“There are two tragedies in life.
One is not to get your heart’s desire.
The other is to get it”.
George Bernard Shaw
This utterance from George Bernard Shaw has always been one of my favourite quotes. Despite being relatively simple, it is so multi-layered and its meaning can be deciphered in so many different ways, that it’s much more complex on closer inspection. I believe Shaw is suggesting that whilst failing to achieve what you most desire in life is certainly a tragedy, it is equally tragic to get what you desire, as then you have nothing left to dream of achieving. This then leads to a potential realisation that what you had supposed would be your hearts desire did not in fact fill the hole inside of you as you had hoped.
This concept reflects how I see depression in many ways. The first half of the quote is obvious in its relatability, as a key feature of depression is a yearning for something you don’t have (or don’t believe you have), such as friends, relationships, a purpose, inner peace, hope, a future etc. However, it is the second part that causes more consternation, and that is the notion of achieving something only to realise that it was not the solution to your problems that you had assumed it would be, and this in turn causes a perpetual sense of hopelessness to infest its way into the mind.
For example, if you find yourself in a mire of internal blackness and deep mental lethargy, then all you desire is to come out the other side of this turmoil, and feel yourself again. However, once this has been achieved, there is no sense of celebration or relief, as you have merely reached level ground, and not the joyous peak of the mountain that you had dreamed of scaling. The realities of what you desire are never what you hope they will be, and I think that this would suggest that what makes us happy is not something that we dream of or predict, as we could never conjure up something in our minds that would not ultimately let us down. Happiness must come from somewhere we don’t expect, and its unpredictability and stealthy approach is what makes it work. As John Barrymore says, “Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open”
The very nature of depression is its refusal to allow you to recognise success, instead it finds great pleasure in berating you for your failures. For instance, in the last 10 years I have reached various milestones (moving to London, making friends, good job etc), but these achievements are not allowed to rise to the surface, as the realisation of the deep unhappiness that still exists ensures that this is mission impossible. A builder creating a house from scratch doesn’t celebrate when he has put in the walls, as the house is still missing a roof, and is therefore not complete, and not whole. This is what depression feels like. This notion of disappointment in achieving (or failing to achieve) pre-determined goals is also relatable to the more mundane aspects of mental illness. For example, the optimism that burrows under the skin when you are offered a glimmer of hope (therapy, medication, exercise based relief), is contrasted with the tragic sense of dejection when it fails to work out as you had hoped. You pin your hopes on something so strongly, that even if it works to a small extent, it can never live up to the idealised vision that you create in your mind. You so frequently deliberate and fatasise about what happiness could be, that how could that ever live up to expectations? The problem with dreaming is that you eventually wake up.
So what is worse, not getting your hearts desire, or getting what you most desire and being disappointed? The mind of the depressive concludes that those are the only two options. But surely there can be a third path, surely there is away of reaching that peak, and not being disappointed with the view. For me that pathway seems a million miles away. The very existence of a mountain means it can be climbed, but whilst I can picture vividly in my mind what could be my source of happiness, it neither seems reachable or sustainable to me at this time. Not only do I convince myself that it will never happen, but even it did, how could it meet the expectations of a lifetimes worth of dreaming? All that can be done is to try and cling onto Alexandre Dumas’s words,
“All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope”