(This post was previously featured on my old blog, Half-Empty: Confessions of a Pessimist (Who’s Trying To Do Better).)
In a recent post, I described how I had been sick one weekend and had spent an entire day just watching movies on my computer. I wrote about watching the movie Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. What I didn’t mention were the other two movies I watched that weekend. One was Locke, starring Tom Hardy, and the other was Thanks For Sharing, an ensemble-type movie with Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, and Pink.
Locke was a very interesting exercise in minimalist film-making, with the whole movie comprised of Hardy driving in a car, talking to people on the phone. It’s actually much more interesting than that synopsis, but I don’t want to give too much away. Thanks For Sharing has been billed as a romantic comedy, but don’t be fooled. This is a movie about sex addicts struggling to live lives of sobriety. It’s not without its lighter moments, but it is definitely not “date night” fare.
For the most part, I respected how the film dealt with the struggle sex addicts go through to try to beat their addictions. Ruffalo, in particular, goes to great lengths to keep his addiction at bay, including using a flip-phone, avoiding the internet, and having televisions removed from any hotel rooms he stays in. He becomes a mentor to Gad’s character and forms a romantic relationship with Paltrow. He looks like the guy who is going to make it.
But he doesn’t. He falls. And he falls hard.
I figured a movie dealing with sex addiction would go to some uncomfortable places, but I was not prepared for the graphic nature of Ruffalo’s relapse. It features an explicit sex scene, with nudity, and a horrible incident with a former lover after that which nearly ends in tragedy. The fact that these scenes exist in themselves could possibly be understood from the viewpoint of someone making the film. From the standpoint of sex addicts who possibly were watching the movie to observe how it treated the condition, the two scenes could basically be considered triggers for relapses in their own lives.
Let’s face it: If you are addicted to anything in this life, you don’t have to search very hard to find something to trigger your addictive behavior. Gad’s frustrated character in Thanks For Sharing remarks at one point, “Is all of Manhattan just one big (explicative) catwalk?”. It’s not just sex, though. Alcoholics are bombarded with how cool drinking beer is. Food addicts are daily served up a steady diet of unhealthy options. Those suffering from depression can get their daily downers simply by turning on the radio for a few minutes.
All this makes me wonder… Are we actually killing ourselves?
I mean, if we’re all trying to stay away from something, how does it make sense that we get assaulted every day with the very things we’re trying to avoid? In this pretty stunning video, comedian and actor Russell Brand talks about how soft-core pornography is readily available and even the accessibility of hard-core porn has skyrocketed over the years. Numerous studies have been produced about the negative effects of pornography on the brain, but we just keep pumping it out. Are we naive or stupid or do we just not care?
Life is hard. Life with an addiction of some sort is even harder. It would be difficult living alone in an enclosed box. We don’t live in boxes, though. We live in a world where the guns are loaded.
And there are triggers everywhere.
So, the other day, I’m driving home from work and I hear this song on the radio that I kind of like. Now, you have to remember, I don’t listen to the radio all that much. When I do, it’s sort of a forced behavior, because I know if I don’t keep up with what’s current I’m going to become one of those old guys who doesn’t know any music past whenever he started having children. Plus, I work at a radio station, so actually listening to the radio is one of the last things I want to do when I leave for the day.
Anyway, I didn’t know what this song was, and I didn’t get to the SoundHound app on my phone quick enough to check what it was, so I sort of logged it away in my brain to check on later. Then, because I forget everything these days, I didn’t think about it again. This pattern of curiosity, interest, intent, forgetfulness, and inaction is fairly common with me.
The next day, I was talking with a friend, and she mentioned this song by One Direction that she liked. Now, when I hear the words “One Direction,” I think “modern-day New Kids on the Block.” That’s not meant as a compliment. There’s a store in a nearby mall called Claire’s that’s filled with One Direction merchandise. To put this into perspective, the rest of the store is filled with Hello Kitty, Disney’s Frozen, and virtually ever other brand that would snag the attention of a 12-year-old girl.
I told my friend that I don’t like One Direction, and I proceeded to mock her for even bringing them up. Then she began describing the new song of theirs that she liked … and it was the song I had heard on the radio. So I looked it up on the internet, and, much to my chagrin, I still kind of liked it. It’s apparently called “Night Changes.” It even has this sort of cheesily endearing video.
