(Mental) State Of The Nation

I’ve spent an unusual amount of time on Facebook the past three days. I wish I could say it has been an enjoyable experience, but the only thing I can liken it to is standing by and watching a train wreck. Everyone was just crashing into each other. There was no good end to anything. It just felt like … death.

taylor-swift-pressurizes-apple-to-reverse-apple-music-dealOf course, there is no shortage of things to talk about on social media these days. The Confederate flag. Gay marriage. Taylor Swift and Apple. (Okay, that last one, not so much, but there is some stuff going down there.) Instead of talking, though, most people just snipe at each other. Proponents of homosexual marriage love how the “haters” got it stuck to them. Southerners try to play up the heritage aspect of the Confederate flag. Everyone is convinced they’re correct. No one allows that they might be wrong. It’s an online shouting match.

I have my share of personal beliefs, just like anyone else, and I can certainly understand passion in people regarding the issues of the day. Everyone wants to leave this earth believing they made a difference, and being a part of a social movement is something everyone dreams of. They can say they helped, literally, change the world. Occasionally, passion may trump logic, but it is undeniable that the force of a public tidal wave of opinion is something people not only can be caught up in, but also want to be caught up in.

I am concerned about our nation, though, and it has nothing to do with what flags are flying where or who is marrying whom. I am concerned because there is a growing cloud of darkness over the American psyche today which threatens to plunge our culture into a new age of violence, hate, and depression.

Several years ago, I stopped listening to conservative talk radio. It wasn’t that I necessarily disagreed with the opinions being expressed there; rather, it was the tone of everything. Conservatives had all the right ideas, and liberals wanted to submerge the country in darkness forever. That was pretty much the basis of every discussion I heard. And I got mad at liberals. I would get to work after listening to one of these shows and not want to talk to anyone. That’s when I realized I had gone beyond anger, maybe even beyond hate. I had fallen into some type of abyss, and there was nothing good there at all.

I feel us all sliding into that abyss today, and for those already predisposed to darker moods, there may not be any Peacecamp&downhillestatejuly21st012-1way back. I have been down this weekend, and I feel heavy inside. That heaviness then begins to spread into the doubts and fears and anxieties I wrestle with on a daily basis. My mood begins to be colored in a different way, and soon I begin to let hopelessness creep in. For me, this means a deepening depression. For those disposed to violence, though, or those who possess great anger, where does it lead them? And do the hopeful become bitter? Where are we going?

I was reading an interesting article this weekend about the suicide rate in Belgium. Doctors are permitted to assist with suicides for all different types of reasons in Belgium, including non-terminal conditions such as bipolar disorder, anorexia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the World Health Organization, Belgium ranks 17th internationally on the list of suicides per 100,000 people per year. By contrast, the United States ranks 50th. My theory is this: When a nation expresses a willingness to condone taking one’s own life, its citizens follow suit. Therefore, if a nation projects depression and conflict, it stands to reason its citizens will feel the darkening mood.

Maybe I should get away from social media, television, everything where an opinion might be expressed. Then again, this is America, and those opinions have a right to be heard. I just wish it could be done in a way where sides are not so starkly chosen and battle lines are not so plainly drawn. The thought of us hacking each other to pieces is a depressing one indeed.

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ALL Murderers Are Mentally Ill

Enough already.

The scenario is always the same. A horrific shooting incident occurs. There is an initial outpouring of grief and sympathy, and people actually appear to get along for a brief period of time. Then the gun control debate begins. And once that topic has been thoroughly exhausted, the discussion of the treatment of mental illness resumes.

Here’s a little secret, for those of you who didn’t know: Anyone who kills anyone else out of anything other than maintaining the law, carrying out military orders, or in self-defense is mentally ill. Period.

Stigma_FII mean, really. Do people in a normal state of mind, not acting in any of the capacities I described above, decide to strangle, stab, or shoot someone with the intent of killing them? Do people just come home from work, set their briefcase by the door, read the newspaper, and then think to themselves, “Hmm, I think I’ll kill someone tonight.”?

