroom, although this can happen. Depression is about the absence of joy, and hope, and that’s hard to spot. It’s an odd thing to experience, this absence, and it skews perspective and produces disorientation. This isn’t something I ever wanted to advertise.

I know nothing about Tyler Hilinski’s personal pain, and I probably won’t. It’s a private tragedy for his friends and family, only public because he was an athlete and, again, I don’t really follow college football.

And you know about this. We all should, by now. We know about hotlines and volunteers and medication and therapy and hospitals. We think that if someone we cared about was in danger, we would know, and know what to do. And maybe we would.

This is just a personal reflection, then, a reminder that this can be a sneaky, dangerous, and fatal disease. Confidence in our deductive abilities might be misplaced, and you might be surprised.

You see, I have plenty of compassionate, empathetic friends. They greet me and ask me how I am. I tell them, and they believe me, and sometimes they shouldn’t.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Michael Jennings | Jan 25, 2018 18:31

A well written piece; especially as it concerned Tyler. Thank you.

If you wish to comment, please login.