Of course, my initial reaction to realizing I actually found a One Direction song even remotely appealing was one of shock and horror. I’m not supposed to like this kind of music. I’m supposed to thumb my adult and sophisticated (and twice-broken) nose at this kind of thing. The more I thought about it, though, it actually did have a nice melody to it. And it wasn’t some dopey dance track. And it did fool me on the radio, so…
I have a One Direction song on my iPod now.
I remember in a counseling session one time telling my counselor how it concerned me that I wasn’t focused on enough “adult” things. He proceeded to tell me how, as a young man in his early- to mid-20s, he liked to get home from work in the afternoon and watch cartoons. I’ll never forget his words: “I’m a grown damn man, and I can watch cartoons if I want to.”
So if I want to like a One Direction song, hey, it’s just a song. I was out the other day and heard REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and thought to myself, “You know, I kind of like this song.” It took me a minute to push past worrying about people today thinking it’s kind of cheesy. I can like what I want to. I’m not saying I’m going to be downloading the entire One Direction catalog, but if I decide to, that’s my prerogative. Ooh, speaking of a song I like…
When most people hear the word “depression,” they equate it with sadness. If someone is depressed, the reasoning goes, they must be really sad all the time. The key, then, is to find out how to make the depressed person happy. Easy enough, right?
Well, not always.
Just type the words “I feel dead inside” into your search engine and see how many results come up. A great majority of people who experience depression report not being able to feel any emotion at all as being one of their primary symptoms. They don’t feel happy, but they don’t feel sad either. They aren’t at peace, but they can’t muster much anger about anything. They don’t feel emotional pain. They become numb to emotions.
People often wonder at the number of those among the depressed who also have various addictions. The practice of cutting is rarely understood. Researchers have often pointed out links between depression and high-risk behaviors. All of this would seem to run counter-productive to a depressive ever getting any better, since all of these behaviors usually result in making the sufferer feel guilty or ashamed and can even result in physical harm.
The obvious question, then, is, why?
There’s a line in the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” has a line in it I always found very poignant: “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel.” Sometimes the action is not intended to accomplish anything except producing a feeling of some sort. Any feeling, whether it’s pain or pleasure or a high of some kind or even some type of near-death experience. Someone with depression may make a decision that can only be described as stupid simply to experience a jolt in their emotions.
Of course, depression cannot be cited as a reason for every not-so-good decision in life. Every day, though, someone wakes up feeling absolutely numb to the world around them. Nothing brings them enjoyment. Nothing makes them grieve. Nothing makes them laugh. Nothing makes them cry. They desperately need something, but they don’t know what it is, so they fling themselves at anything they think might make them care again.
So for everyone who believes the key to conquering depression is to just figure out how to make everyone happy is missing the point. The solution is to make people excited to be alive again. To give them a purpose for getting out of bed every day. To replace whatever harmful behavior they are using to cope with something beneficial to them.
Sometimes it’s not just a matter of “taking a happy pill” and “turning that frown upside-down.” It’s about becoming a person again. There is no equation for that, and the journey will look different for everyone. Judgement will have to be replaced with mercy and understanding, because they are going to get it wrong along the way. The trick, though, won’t be to just keep going. It will be to just keep feeling.
Chickadee, the chicken, is dead.
Chickadee didn’t have the best of lives. Her mother decided to stop caring for her as a chick. Then an animal of some sort killed her mother and all but one of her siblings, a chick named Lucky. Shortly after that, the two chicks came into our possession as a birthday present for my 10-year-old daughter. The two chicks quickly became one, though, as Lucky escaped the hutch we were keeping the chicks in and disappeared one night without a trace, leaving Chickadee alone.
We have two other chickens – Haley and Bailey – and we figured we would eventually move Chickadee into the same pen with them. When we tried, though, the other two chickens ganged up on her, pecking her and wounding her so badly we had to move her back out to her own area. She spent a couple of months of relative happiness, laying eggs and enjoying her own space.
Then, this morning, we found her decapitated body inside her pen.
I don’t really believe animals feel or experience thought and emotion like human beings do. I don’t know if they have any real awareness of what is happening to them, other than knowing when they are in danger or when they aren’t. Chickadee probably didn’t know she had a tough go of things. It’s sure hard to deny that she did, though.
