Right, let’s talk a little about mental illness.
I am prone to depression.
Don’t pity me or anything. It’s not serious in my case. There are differing levels of severity, and I’m definitely on the mild side. I personally know people who have much, much worse cases than i do. I’ve never had suicidal ideation, or the urge to self-harm, or the little voice in the back of one’s mind continually reminding one of ones worthlessness, or the obsessive desire to rake over past hurts to the detriment of one’s current life, or the whole thing we’re you are shoved into the depths of despair and can do nothing but lie in bed weeping for days on end. or the sudden impulse while driving along the freeway to steer your car into a tree and free all your friends and family of the miserable burden of knowing you, or anything like that (I have known, cared for, and lived with people for who any or all of these are true, however). I just get … down. Slow. Everything takes an appalling effort, and I’m tired all the time and I don’t want to go anywhere or see anyone and all i want to do is lie down and stare at youtube. I’ve seen my share of psychs, but never had to go on meds. I know how fortunate I am, in the scheme of things. I’m not trying to make some big dramatic confession or anything, just trying to give some sort of impression of what it looks like from the inside for those who haven’t experienced it personally or through a loved one.
Here is what it’s like for me.
It sneaks up on you. I’s not like it’s a switch, on/off - there’s a sliding scale of severity, both in the level that you are prone to as an individual, and the severity of the particular attack you’re having right now.
There are triggers. You don’t always know what they are when they happen, but you can normally recognise them after the fact. Mine have generally been relationship or getting-made-redundant related.
It comes and goes. You go fine for a while, years even, then you cop a trigger (or the stars align) and before you know it you’re mired in it again.
You can push through it - to a degree - without dealing with it. I’ve managed to work through some of my more serious bouts - to a degree. My performance at work has still suffered, and I’ve had to let stuff like social life and housework and everything else fall way, waaay by the wayside now and again in order to keep up with work (what, you didn’t think I just lost interest in the father-son thread this year did you?), but I’ve pushed through. But pushing through is not a solution, it’s just a bandaid on a seeping wound. And in the end it’ll catch up with you, because all the stuff you’re neglecting will become another trigger for you.
It’s seductive. This is what people just don’t get, unless they’ve been there. You are working against your own brain. Your brain says to you ‘well, you ARE ■■■■ at life’ or ‘it’s ok, just take another day off work’ or whatever. Depression could win a gold medal for Australia in the Olympic rationalisation championship. People just say ‘push through it’ or ‘get over it’ or ‘focus on the good things’ or 'remember how lucky you are or similar bullshit. No. It doesn’t work that way. What people on the outside never really get, at a gut-deep level, is that the same brain that they’re telling how to deal, is the brain that’s causing the problems in the first place. It’s like trying to unlock a box with a key that’s inside the box.
So, what does this mean?
Basically, you have to learn how to deal with it in your own way. Know thyself is a huge, huge things for mental illnesses. The whole Cognitive Behaviour Therapy thing is about understanding your own thought processes and how they spiral into negative feedback loops so you can recognise the signs in advance.
I’ve learned a bit about myself, in the last 10 years or so (since it first flared up for me). I know my own warning signs, and I have learned some ways of trying to deal. They’re not perfect, but I do a lot better now than i used to.
I know that it’s a warning sign for me when I lose the urge to read fiction and start reading non-fiction exclusively. Huge red flag is when I start re-reading stuff I’e read before rather than reading new things.
I know it’s a warning sign when I start drinking on weeknights and on my own, and it’s more of one when i drink and don’t get drunk. Or when I eat and eat and never seem to be quite satisfied.
I know it’s a warning sign when i drift away from the gym.
Similarly, i have started to learn countermeasures when I recognise it coming on (remember though, your brain doesn’t WANT you to recognise it coming on, much less have the motivation to do anything about it, so this is not easy). I know that getting into and persisting with a regular gym routine is a huge deal for me. I know that getting out into the outdoors, hiking etc, is always worth doing. i know that I can often kickstart my way out of a trough by watching funny TV (The Supersizers Go got me out of one massive downer, Kim Possible got me out of another). But not everyone works the same way. I know one person who CAN’T exercise while depressed, because it triggers obsessive-compulsive exercising and body dysmorphia. I know one who was hospitalised for depression after having a baby, and another for who having a baby was the catalyst for kicking a very long-running and severe bout. Everyone is different. You’ve gotta know thyself, as i said. Medications may be involved too, but unless you develop that degree of self-knowledge they’re only going to paper over the cracks.
Which is where I come to Francis. very vague impression (and I may be guilty of viewing him through the lens of my own experience) is that this is what he’s going to have to do now. Learn the ins and outs of his own brain, develop an understanding of his own thought processes and a toolkit for guiding them through difficult patches. He may also need to work with a psych to develop a medication regime tgat works for him, or consider the option of ECT, or all sorts of other treatments. There is no hard and fast rule about how long it’ll all take. t may be weeks (Kim Possible snapped me out of a nasty depression as quick as turning on a light) or it may be a long slow thing over years. Regardless, it’s be with him forever so the sooner he can start making progress on keeping it in its box the better.
I don’t know his personal circumstances, so I have no idea what his triggers etc are. And frankly, I doubt anyone else here does either. (hell, i’m even being presumptuous here by assuming his issues are depression-related, there’s all sorts of other possibilities in the brain department) But I’ll just remind everyone to remember what I’ve said above. It’s in his brain - and even if he goes to Adelaide or his family come to visit or whatever - his brain is still his brain. It can come and go or erupt out of nowhere - so before you start shrieking about how incompetent our recruiters are for not picking this up beforehand, please remember that he may not have even suffered this before being drafted, so there may have been nothing to find.
His footy career - well, that’s secondary at this point. He’s a person first and a footy player second, and he has to get his head a bit more sorted before footy becomes an option one way or the other. Again, it’ll all depend on how he deals with things and whether he can develop recovery/prevention strategies that work well and that also synergise with the requirements of footy. For me, my issues have always affected my work performance during a bad bout, and they’ve probably put a ceiling on ,my career that’s lower than it would have been had I benefitted from the uninterrupted use of my own brain without it trying to sabotage itself. And i’m ok with that, the real world requires compromises, I do pretty well for myself, and I’ve never been particularly ambitious anyway. Aaron, however, obviously aspires higher in his career of choice than i do in mine. This may be a difficulty for him, or it may be a useful motivator. None of us know which at this point - hell, he may not either.
I’d just ask of everyone:
- have patience, coming back too early would be actively counterproductive for him
- remember that what you know or what you think you know does not apply to everyone
- if you have a quick and simple solution to this problem that you’re eager to share with the world, it’s almost certainly wrong
- remember that it’s not his fault, and it’s not the recruiters’ fault either. Sometimes, ■■■■ just happens.