I was saddened to learn of the tragic death, by his own hand, of Aaron Swartz. That a prominent member of my community, our community, the tech community, is gone forever is sad. That he was lost so young is tragic. That he took his own life is a horror.
Aaron Swartz wrote openly about having depression (I don’t like to use “depressed” as an adjective; It’s a disease that you have, not a thing that you are.) And many of the outpourings of grief and support after his death recognized in it a shared experience. The relatability of Aaron’s struggle made the tech world feel even more like a community, as it did after Ilya Zhitomirskiy’s tragic suicide in 2011. For, while depression is dreadful for anyone, it may have a uniquely pernicious effect on highly logical minds.
Math and Computer Science require the kind of abstract, logical, inner-focused thinking associated with introversion (in the Myers-Briggs sense, not the social sense; Many MBPT introverts are social extroverts). And there appears to be a correlation between introversion and depression. Perhaps it’s due to a physiological connection between scientific tendencies and vulnerable brain chemistry. But it may also be because depression has one symptom, unique among all illnesses, that tugs at the seams of logic: it makes you believe, contrary to all available data, that you can never recover from it.
Depression is a mind-parasite, burrowing into your consciousness. Like any good parasite, it must protect its nest. This trick that it plays on you, convincing you that you can never be rid of it, is the uniquely perverse way it keeps itself alive. Nerdy readers may appreciate the relevance of this quote:
“Only the enemy shows you where you are weak. Only the enemy tells you where he is strong.”
Someone whose toolkit for dealing with the world consists of logic and reason, ideals and abstractions, may have particularly weak defenses against this trickster disease.
You realize that it’s lying to you, that there are treatments, that that things aren’t objectively as bad as they feel. But you know, on some level deeper than logic, that there is no point, no hope and no future. And to encounter, maybe for the first time, the hard limits of rationality, to realize that there’s a part of your mind that can override the logical world view that is the core of your identity, may leave you feeling particularly helpless and hopeless.
You can’t rationalize depression away, a fact that people who’ve never suffered from it find hard to comprehend. But if someone you care about is struggling with it, and it’s likely that someone is, you can help them find a new way to access their mind.
Tell them that you care about them and appreciate them and are glad to have them in your life. Show them that you enjoy being around them and that you love them. And above all, spend time with them. Give them glimpses of an alternate future, one in which they are secure, happy and loved, tear away the lies that depression needs in order to survive, and in that sunlight it will wither.