People, on the other hand, do know what is happening to them in times of distress, and they process information on an intellectual and emotional level. And some people have really, really crappy lives. They come down with mysterious diseases and ailments that wreck their health. They are abused physically, sexually, or mentally by those who hold power over them. They are abandoned by friends and loved ones. And they feel every bit of it.
Some people are able to take their terrible circumstances and use them as motivation. They become shining testimonies of the power and endurance of the human spirit. Some, though, just can never seem to pick their heads up off the floor. I saw a photo posted on Facebook this week with the words “Sometimes the only difference between a bad day and a good day is your attitude” written over it, and I thought, “The key word there is sometimes. Sometimes a day is just bad, no matter what your attitude is.”
I wondered this morning why an animal would be placed here on earth to endure such hardship. Then I wondered why people would be placed here on this earth to endure the trials they face. I didn’t come up with any answers for either. Really awful people will prosper, and really good people will suffer. Really good people will prosper, and really awful people will suffer. Some who experience calamity will rise above it, others will not. The good days will not always be a matter of attitude. Sometimes they just won’t be there.
A good friend sent me a link through Facebook to the following article: “New Research Discovers That Depression Is An Allergic Reaction To Inflammation” It basically states that doctors are now having great success treating the inflammatory symptoms of depression, rather than the neurological ones. Much scientific jargon is contained within the article, and I am not even sure I understand all of it. Any piece that references an article from NOVA tends to largely fly over my head.
I have read many, many articles and books on the causes and symptoms of depression. There is a wealth of information out there. There is dietary information, sleep recommendations, exercise tips, even prayer and meditation teachings. Everyone wants to know the way out from under this terrible affliction, but a solution can never truly be found until the cause is deduced.
And, unfortunately, no one really knows why depression happens. It just does.
There are certainly issues that can be pointed to. Traumatic life events, stress, chemical imbalances in the brain, childbirth, genetic predisposition, bad decisions, abrupt life changes… The list could go on forever. Sometimes it seems as if there is a demon lurking around every corner waiting to spring some mental trap upon us. Some people who have been through horrible circumstances, however, never feel the sting of depression. Others grow up in fairly normal circumstances and grapple with it daily.
I wish I knew.
For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. – Ecclesiastes 1:18 (ESV)
I gotta get outta here.
More than one counselor has told me how self-aware I am. One even told me I was more well-read on some of the topics we were covering than he was. My analysis of what is going in my brain is nearly non-stop. I examine every intention, weigh every decision, process every movement. No one knows me better than me.
Unfortunately, this is not always a good thing.
For one thing, being so aware of myself does not always leave a lot of capacity to think about others. In my nearly constant striving to figure out what’s going on in my own head, I sometimes forget to consider what other people might be thinking. Or I filter everything about them through the lens of me. Worst of all, I can transform into a completely selfish jerk who can only think of himself.
There is also a certain paralyzing effect to thinking this way. Every decision comes under such scrutiny that it takes much longer to make them than it should. Every interaction is so carefully broken down that they lose any sense of spontaneity or casualness. The fear of getting things wrong comes into play. Sometimes no decision at all gets made and no interaction takes place. The internal machinations become too much to overcome.
Then there is the nearly constant comparison which goes on. That person seems normal and happy. Why can’t I be like that? I should be able to do what they do. They’re getting ahead of me. I need to be happy for them, but I’m not. I don’t measure up. I know because, well, I just know.
One of the keys, obviously, to overcoming these obstacles to a normal life is to get outside of myself. Even that is not as easy as it sounds, though, because when someone like me realizes that, it becomes another goal to attain. It becomes less about others and more about doing it for me. The benefits of being able to so adequately assess myself and what makes me tick essentially becomes a prison cell. I am the only one with the key, but I swallowed it.
Recovering from depression can be a tricky line to walk. On the one hand, you’re striving to establish or re-establish your assertiveness, but on the other hand you’re attempting to refocus your thoughts on others and what’s going on outside of yourself. Which is more important – taking care of yourself or forgetting about yourself? Some people walk the line well, while others like me stumble along.
To even admit all this seems extremely selfish and shallow. All of the times I’ve acted only for my own interests are racing through my mind. Of course, those may not be many (if any) more times than the average human being, but I process it differently. I want out of this cell, but I can’t figure out how to break free. I have all the knowledge in the world, but I can’t figure out how to use it to fix myself.
I gotta get outta here.
