Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Paul Hester (1959 - 2005)

Paul Hester was the drummer with Crowded House, a band I really liked when I was younger.

He killed himself last weekend, and I wish he hadn't.

He really was the front man for Crowded House - while Neil Finn and Nick Seymour acted sensible and quite dull during media interviews, Hester was always smiling, joking, and coming out with witty lines.

I saw Crowded House play at the State Theatre in Sydney around 12 years ago, and for one song they did something which I found quite neat. The line-up was Neil Finn on guitar and vocals, Nick Seymour on bass, and Paul Hester on drums. And for one song they decided to rotate. Anti-clockwise, if I recall. So you had Paul Hester on guitar and vocals, Neil Finn on bass, and Nick Seymour on drums. It sounded really bad, but it was extremely funny. I have to believe that a stunt like that was something Paul Hester came up with.

So anyway, according to media reports, Hester took his dogs for a walk last Saturday night, and didn't come back. Police found him hanging from a tree in the park the next day.

This, of course, leaves two very important questions unanswered:

  1. What happened to the dogs?
  2. Do you think he used a dog leash to hang himself with?

Okay, so they're not really all that important in the grand scheme of things, but they have been playing on my mind.

Oh, and why can't the news outlets agree on how many dogs he took for a walk (one or two) and on what night he did it (Friday or Saturday night), and whether or not he had been through a recent relationship break-up? Why can't I find out if he was definitely born in 1959?

A lot of media outlets have referred to Hester as suffering from 'clinical depression', of having a 'life-long battle with depression', and, "when it came to Paul Hester, there was very bright light and there was very dark shade" (Sydney Morning Herald article).

It's easy to speculate that Hester suffered from a form of depression known as bipolar II disorder. In fact, Professor Gordon Parker, of the Black Dog Institute, has suggested as much (on a cheap and tacky tabloid program here).

From a vantage point of knowing almost nothing about Paul Hester, I'd have to agree with what the Professor says. I'm glad I finally found someone willing to try and put a name to the illness that killed Paul Hester.

I guess when somebody kills themselves, and their friends and family find it completely shocking and bizarre and out of character, and so on, it's quite likely that person suffered from a bipolar disorder.

It's a strange illness: most of the time you're perfectly normal, except you probably have some insights and experience into yourself and the world from previous episodes, which can give you a different, maybe quirky, way of looking at life.

Other times you're hypomanic or manic (hypomania tends to look and feel like being full of life and energy and generosity and happiness, while mania just tends to look and feel really bloody scary).

And there's the other side of bipolar disorder, which is generally what kills people. Clinical depression, in my experience, can turn the brain inside out as quickly and definitively as a switch being flicked. Suddenly you're not able to think of a single positive thing about yourself or your life, you're not able to recall a single positive memory, it's as though half of what makes you you gets locked out of your brain. There is no future, the past haunts you like a mad cackling thing, and the present is excrutiatingly painful. Simply existing seems overwhelmingly futile, stupid, a waste of resources, and just plain not worth the effort.

That's how it is for me when I'm depressed. I'd like to claim some sort of originality, but from what I can tell that's how almost everyone feels when they're depressed. Getting that switch flipped back is very difficult. Time can do it, if you're able to last that long. Medicines can do it, if you find the right ones, and you're willing to take the pills. Sometimes you can get so depressed that you don't want to get better: the way you perceive things when you're depressed can seem more honest and real than how you perceive things when you're well, getting well means having to pick up the pieces of the life that's fallen down around you while you've been sick, and it seems like too much work, it's too damn scary and it makes you feel so damn guilty when you see the mess you've made. And, of course, getting well means you won't be able to kill yourself.

It's fucked up, but that's how it can be sometimes.

I didn't know Paul Hester, and I'm making a lot of assumptions here, but I think there's far, far too many people in the world who have a good idea of the sorts of things he must have been going through.

Depression is a treatable illness. It's not easily treated, and it's a bitch of a thing to deal with, but it is treatable. Despite growing awareness and some decrease in stigma, nowhere near enough is being done to recognise and help people with this illness.

And unfortunately, sometimes, even with treatment, it can still be fatal.

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