Responsibility and Depression

I do feel a bit sorry for Timothy Morton today.

The online pile-on can be acutely distressing, and I hope he’s taking some time out to look after himself now in the aftermath.

He has not, however, made things any easier for himself by failing to listen to and understand his critics.

The amount of negativity I’m receiving is an indication of how unacceptable mental illness still is. I will never stop speaking up for the importance of taking care of oneself.

The above quote, taken from a new post following the antidepressant debacle, is just as wrong as everything else he’s posted recently. He still can’t see past the hundreds of messages saying “You’re wrong” to get to the true message which is: “You’ve hurt us: you say you valued a life but you’ve cheapened a death.”

Depression doesn’t excuse that. It explains so many actions and judgements but “I’m hurting” doesn’t excuse the hurt you cause.

“It’s an explanation but never an excuse.” A psychiatrist friend once said this to me many years ago when talking about how to deal with someone who, after the death of their father, had become an intolerable bully. It was vindicating but it can nonetheless be a tough line to toe when you know what it feels like on the other side.

Yesterday’s post, “Responsibility & Justice“, feels even more complicated now. Most of it was written before Morton sent his tweet but it has nonetheless dovetailed with the events of the last few days as they’ve unfolded on Twitter.

The dilemma that Morton is facing is certainly one I’ve witnessed over and over again, various griefs and depressions commingling and falling out with one another. He is at least right in saying that taking care of yourself is important — of course it is — but what does that even mean here in the context of him hurting others? How is it anything other than an extension of the self-serving attitude that angered people in the first place?

He is obviously suffering (now that he has been told off). Part of me feels guilty about that, having contributed to his no doubt endless stream of notifications, but how many more people were hurt by his glib and self-satisfied tone? Morton’s tweet was like a grief grenade that he threw into our midst and he just so happened to get caught up in the blast. That surely makes him a careless idiot, but does it also make him a victim? Does the triggering of his own depression excuse the grief that he trampled over on the way there?

When distress causes distress, it seems like everybody is doomed to lose. I’m guilty of letting my depression leak out onto those around me, and I’m guilty of doubling down on my distress when those around me become distressed by it. Most people I know who suffer from depression are guilty of this. I can’t remember how many feedback loops of depressed friends smashing their relationships to smithereens I’ve witnessed, each upset and guilty in equal measure. The feedback loop then becomes a feedback spiral, and it only ever travels downwards.

(Diagram appropriated from Cyclonopedia)

You can expect this situation to colour any future posts on “responsibility” going forwards. There’s already a couple percolating.

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