I am of an age that I do not exactly remember why Dick Cavett was important. He may not have ever been Johnny Carson, but Cavett managed to carve out quite a niche for himself as a talk show host and interviewer for the better part of three decades. I was either too young or he was just enough out of the mainstream that I never quite grasped his significance, although I knew he was highly regarded.
Several months ago, while at my mother’s house, I came across a Time magazine focusing on the death of actor/comedian Robin Williams. Near the back of the magazine, there was an editorial piece written by Cavett, titled “Robin Williams Won’t Be The Last Suicidal Star.” At the time, Williams’ suicide had impacted me greatly on a mental level, as I wondered to myself, “If someone so seemingly full of joy as Robin Williams couldn’t make it through this life, what hope do I have?”. I dug through pretty much everything written in the magazine about the late actor, including Cavett’s piece.
I was surprised to learn from the article (and later through Wikipedia and the internet) that Cavett himself suffered from bouts of depression, so his understanding of what Williams must have gone through was quite astute. Particularly striking was his description of how depression not only causes feelings of sadness, but also robs its sufferers of the ability to feel anything.
“You yourself may have thought, ‘How could he do this to his wife and kids?’ Easy. Because what’s been called the worst agony devised for man doesn’t allow you to feel any emotion for kids, spouses, lovers, parents … even your beloved dog. And least of all for yourself.”
I remember the night a dear friend of mine sat at our kitchen table and described to my wife and I how she just went numb one day. She described how she was just going to get in her car and drive one night. She didn’t have any clue where she might go. She didn’t care who she was leaving behind. She was just going to go. It sounds completely insane to someone who hasn’t been there. Why would someone just abandon everything?
I’ve joked sometimes about the block-long walk from the office where I work to the post office where I pick up the company’s mail. I quip that every now and then I just want to pull a Forrest Gump and instead of stopping at the post office I just keep on walking to see where my steps take me. Of course, this is insanity. Anyone who knows me would immediately point to all the things in my life I should be thankful for and all the people who count on me and everyone who loves me. For some reason, though, my mind will occasionally disconnect from all that, to the point where all I want to do is see how far I can get away.
There’s no real anger in it. There’s no malice directed toward anyone. There’s no grand plan to make anyone miss me when I’m gone. I just go blank. I stop caring. The interesting thing is, people who do this are also extremely good at hiding it. Cavett recalls in his piece going back and reviewing an interview he did with Sir Laurence Olivier in which he was positive his performance was hampered by depression. To his surprise, Cavett looked as sharp as ever. “My eyes were bright, and the silences I recalled were gone,” Cavett said of his demeanor during the interview.
This is all very difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it. Most people have never sat and stared at a spot on their kitchen table for 15 minutes or neglected emails they should have been responding to for several days or walked to the other side of the grocery store to avoid speaking to people they’ve known for well over a decade or walked off of a job for no apparent reason. The examples could go on and on. They’re not things normal people would do. Depression, however, is not a normal state of mind to be in.
If a person’s actions do not necessarily line up with their circumstances, it does not necessarily mean they are suffering from depression. Sometimes, though, circumstances don’t matter. Sometimes a person’s “right” to be depressed simply does not exist. To address this predicament, Cavett points to a quote from British actor and comedian Stephen Fry, who once asked the following question:
“And what have you got to have asthma about?”
Ever since the first time I heard “Everything You Want,” Vertical Horizon has been one of my guilty pleasures. I’m not exactly sure why I refer to them as a “guilty pleasure,” though. Maybe it’s because the first few times I heard “Everything You Want,” I thought it was done by a boy band. It did kind of have that feel in the chorus, but I liked it anyway, despite the fact it was heinously overplayed by radio stations across the country.
Fact is, Vertical Horizon is a darn fine musical group. Matt Scannell is a grossly underrated guitarist, songwriter, and singer. I do think the group lost a little off the ball when co-founding member Keith Kane departed, but Scannell has managed to turn out some really fine music even without his original partner. My only complaint is that he doesn’t let enough guitar solos rip, like he does in songs such as “Shackled” and “Evermore.”
I also think Scannell is kind of cool because he hangs out a lot with Richard Marx. Yes, that Richard Marx. I found myself in a restaurant this weekend quietly singing along to “Hold On To The Nights,” so I guess you can say his music is another guilty pleasure of mine that really shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure. I mean, the guy can write a good song, and he teamed up with Scannell to write one of my favorite cuts from the new Vertical Horizon album Echoes From The Underground, “You Never Let Me Down.”
