Recently, a friend and I were discussing films of the actor Jonny Lee Miller. I am a long-time admirer of his work, which I feel is always, unfailingly good. Currently, he stars as Sherlock Holmes in the TV show Elementary, which you may have seen. While discussing his other roles as well, I asked my friend if she had seen The Flying Scotsman, a film based on the life of Scottish cyclist, Graeme Obree. Because she said she hasn’t, I tried to tell her why she must see Miller in it, but regretted my words as soon as they came out of my mouth. Even though, I said, “Jonny is perfect in showing what depression looks like in this,” I was immediately met with a smile from her, that was not meant in a mocking, trivialising way (she knows about my anxiety and depression) but at how bizarre it must be for depression to be shown. And that makes me wonder, for those of us who have it on the inside, how does it look to the world outside?
Miller’s character didn’t really have any dramatic dialogues to deliver in the depressive episode that is shown towards the end of the film. However, what has always struck me about Miller’s acting is how precise he is with his characters. He could easily exaggerate his movements and dialogue delivery, he has more than enough charisma for it. But, he is an incredibly great actor of stillness, who could convey so much by hardly twitching a muscle. It is very difficult to convey that inner turmoil. Most actors would shake subtly but frequently, breathe heavily and inevitably, cry. But the marked difference between inner turmoil resulting from depression and from anxiety (though both frequently overlap for some people. However, it is possible to have depression without anxiety) is that there can be a stillness, a calm in depression that isn’t there in anxiety, that by nature is unsettling.
I do not mean anything pleasant when I use the words stillness and calm for depressive states. But, what is still and calm about depression is how singular your thoughts, or rather your thoughts about thoughts become. With anxiety, you are always standing on the brink of different worlds. With depression, you already are in hell. There is no struggle anymore; only bleak nothingness around.
Almost everyone experiences mild to severe, one-time to chronic depression in their lives. Because our circumstances are individual to us, so are the ways in which depression gets manifested. Unlike a physical disease, depression is very malleable. While watching a film about a Scottish cyclist, I did not expect to find something that would ring true in my life and experiences. I did not know people actually went off into states like that, states they had no control over, and most of all, that people actually looked like that, which in my experience I only saw happen to me. Suddenly, I felt less alone, and I felt grateful to Mr. Miller for portraying this with such knowledgeability and humanity.
It maybe one of the commonest conditions in the world, and one of the top reasons for disease and death in the last year, but sometimes, it is so important to look at it on the outside, than just see what is within ourselves. It may not help us, but it might make us understand it better.