Murder is an insane act in itself. I guess mass murder could be defined as more insane, but should there really be a ranking scale on homicide? If I shoot my neighbor one day because his dog dug up my flowers, am I not as bad as someone who walks into a church or a movie theater and opens fire? Was I just “angry,” while the other person was “insane”?

“Mental illness” is and will always be a problem, but so is hate, anger, spite, envy, jealousy, and virtually any other trait which would persuade someone to pick up a weapon of any kind and kill another person. Should we not work on those as well? We live in a world where our leaders, our entertainers, our media representatives attempt to rile us up and pit us against each other. Is it any wonder we feel such animosity toward one another?

In our search for a reason, then, let us cease from tossing the words “mental illness” around as if they are some type of key to unlocking the why behind all of the violence we are faced with. Yes, mental illness is to blame.

What are we going to do about it?

Nobody’s Perfect (So Don’t Act Like You Are)

For those of you wondering where I have been for the past few days, let me offer up a brief summation…

First off, my laptop died (or, at least, it started letting me know it had plans of dying very, very soon), and my Wednesday evening was spent having dinner with a friend who had agreed to look at it for me. On Thursday, I had an interview with two professors from the graduate program I’ve been trying to get into … and you can now strike the word “trying” from that last sentence, because I found out Friday I’M IN! I’ll write more about that another day. And then last night, I blew off writing anything to eat tacos and watch a movie. I know, what dedication to the craft…

The last post I wrote had to do with Bruce Jenner, and my blog received a rather large spike in viewership as a result. To be honest, though, I wasn’t particularly comfortable writing it, because it felt as if I was attempting to cash in on the Topic of the Day. It did have a connection, though, to mental behaviors and psychology and even depression, so I put my hesitations aside and plowed on.

For the past several days, I’ve been pondering another very public situation – the downfall of Joshua Duggar. I’ll try duggarto summarize briefly: Josh Duggar is the oldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents of the Duggar clan featured on the (currently suspended) TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting. He was formerly the director of FRC Action, the non-profit political action and lobbying arm of the Family Research Council. He resigned from the position May 21, after reports became public that he had molested five girls (including some of his sisters) when he was 14 and 15 years old.

Because of his status as a Christian family advocate and the fact that is the son of parents who have chosen to bring 19 children into the world, Josh Duggar quickly became an easy target for anyone with a bone to pick against religion, conservatism, large families, and basically anything else the more liberal pockets of society seem to be opposed to these days. Even before any of this information came to light, however, people were referring to the Duggar family as “freaks” because of the way they chose to live. For Joshua Duggar’s failures to be pushed into the publicly eye so vehemently was simply like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Let’s put it plainly: What Josh Duggar did was wrong. Even if he was the victim of teenage hormones run amuck, a man or boy simply cannot ever do what he did. At the same time, his family (most notably, his molested sisters) seems to have forgiven him, and no further incidents beyond those teen years have been discovered. He is 27 years old now and has a wife and children of his own. No charges were filed, and all the parties affected seem to want to move on.

Why are we staying on this then?

The more I think about the answer to that question, the more I come closer to the following conclusion: I’m not so sure people are half as mad about what Josh Duggar did as the fact that he and his family had worked very hard to lead us to believe nothing is or ever was wrong with them. The Duggars have written books and spoken at conferences and appeared on television, and never once did they mention this skeleton in their closet. Josh Duggar thumped plenty of podiums with FRC Action, always displaying a righteous indignation against evil in the world. You may have thought the Duggars were weird, but you also probably couldn’t find much to call them out on. They made fairly sure of that.

As a self-deprecating kind of person, I gave up a long time ago trying to present myself as anything other than flawed. Even the best of us have made mistakes, though. I would think at some point while the Duggars were earning all that money on their television show and books that they might have mentioned this unfortunate chapter in their lives. Not a word, though. That, I believe, is where the outrage lies. If you’re sitting on a secret, don’t push yourself out in public in front of everyone and tell them how good you are. At least own it at some point.

Strangely, I dislike the Duggars now because of the good things they tried to present, instead of the bad thing they tried to hide. Does everyone need to shout their deepest, darkest secrets from the rooftops? No. What they can do, though, is not proclaim their righteousness from every street corner either. There are none of us who are perfect, and we do the world a great disservice when we try to convince everyone that we are. The damage will come eventually, sooner or later. Promoting goodness is a positive thing; claiming to have the market cornered on it is not.

I Can’t

Words cannot express how loathe I am to sit here and write this tonight. This is Tuesday. This is the day when I’m supposed to write a little something about a song that has meant something to me and get to bed earlier. I already took a nap this afternoon. This is the day that what I do here is supposed to be largely devoid of any type of controversy or dispute or weirdness. This is supposed to be the easy post.

After sitting here for the last 30 minutes trying to get around it, though, I’m finally giving in. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I have to get it out before I go to sleep tonight.

I do not get this whole Bruce Jenner thing.

I couldn’t scroll down my Facebook feed for 30 seconds today without either seeing the Vanity Fair with “Caitlyn” bruce-caitlyn-jenner-vanity-fair-coverJenner’s photo on the cover or someone posting a link to a blog or website discussing Jenner’s attempt to reclassify his gender. Depending on what you’re reading, Jenner is either a hero or a lunatic, someone exhibiting extreme bravery or someone who has lost his marbles. Whatever the opinion, that freaking picture is everywhere today.

I don’t really like to court controversy anymore. Maybe when I was younger and more assured of how correct I was about every situation, I would have embraced the chance to dive head-first into a topic such as this. As I sit here at this keyboard tonight, though, all I really want to do is get a few thoughts off my chest about how utterly confusing it is to try to wrap my head around this utterly baffling situation.

If I walked into work tomorrow and asked everyone there to start calling me “Debbie,” I would probably get some strange looks. Actually, I would get more than that. I would get a whole bunch of people telling me to knock it off. I’m a man, so it wouldn’t make much sense for me to suddenly demand that I be addressed by a woman’s name. Johnny Cash once sang about how “life ain’t easy for a boy named ‘Sue’,” and despite shifting attitudes on sexuality, it would probably still be pretty tough today. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; it’s just weird.

I am struggling to understand why, then, if I were to begin wearing female clothing and makeup, taking hormone therapy to change my biochemistry, and undergoing surgical procedures to alter my genitalia, I would be lauded as a “hero.” To me, these are much more radical steps than simply changing my name. Not only did Jenner change his name, though, he posed as a woman on the cover of a national publication which will grace magazine racks in everything from Walmarts to library shelves to gas stations across the country.

patinkinI also don’t think we’re using the term “hero” correctly anymore. In the words of the great Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In my mind, “heroes” are firefighters who rush into burning buildings to save children or police officers who leap in front of bullets to protect innocent bystanders or soldiers fighting on the front lines on foreign soil. To me, Jenner was more of a hero when he was winning gold medals for America than he is for wearing a dress in public these days.

Believe it or not, I understand what it’s like to not exactly be sure of your identity and to feel trapped by who people think you are. After years of living under the haze of depression, I felt a wave of new emotions and perspectives flooding over me once I got into counseling. There were some things I always thought I wanted that I suddenly didn’t want anymore. There were some things I used to do that I didn’t want to do anymore. People had a difficult time understanding that. The process of figuring out who I am and what I want is still ongoing, and I’m not always sure where it is going.

I don’t know Bruce Jenner, and I’ve always believed that in order to truly hate a person, you have to know them personally. I only say that because I’m sure someone reading this believes I hate Bruce Jenner and/or transsexuals. I really don’t. At the same time, though, I really don’t understand them, and I believe the path they are setting themselves on is not a wise one. In my case, even though I feel like I’m changing, the challenge is still to learn to live inside my own skin. What Jenner is doing feels like an attempt to escape that skin and become something different entirely. Unfortunately, what is in his core will always be there, no matter what his outer shell suggests.

Finally, it’s just strange to see the man who graced the front of Wheaties boxes when I was a kid decked out in a dress and sprawled out across a couch these days. Regardless of how I feel about Jenner’s current course of action, there’s no getting around the oddity of the situation. That’s why I’m not writing about music and iPods and things like that tonight. Some things just can’t be ignored, no matter how we try to.

The Dark Side

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

– Martin Niemöller

Even before I worked as a newspaper report several years ago, I had a real dislike of people who did not at least make an attempt to follow the news. The most common excuse I heard for this was “The news is so depressing.” There’s really no arguing with that statement; the news is depressing. Countries are at war with one another, people are shooting each other, companies are scamming their customers, politicians are caught stealing and lying… Yeah, watching the nightly news is not usually a yuckfest.

Just for a moment, though, stop and think about all the “real” things that happen in life every day. Think about the events in your own life that have had a profound impact on you. Maybe someone close to you passed away. Maybe you were involved in an accident of some sort. Maybe you were abused verbally or physically by someone. Maybe someone dealt dishonestly with you.

Sounds like some pretty depressing stuff to me.

There is a great emphasis being placed these days on “positivity” and “encouragement.” There’s nothing particularly yinyangwrong with that. This week, I’m supposed to be keeping a self-esteem journal, recording positive things that happen to me each day. This is in an effort to keep my mind off of the negative aspects of myself and my daily experiences. Avoiding negativity and depressing subject matter is often a wise course of action, most definitely.

The sum experience of “real” life, however, is not always positive or encouraging. People lose their jobs. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons lay waste to entire cities. Children are sold into modern-day slavery. Dictators carry out atrocities on their own people. And money… Good Lord, we never seem to have enough money, do we?

Why we should watch the news, though, is not so we can drown ourselves in the miseries of the world. We should watch the news because the news is part of the world we live in, and, occasionally, as with the Nazi Germany Martin Niemöller described in the opening quote of this post, that world comes knocking our front doors. For instance, the local city council may be talking about raising your taxes, but if you don’t know that, you’re not going to show up at their next meeting to oppose it. On a larger scale, if you oppose abortion, for instance, and legislation is proposed to make the procedure easier to have performed, you won’t be able to write or call your elected representatives to voice your opinion on the matter.

I am the world’s worst about listening to depressing music, reading depressing literature, and watching depressing movies and television shows which just feed into my melancholy, but I don’t put watching or reading the news into the same category as those things. Listening to talk radio, yes, but not watching or reading the news. I suppose I subscribe to the philosophy of the yin and the yang when it comes to this; there’s a little darkness in the light and a little light in the darkness. That’s life … and that’s the news.

Snow Banks & Airplanes

In many areas of the United States, a foot of snow on the ground does not a crisis make. In Kentucky, however, it puts everyone into full-on freak-out mode. Not that long ago, many of us in the western part of the Bluegrass State were shoveling off our driveways and trying to figure out how we were going to get to work (or anywhere) the next day. Once we all made it out of our driveways, we were greeted by some roadways that had been plowed, some that had been sort of plowed, and some that it appeared no one had touched at all.

On the plowed roadways, there were heavy-duty mounds of snow piled up along the shoulders. I’m not sure if they could have actually done any damage to a vehicle if it had struck one of them, but they looked solid enough to possibly cause some harm to not only the vehicle but also the driver behind the wheel.

And, on a particularly down day for me, I had the brief, fleeting desire to drive straight into one of them.

I didn’t, of course. Almost as soon as the thought entered my mind, I recognized it as being insane. I didn’t really want to cause harm to myself or my vehicle that day, but my mood was so low that for a brief second I considered doing something pretty stupid.

Suicidal ideation is an extremely difficult realm to decipher. Many people who have fleeting suicidal thoughts never act on them at all, while the appearance of them in some people can be a red flag for problems to come in the future. It also is not necessarily a byproduct of mental illness. Suicidal thoughts can be brought on by sudden life changes or economic hardship or any number of external factors, so automatically linking them to major depressive disorder or dysthymia or bipolar disorder or any other disruption in the brain can be a mistake.

lubitzI would not say I have reached the point of obsession with the story of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who intentionally crashed a Germanwings plane into a mountain, killing everyone on board, but I have definitely become very interested in it. Despite the fact that no suicide note has been found and that Dusseldorf prosecutor Christoph Kumpa has said all data and documents pertaining to Lubitz’s mental state  “don’t show any hint of being suicidical [sic] or being aggressive towards other people,” media reports still seem determined to link this horrible act specifically to mental illness.

In a Yahoo! News story from today, it was revealed that Lubitz had been treated by a psychotherapist for several years because of previous suicidal tendencies. That information supplied the headline for the story, but Kumpa’s earlier quote and the words of a fellow Germanwings pilot who said, “The impression that I got was that he was a normal guy,” were buried deeper in the story. It’s almost as if in order for people to wrap their minds around this terrible tragedy, they must find some mental disorder to pin it on. To think a normal mind would do something this horrific does not seem to compute.

There also seems to be an undercurrent of blame running throughout these reports. As is always the case in times of senseless tragedy, we look for someone to blame. Now, Lubitz is certainly to blame for this particular act, but since he went down with the plane, that only leaves Germanwings to direct accusations at. Should Lubitz have been grounded? Well, no one exactly knows at this point. Should I be banned from driving a car, though, because I had that thought about the snow bank? I don’t think so. Until the extent of Lubitz’s thoughts become clear, can anyone really fault Germanwings for letting him into the cockpit of a plane? He did have a pilot in there with him, after all.

As with suicidal ideation, it is nearly impossible to look at a situation such as this and make a definitive conclusion until every piece of information is uncovered. That could take months or even years, and we want it to all happen in the span of a few days. There is no way I could defend what Lubitz did that day. I’m not even saying he was a decent guy. I don’t know anything about him. I just believe that immediately going after mental illness as a cause for his actions could not only be incorrect, but could also create more of a stigma for those who suffer from it. Not all of us are going to fly planes into mountainsides … or crash cars into piles of snow.

One Day I Was

One week ago today, I was in the process of working an 11-hour day. The next day, I played basketball in my driveway. The day after that, I went to church that morning and attended a Super Bowl party that evening.

Since that time, I have worked a day-and-a-half. I found out I have the beginnings of arthritis and bone spurs in my lower back and been to the chiropractor twice. I’ve also visited my family doctor twice, had two strep tests and one flu test (none of which came back positive), and received a new prescription today, bringing my total for the week to three.

I have no plans for this weekend, save for lying around the house, resting, sleeping, and, hopefully, healing up enough that I can return to work Monday.

What happened?

I mean, last week, I was a picture of health. I was running around everywhere, picking up portable tables (which sort of got me into some of the back trouble I mentioned earlier), playing guitar, blogging every day, eating whatever I wanted (to an extent), going wherever I wanted to go. I worked a full day yesterday, came home, and spent an hour in the bathroom sitting in front of a space heater to get warm.

What a difference a week makes.

I’m going to get over whatever this sickness is, and my back is going to improve. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant; I just know that sicknesses go away, and my back has been messed up like this before and gotten better. What all this has reminded me, though, is how quickly life can change. In this case, the changes have been purely physical. In other instances, though, they can be mental. And heartbreaking.

One of the stories that broke while I’ve been laid up this week was the one concerning Randy Quaid. As I watched 635586404474725712-Randy-Quaidhim bizarrely rant against Rupert Murdoch and Warner Bros., sporting that long white beard but still speaking like the Cousin Eddie I remember, I thought of all the people I’ve known who have done things I never expected them to. I don’t just mean they were mean when I didn’t expect them to be or they had some type of moral failure; I mean they went freaking nuts.

They changed. One day they were normal; the next thing I knew, they weren’t.

What happened?

Life and health are precious things. They have to be guarded and protected. Mental health is no different, though. Just as whatever sickness I had developed in my body and my back trouble accumulated over time, falling from healthy thought into mental illness or struggle is not something that just happens in an instant, no matter how sudden it may seem to us. Just as I couldn’t see any of the physical problems I’ve experienced this week coming, however, we rarely see mental difficulties setting upon us. One day, we’re just there, and then we have to figure out how to get back.

I’ve never become ill and not believed I would get better, but the day will eventually come when that happens. It’s not today, though. I have lived under the impression I would be depressed forever, and that is faulty thinking I have to battle every day. One day I was healthy; next day I wasn’t. I will be again, though. Whether you have suddenly awakened to the fact you are depressed or anxious or addicted, you can be okay again.

One day you were well. I want you to be well again.

Super Weird, Part II

Oh, America, America. What has happened to you?

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. I mean, it’s been this way for years and years now. The ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, even during this young century: Everyone is looking for love. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to give love to someone else. Everyone just wants everyone to love each other. Love, love, love.

It’s always the funniest commercials that usually make the headlines the morning after the Super Bowl is played, and those are usually the ones which leave people talking the longest. Every year has its share of serious spots as well. Oddly enough, some of the most touching commercials in recent years have been advertisements for beer, although other companies struck a more gentle tone this year as well.

1422463197_budweiser-lost-dog-zoomMacDonald’s is encouraging people to pay for their food at the restaurant “with love.” A computer tech spilling a bottle of Coca-Cola inspired all kinds of thoughtful acts in an ad for the soda company. Numerous commercials touted the noble attributes of family and fatherhood. And then, of course, there was that adorable little Budweiser puppy dog being rescued from a pack of wolves by a herd of thundering Clydesdales. Even the horses were showing love.

There’s nothing wrong with love. It’s great. It’s fantastic. Close-knit families, kind human beings, even affectionate animals are all wonderful things.

They’re just not enough. They’ve never been enough. And they’re not ever going to be enough.

That was my pervading thought as I watched all these messages of love flash across the television screen in front of me. We live in a love-starved world. It’s a vacuum we are all desperately trying to fill. My question would be, though, if we have been promoting love for all this time, in so many creative and different and uplifting ways, why is it not taking hold? Why do we all still seem to be so lacking in it, and why do we still feel the need to promote it, as if our message is going to resound differently than the million that came before it?

We are running from God. We are running from the only love that can save us. We’ve been running from Him forever, decade after decade after decade, thinking we can replace His place in our hearts with just enough of this or just enough of that. It’s folly.

I am certainly not going to disparage anyone from promoting peace and love, especially considering the heinous acts human beings perpetrate on each other on a daily basis. Love needs to be shouted from the rooftops every chance we get, even during the Super Bowl. It’s an incomplete message, though, and it’s going to keep missing the mark until we understand that in order to love fully we have to turn to the one who loved us first.

I applaud every company which used its advertising dollars for this year’s Super Bowl to promote positive, encourage messages aimed at making this world a better place to live in. They can’t make us love God, though. We’re the only ones that can do that. He’s still waiting. Why are we?

Super Weird, Part 1

(As I’m writing this, I’m at home with either the flu or strep throat. Tests for both came back negative at the doctor’s office yesterday, and I’m currently on medication for both. I don’t think I’ve been this sick in a long time. I meant to have this up yesterday, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it. So no “Tuneful Tuesday” today. Just pretend it’s Monday with me.)

I used to write every now and then on the blog I maintained before this one about how I had basically given up on watching the Super Bowl. The main reason for this was because I just don’t like watching football very much. The game is too slow, I don’t get the rules half the time, and I hate the way people in America are utterly obsessed with watching it all the time. The secondary reason is that people just sort of stopped inviting me to Super Bowl parties, which were really the only way I saw any of the games at all. Perhaps they figured out my main reason. Hmmm…

This year, however, a good friend and co-worker invited me over to his house to watch the Super Bowl, so I thought I would give it another shot. I am no fan whatsoever of the New England Patriots, but I did appreciate the Seattle Seahawks taking down Peyton Manning last year, so deciding which team to root for was a fairly easy choice to make. Maybe one day, I’ll explain the dislike I expressed in that last sentence, but that’s probably another post for another time.

By now, primitive tribes in the deepest heart of Africa probably know how the game ended, but just in case you don’t, here it is in a nutshell: Seattle has the ball on the 1-yard line with 24 seconds left in the game and decides to run a pass play, despite having three downs to get the ball into the end zone and Marshawn Lynch, one of the most feared running backs in the NFL, in their backfield. Patriots intercept the pass, massive brawl breaks out on the next play, Patriots get to move the ball out of the end zone, take a knee, game over.

I may have mentioned a dislike for Peyton Manning earlier, but I’ll give the guy credit for one thing: He controls his pete carrollown game. Why in the world Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson didn’t audible out of that play the second it was called in to him is beyond me. Since he didn’t, though, that only leaves one person to blame – Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about professional sports is the almost insanely high confidence level of the people who coach and play them. Did Carroll back down from the call he made at all? Nope. Not in the least. “We had a terrific call, but it didn’t work out,” he told a reporter after the game. The man actually used the word terrific. Even if I did not regret my decision one iota in that instance, I would never, ever use the word terrificTerrific calls win games. No, Coach, this was not terrific.

As I was driving home from my friend’s house, I began thinking about how I would respond to making a bad play call like that, one so completely wrong that it cost my team the goal it had been working toward the entire season. My conclusion didn’t take much thinking, because I know myself; I would still be on television, radio, the internet, whatever, apologizing to anyone who would listen to me and self-flagellating myself to an endless degree. I don’t know if I could call another play again. I might just leave football altogether.

Yet, there was Carroll, a man who has won a collegiate national championship and a Super Bowl, talking about his “terrific” play call immediately after his team lost the big game. Where does that confidence come from? Is it born out of a complete aversion to reality, or is it the makeup of someone who is completely comfortable in their own skin and able to live with their own decisions? I grew up believing that type of confidence was pure arrogance and should be avoided at all costs, and in many instances it is and it should be. There is a definite elasticity to it, though, which allows people to shake off their mistakes and move on to whatever happens next.

Before anyone thinks I’ve lost my mind, I’m not advocating that we all try to be more like Pete Carroll, because most of the time I think the guy is a pompous jerk. What I am saying is, we could probably all stand to go a little easier on ourselves and not wreck ourselves over every mistake we make. Yes, professional athletes and coaches sometimes display irrationally high levels of confidence, but they’re able to move on to the next play, the next possession, the next game. I guess, in a weird way, I do want to be more like Pete Carroll.

Tomorrow, Part II: Commercials!

It Really Is Different

Even when it is not working properly, I am routinely amazed by the complexities of the human brain. I am baffled as to how anyone could question whether human beings are the handiwork of a divine creator, when every single person on the planet has a mind which interprets things in its own, totally unique way. The fact that we can now actually trace patterns within the brain fascinates me to no end.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about something I referred to as “default mode.” Little did I know when I wrote that post that there actually is a psychological term known as the default mode network. Upon learning this, I felt slightly goofy for having used the analogy of the switch on the back of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 3 to describe what I thought a default mode was. Perhaps I can redeem myself today.

To put it briefly, the default mode network is typically active when someone’s mind wanders, but shuts down when a person focuses in on a task at hand. According to a recent study conducted by neuroscientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, however, the default system network stays active in people who are depressed, even when they are concentrating on specific tasks. The result is that whereas a person with a “healthy” brain can lose themselves in certain tasks or pursuits, the depressed brain cannot seem to get away from itself.

This makes perfect sense when you consider one of the most commonly listed side effects of depression is – an inability to concentrate and/or complete tasks. With less ability to hone in on a specific job or pursuit, the distraction now actually makes biological as well as psychological sense. How amazing that now instead of speculating on these various states of the brain, we can actually back them up with scientific proof.

Rather than attempt to sum up the rest of the findings of this study, I’m including a link to an article written by Jim Dryden for the Washington University in St. Louis’s website on this particular study. In an odd way, this type of news is very exciting for me, because now those of us who have struggled with depression and the chaos it causes can point to this new information and say, “It wasn’t ‘just me.’ There’s really was something different going on!”

Depression doesn’t have to dominate a person’s life, but it also demands a certain amount of attention. Thought patterns have to be modified, and sometimes that requires quite a bit of work. The goods news is that now, with information like the findings in this study, people can rest a little easier in knowing that their struggles are not necessarily entirely their fault.