This post discusses depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide, and self-harm. I think it does so in a pretty constructive and helpful way? But I wrote it, so here are some large grains of kosher salt.
Reading! It’s just like they said it would be! “I can go anywhere. Friends to know. Ways to grow.”
Today I want to share with you my favorite book about mental health. It’s not a memoir or a self-help book. It’s not even nonfiction! No, it’s a little ditty from 1985 about evolution, ghosts, Armageddon, and nubbins. Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos is a brilliant satire on the evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of the human brain. And it completely changed the way I think about mental health, including my own depression.
The opening scene follows a woman as she attempts suicide, and it’s narrated by the dispassionate ghost of a Richard Attenborough nature documentarian type. Here’s a brief excerpt, with a few plot things trimmed out:
“Mary taught that the human brain was the most admirable survival device yet produced by evolution. But now her own big brain was urging her to take the polyethylene garment bag from around a red evening dress in her closet, and to wrap it around her head, thus depriving her cells of oxygen.
“Before that, her wonderful brain had entrusted a thief at the airport with a suitcase containing all her toilet articles and clothes which would have been suitable for the hotel.
“Her colossal thinking machine could be so petty, too. It would not let her go downstairs in her combat fatigues on the grounds that everybody, even though there was practically nobody in the hotel, would find her comical in such a costume. Her brain told her: ‘They’ll laugh at you behind your back, and think you’re crazy and pitiful, and your life is over anyway. You’ve lost your husband and your teaching job, and you don’t have any children or anything else to live for, so just put yourself out of your misery with the garment bag. What could be easier? What could be more painless? What could make more sense?’
“Just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilogrammes! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute.
“So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?”
Yeah. This novel completely changed the way I thought about the human mind.