A headline caught my eye on Friday—26 year old commits suicide. His photo showed a good-looking, dark-eyed man with a warm smile. Aaron Swartz. I didn’t know who he was, but I found myself wondering why in the world such a young, handsome man would take his own life—which was a stupid thought, because it implied pretty people would have less of an urge to kill themselves.
I read the article on him, discovered he was a child prodigy, a genius, who at 14 co-created RSS. He was one of the early builders of the social-news site, Reddit (later sold to Conde Nast), and a hacker extrodinaire who simply believed information should be able to be shared on the internet without a price.
He was scheduled to go on trial in a few weeks for stealing millions of scholarly documents from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (because he wanted them to be freely available). If convicted, he faced up to 35 years in prison, plus enough in fines to feed a small country. Is that what caused him to commit suicide? No one knows.
He also suffered from depression.
Ah, Depression. Depression is John Belushi’s “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave.” Depression is a windy day at the beach eating a sandy sandwich. Depression is too many shots of tequila creeping up on you only to find yourself ass-flat on the floor.
Where the eternal optimist looks at jail time as an opportunity to write a book, get a law degree, or find Jesus, Depression only sees bloody fights, sodomy, and letting down one’s parents. The optimist sees his own incredible genius as being able to change people’s lives; Depression curses his genius for making him different, for causing him to become incredibly frustrated with the people around him who are holding him back.
The optimist sees his future as full of promise and hope; Depression sees too many hurdles to overcome, insurmountable problems, and a dog he may grow to love, but that will eventually die and break his heart.
“Snap out of it!” say the ignorant and judgmental. But Depression can no more snap out of it as can Bipolar, or Schizophrenia.
“How does Depression serve you?” a therapist once asked me long ago. Hell if I know. What I do know is that Depression is like the fire in the movie, Backdraft: alive, a force of its own, and sometimes deadly.
RIP Aaron Swartz