The premise of the song is pretty interesting. The singer (Scannell) is basically saying he can always count on himself to wreck his own happiness. “Just when the game is through, I can count on you to make sure I never win.” It’s that frustration of knowing your greatest enemy is actually you. Pretty soon, if you’re not careful, you start believing you’re always going to wreck your own success, no matter what you do. “You never let me down…”
There is a glimmer of hope in the song’s second verse, though (unless I’m interpreting it wrong, which is entirely possibly, since I misinterpret lyrics all the time). “One day the undertow ain’t gonna let you go. What a tragedy.” Maybe one day that person within us that sabotages our happiness and hinders us in everything we try to achieve will be wiped away. Maybe he or she will become a distant memory, someone we used to know but don’t care to associate with anymore. “Stay, stay far away. No one but me here.”
So there’s not any guilty pleasure for me with this song. It’s well-written, has some ripping guitar work, and an arena-ready chorus. It also has a message I and countless others need to hear.
We don’t have to let ourselves down forever.
When I was sick two weekends ago, I decided to catch up on some movies I had really wanted to see but couldn’t interest anyone else in seeing with me. One of those movies was Nebraska, the 2013 much-lauded comedy/drama starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. Overall, I thought the film was pretty good, and I was pleasantly surprised by Forte’s dramatic acting chops and Dern’s heartbreaking performance. I don’t know that I would have given it an Oscar nomination, but the fact that it did receive several gave me the opportunity to feel slightly more sophisticated for having watched it.
While the film’s dramatic scenes carried considerable weight, a comedic moment was what resonated most with me. A family gathering is depicted, with Dern and Forte’s characters surrounded by male family members. Most of them are older (Dern’s character’s brothers), and they are all staring blankly at a television as some random sporting event is taking place. A totally inane, meaningless conversation begins about one of the men owning a Buick. Few words are spoken, even fewer are actually listened to, and the conversation ends just as it began, with awkward silence.
I have been in that living room before and sat through that conversation.
The area where I live received a significant amount of snowfall last night and today. I’m not exactly sure of the amount, and I’ve had to work extremely hard to not find out. There may be eight inches or 10 inches or a foot or who knows how much. I don’t do well when I dwell on such things. If I have to get out and go to work (which I didn’t today), then I have to get out and go. Every report of how awful everything is outside just fuels my anxiety and makes it even more difficult for me to concentrate on the task at hand. I would rather just meet the challenge and get it over with.
Being in radio, I understand the necessity of media outlets to report what the forecast is going to be; to warn the public of any potential hazards the weather might create; and to describe travel conditions for those who will have to be on the roadways. It’s a public service, and it’s just the nature of what they do. What I do not understand is why some people feel the need to inform me of every single happening they heard about from social media, other friends, random acquaintances, and anyone else with the ability to communicate with words. Sometimes what they say is true; sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is greatly beneficial; sometimes it is not. For some reason lately, though, it is almost always annoying to me, and I haven’t been able to figure out why.
I’ve run through several possible reasons for this in my mind. I could just be an uncaring jerk. As I mentioned earlier, it could be because second-hand information of this sort usually only serves to increase any anxiety I might have over a situation. It may have something to do with my background in newspapers, where you had to make absolutely certain you had your facts correct before you shared them with anyone else. Maybe I feel inundated with information sometimes and just want it to stop.
Perhaps the saddest part of the living room scene I mentioned earlier is how it seemed everyone in the room had run out of not only things to talk about, but also things to care about. Nothing was exciting anymore. Nothing was new to them anymore. There was nothing on the horizon for them to look forward to. All anyone could muster was a stilted discussion about an old car. Sometimes discussions about the weather or who’s sick in the hospital or who’s left what church or who’s getting married (or divorced) put me in that living room. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being there; it’s just not where I want to be.
Barring something unforeseen, I will go outside in the morning, warm up my vehicle, and attempt to drive it to work. I’m sure a thousand-and-one stories exist to encourage me not to do that, but I don’t really want to talk about them. There’s a certain sort of excitement and adventure that comes with just doing what needs to be done and ignoring everything else, even if it’s not the wisest thing to do. I don’t begrudge anyone their right to sit around their living room and talk about snow or cars or anything else. I just can’t do it anymore.
I just don’t care enough. Or maybe I actually care too much about other things.