|Robin Williams at the Stand Up for Heroes charity benefit in 2007. Photo was taken by John J. Kruzel/American Forces Press Service, and placed in the public domain. Downloaded from Wikimedia.|
I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.
–Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) in World's Greatest Dad, 2009. Written by Bob Goldthwait.By now I am sure you have heard that Robin Williams, a brilliant actor and comedian, took his own life on August 11, 2014. His death has sparked an incredible amount of discussion and speculation about the causes. The opinions I have seen range from the incredibly stupid (he killed himself out of cowardice), to the well meaning, but wrong (he suffered from depression, which is a disease, and it killed him).
Out of all the pieces I have read about the death of Robert Williams, only one gets it right, Why Funny People Kill Themselves, by David Wong at Cracked.
However, there is more to it. Wong focuses on comedians, but the causes apply to anyone who deviates from the norm. Humans are social animals. We need other people. If we cannot connect, we get depressed.
This means depression is not in itself a disease. It is a symptom! Depression can have many different causes. There may be organic damage, a genetic disposal to a chemical imbalance, or you may be a perfectly healthy individual getting depressed because you are in an unbearable situation.
Being isolated from other people is one of the hardest things to bear.
Your default level of happiness and energy may be very high, but if you cannot build close relations with other people, you may still get depressed.
People who are smart, dedicated and principled are often shut out and isolated. Thus, they are prone to depression. There does not have to be any disease involved, no genetic or physical damage. Just isolation will do the trick.
Why do intelligent people become isolated? Neuroscientific research has showed that the human brain is designed to save energy whenever possible. Thinking requires a lot of energy. So does diligent practice.
Thinking actually triggers the pain center of the brain. No wonder solving math problems is perceived as very unpleasant by a majority of the population.
Intelligent people tend to have active brains. They delve deep into problems. They notice inconsistencies other people pass by. They come up with solutions instead of ignoring the problems. They spend many thousands of hours practicing their skills.
Most people do not want to do that. While everyone loves their results, normal people do not want to spend time with people much smarter than themselves, at work, or in their spare time. It is mentally exhausting, and actually painful. Thus, avoiding smart, dedicated, principled people becomes an autonomous response to the pain caused by the thinking, and other activities, required to keep up with them.
Thus, intelligent people will find themselves rebuffed or ignored, over and over again. They soon learn that reaching out, at work or in their own time, is to invite rejection.
No single one of these rejections is likely to cause a significant mood change, but tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, will.
Even a very resilient mind can, over time, be bent and broken by a barrage of tiny, and not so tiny, rejections.
Having strong principles can cause the same kind of rejection as high intelligence. People with strong principles are often unwilling to go along with illegal or scatterbrained schemes because someone in authority tells them to. They may be unwilling to go along with group consensus, if the group is clearly wrong.
Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.
–Steven Winterburn (often incorrectly attributed to William Gibson)Depression is a mood, and moods are, to a large extent, dependent on our surroundings. Thus, if you are depressed, the cause is likely to be external. If not in whole, at least to a significant part.
If you are highly intelligent, and depressed, you may need smarter friends and workmates. Because you spend most of your time awake at work, finding a job with better colleagues, not necessarily with a better job description, may be your best move.
Same thing with friends. Which ones lift you up? which ones bring you down? Not to forget, take a long, hard look at yourself. Are you a positive influence in their lives? Don't assume that you are. Observe! Study your interactions.
There will be good days and bad days, but on the whole, try to create feedback loops that bring you a positive mood and the energy to do things. And, don't be afraid to let your friends help you. Your real friends will do that, just as you would help them.
Actually, helping others is one of the best ways to lift your own mood. Be a bit careful though. Some people will not understand when you are doing them a favor, or going out of your way to do a kindness.
Giving a small amount of money to a beggar will generally work. Giving serious advice on process improvement when someone asks for it is far more risky. If you do not tell people what they want to hear, or force them to think, they are liable to interpret it as hostility.
If you are a highly intelligent person, if you study and practice, and hone your skills, if you do your best to be kind and thoughtful, and yet, you are often rejected. If people like you less the more skilled you become, if they reject you when you hold on to principles you thought you shared with them, if you feel depressed by it, even to the point of wanting to end it, you may be surrounded by assholes.
Try to get a job with better colleagues. Spend more time with your true friends. If you do not have any, make more of them. Surround yourself with brilliant misfits!
I am in the process of doing just that. If you are interested in how I do it, or want to share your own experiences, please do comment on this article.