A conversation I had yesterday with a pal of mine, a guy in his early 30’s, from India, a guy with very little money who grew up in poverty, in India (poverty by Indian standards!), it shocked me (though I’m not sure why) but, more than that, it terrified me.
My pal (protecting confidentiality, I’ll call him ‘Simon’ in this blog), he told me that he had possibly saved someone’s life easier in the day, that a teenager was sitting by a bridge over a main road, that he felt that she was about to jump and that he and another passer-by dragged her back from the edge. He said that she became hysterical and that, quite clearly, something was amiss. Maybe she wasn’t going to jump but best to err on the side of caution!
Simon told me that this girl looked well-to-do, good clothes etc, that he assumed she had money and that he couldn’t for the life of him understand why someone with money would want to take their own life. I froze.
I explained to him that depression, clinical depression, is an illness – he looked confused. I tried to clarify: I told him that just as asthma, diabetes and heart disease are illnesses, clinical depression, too, is an illness. He listened but I don’t think he ‘got it’. I told him about my own experience, that, at my lowest, even though I had material possessions, cars, great house, a good job, a few quid, even though I had a terrific wife and a young son, even though I had so much, I couldn’t see it, that all I could see was darkness – I was numb, disconnected, I was miles away. I told him that I deteriorated to the point of total collapse, that I went into cardiac arrest. He still looked confused.
This concerns me because whilst I understood why someone in Simon’s position might assume that the key to a happy life is money, it reflects what I assume must be widespread ignorance of mental illness in India, ignorance of depression in all societies in which there is a belief, a culture of belief, that if one has money, one can’t possibly suffer from depression: what that means to and for people who suffer from depression in these societies, it doesn’t bear thinking about but think about it we must!
The conversation moved on to ‘money’. Simon firmly believes that if he has money, he will be happy. I don’t think it has crossed his mind that there are flaws in that thinking. Of course, I understand and agree that one needs money to live, to pay bills, to have a roof over one’s head, clothes and to be able to put food on the table and it is better to be ill with money than in poverty. I appreciate that money affords those who have it choice but I asked him if he has ever wondered why it might be that many people who aspire to great riches, who, for example, want to get to Hollywood, to be wealthy movie stars, why, when they get there, they are disillusioned and run off to see the Dalai Lama. He just looked at me, expressionless.
I don’t regard myself as having a lot of money but I appreciate that, relative to him, Simon doubtless sees me as immensely privileged, that, relative to him, I come from a different world. I’m pretty sure that he was thinking, “it’s easy for you to say – if you knew the poverty I know, you’d think the way I do”: he’s probably right.
All I could do was tell him that his hopes and dreams, his aspirations to lift himself out of poverty, to have some money, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with it, nothing at all. I told him that there’s nothing wrong in wanting money, and the security that goes with it, nothing wrong with wanting a beautiful house, a Ferrari, great clothes, holidays BUT that money must never be his god. I told him that if all he aspires to is making a million pounds, he’ll never be happy, that when he makes that million, he’ll want more, and then more and more and more, that he’ll never be satisfied, that he’ll always be chasing…that it will never be enough. I told him that true joy comes from within, that he has to look to – into – his soul if he wants true, genuine, authentic peace of mind.
I guess the fact that Simon is in his early 30’s, not, like me, in his early 50’s, that that also explains the difference in our thinking but I do think that it principally relates to his having only known poverty and having, understandably, focused on money all of his life as the key to his future happiness. I sincerely hope that a lot is being done in India, and in other societies in which money is seen as the key to happiness, that a lot is being done to raise awareness of depression and mental illness, that more and more people come to appreciate that clinical depression is an illness and that those who suffer from and with it cannot just “pull themselves together”.