My grandfather was a charismatic man, and probably a genius. The family story is, growing up on a farm, he invented a new type of tractor and naively mailed plans for it to John Deere, who came out with his idea a year later and never paid him a cent. Who knows if that's true; for me the underlying truth is that everyone in our family felt him a man capable of inventing a tractor even though he was a farmboy. And certainly his children have been successful and/or enormously talented, and his grandchildren are, by visible and traditional measures, big successes.
He also, from what I can tell, suffered from severe obsessive/compulsive disorder and depression -- the same thing that I've struggled with since I was about 12, and that most males in our family appear to struggle with as well. He had disadvantages that I don't: in his day there really wasn't such a thing as "depression" as a disease -- you sucked it up and you got on with your life, soldier. There weren't drug therapies for his malady, so he couldn't just pop an Effexsor and suddenly have his compulsions dialed down to a dull roar.
He spent the last ten years of his life mostly in bed. His craziness progressed to a point where he was afraid of every aspect of life, so he chose to just remove himself from it. I spent a few months with him during his decline -- he would venture out of bed just to wander around the house asking people if they had checked and rechecked every little thing for any activity that was being planned. Going to the airport? Well, is the gas tank full? Air in the tires? Did you recheck the arrival time? What about the gas tank? You're sure you checked it? I don't want you running out of gas. It'll kill your grandma.
He was a huge bear of a man when I'd known him as a kid -- not exactly fat, grandpas don't get "fat" -- he was just a great big grandpa. When he died he was a wisp of a man, having wasted away in bed for years, so tortured by thoughts of what might go wrong that he'd rather be dead than have to keep worrying.
I've written about him before. But I've been thinking about him a lot recently, because I have his problem, too. I'm always fighting depression. It's there, waiting for me. Some months I'm great and I function like a normal person, and I think, "Yay, I'm done! Thank goodness that's over!" Then I'll have a week so dark that simply taking mail out of the mailbox seems like an epic struggle. And I remember, oh yes, right, you aren't going away. Because you're my brain. You're my chemistry. You're me.
I've been very successful in my career, and I honestly feel incredibly blessed in this. But here's my thesis, and possibly "the rub," in all this: I think the same things that make me crazy also make me successful. I have the ability to sit down and write code for 12 hours straight. Because I cannot get up until it's finished. I have to have every line of code be absolutely perfect; I will continue tweaking things long after they work, because for me, it's not finished until it's beautiful, as well. I can tell you what method to use out of the thousands available on the system, because they're all up in my head, ordered and stacked and sorted so neatly. This is clearly obsessive/compulsive behavior. This is the work of a crazy man.
So, is genius linked with craziness? Is this why we aren't all geniuses? Is mankind only so smart because if we get any smarter, we cease to function correctly? Maybe it's just not evolutionarily advantageous to be smarter than we are; it makes us mopey, and we end up cutting our ears off when we're trying to woo girls, which rarely results in offspring.
Depression is not glamorous. It's not like a movie. You don't get to get cured of it. You don't wake up one day and realize that life's tough, but there it is, so slap a smile on your face and keep on trucking. Some people have never dealt with depression, and they can't figure out how it's different from "being sad." "I've been sad! I don't whine about it! I just get over it." Yes, that's nice. Also, not the same.
Depression completely robs you of hope. You don't believe things can get better, and you don't believe anything is OK. You look around you and realize that everyone and everything you love is going to go away, sooner or later, and you don't believe anything good will replace them. Sometimes you just want to self-destruct: you get so tired of waiting for the things you love to abandon you, waiting for that shoe to drop, that you push them away pre-emptorily . Take that, you thing I love, now you can't hurt me, now I don't have to live in fear.
If I just stay in bed, and pull the covers around me; if I just unplug the phone, if I don't answer the mail, then whatever bad news is waiting for me can't get to me. If I can just sleep, and then just sleep some more, then I won't have to deal with it. Not now. I can't deal with it now. Maybe it'll go away on its own. Maybe I'll die and I won't ever have to deal with it.