I’ve come to Trescothic’s autobiography five years after its publication but I’m certain the key issues raised are more relevant than ever. Clinical Depression and mental illness generally are perpetually with us as is the taboo associated with them. The causes of clinical depression are complex to say the least, and there is no ready consensus around either its essence or its remedy. There probably is a kind of consensus that the causes of depression lay somewhere in an intricate but indeterminate cocktail of biological, genetic, psychological and social factors. Notions of a chemical imbalance, genetic predisposition, childhood trauma and attachment issues, and of course extreme anxieties around work, relationships and debt are all brought to the therapy table.
Trying to unravel what is primary and what may be secondary is no easy task. Neither is choosing the appropriate remedy, with the pharmaceuticals invariably competing with the psychotherapists for best cure. Trescothic is insistent throughout that depression be regarded as an illness and only in that way can an appropriate treatment be started. He concludes in his final pages:
As for lessons, I don’t profess to be an expert on my own case, let alone anyone else’s, but a few things have stuck; that depression is an illness, not a weakness, and that it can be cured but that you may not be able to beat it just because you want to. P346
In essence he may well be right, but I can’t help finding this approach rather mechanical. For Trescothic you either have the illness or you don’t. I prefer to see mental illness in more nuanced terms, the more extreme end of a continuum. Stress and anxiety seem to me to be an integral part of the human condition. This of course is never taught at school. You are either happy or sad – mentally well or mentally unwell. Typical of the bourgeois scientific method, things are either/or but rarely in flux. But in reality we all live on the continuum. In the morning we may be able to cope, by night-time we may succumb to our anxieties. This year we can cope but the accumulation of stress may tip us over next year or the year after. A particular set of circumstances may trigger a violent response. A quantitative and sustained build- up of anxiety may lead to a qualitative change in mental health. What I’m suggesting is if depression is an illness then we all suffer that illness to a greater or lesser degree.
Marcus Trescothic knows a thing or two about extreme stress. Having someone throw a hardened piece of leather at you at a hundred miles an hour all day long is serious stress indeed. The extreme highs and lows that Trescothic must have experienced as an international cricketer surely is as intense as it comes. On a good day you walk tall, a hero for your country. But one false move, one momentary lapse of concentration and you walk for a duck. As jobs go, playing international cricket is brutal. Of course, all elite sportsmen and women live with this intense stress component throughout their careers. But add to this stress the endless touring of international cricketers and the cocktail can rapidly turn toxic. And if there are underlying psychological, biological or even genetic issues at play who can say when this toxicity will not become overwhelming.
But this intense stress is not only the domain of elite sportsmen. We are all thrown into the mix. Those in work have stresses aplenty. Those forced out of work have a different set of stresses. Questions of loss, of broken relationships, of existential angst, they come to us all sooner or later. We cope the best we can; pills, booze, dope and other stuff to help us get through. We’re all living in a pressure cooker and the pressure is relentless. We check our smart phones a thousand times a day. Is that not a form of mental illness? We need constant hits from nicotine, from alcohol, from caffeine and from sugar every few minutes. Is that not a form of mental illness? We’re eating and drinking ourselves into clinical obesity despite knowing the dangers. Is that not a distinct mental disorder? And all our accumulated anxieties around status, finance and material possessions we pass on to our children.
What am I saying here? I’m certainly not trying to belittle the pain and trauma that Marcus Trescothic and thousands like him have suffered. Their pain is clinically real. I am suggesting however that to isolate depression as an illness is to ignore the continuum that we are all on. Show me an individual that is not stressed and I’ll show you a corpse. Unlike the Hollywood and Disney worlds of eternal happiness, stress is part of the human condition. By recognising this, we might be more successful in managing it. The taboo of mental illness would evaporate because we would see ourselves as fellow sufferers. Acute cases may need intense therapy and even short term medication, as was the case for Trescothic. Of course the big pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in perpetuating the notion of mental illness. They obviously want to keep us drugged up and medicated for as long as possible. In the case of Trescothic, simply removing himself from the hellish pressures of international duty was enough to get his mental state back into some semblance of balance. Could he have achieved that without the drugs? It’s definitely worth posing the question.
Anyway, Coming back to me was a brave initiative to which Trescothic should be congratulated even if it was a little heavy on the cricket stats for my liking. Is he still playing and enjoying cricket for his beloved Somerset? I hope so, it would make for a nice ending. And hopefully he’s got around to telling the pharmaceutical corporations where to shove their drugs.