New Site!

Hey, for all of you who only follow me here on wordpress.com, I want to let you know Lights in the Darkness now has its own website, lightsinthedarkness.net! Everything from this site is imported over there, and that is where I will be writing from now on. I also have a “Donate” option up there as well, so you can chip in a little bit and help me keep writing. So everybody head over there now and follow lightsinthedarkness.net!

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(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.

Tuneful Tuesday: What I Like About You

Okay, first of all, this song really has nothing to do with depression, nor have I ever associated it with any particular feelings of melancholy I may have had. In fact, it’s one of the few songs I can simply shut my brain off and enjoy simply for the heck of it. It’s got energy, it’s easy to sing, and it has a rippin’ harmonica solo. What more could you ask for?

The website www.bebraveandtalk.com published an article in April of this year titled “10 Depression Symptom Analogies For Those Who Have Trouble Understanding.” It contained some remarkably profound observations on how living with depression might be described to someone who has never dealt with it. My favorite analogy had to do with self-loathing (Yes, I realize how ridiculous that sentence is.). Here is how this feeling was described…

“What if that person you can’t stand being around, that person you have a hard time finding good qualities in, that person you just can’t seem to like, was tied to you with a three-foot long rope for an entire day? ‘No way in hell,’ you are probably thinking. Well, if you suffer depression, that person is tied to you permanently. That person is yourself. It is a very sad, but very true, reality of depression. The majority of the time during a depressive episode the sufferer thinks very negatively about themselves, and they might even have feelings of self-hatred.”

Every now and then, I’ll be given a worksheet or an exercise asking me to identify positive qualities about myself. You would think I had been handed the algebra portion of the SAT test (Please, math geeks, do not shrug your shoulders and cockily ask, “What’s so bad about that?”. Things will turn ugly very quickly.). I can usually hit on a couple of obvious points – “I write well” or “I’m a good bass guitar player” – but, for the most part, I struggle to come up with answers. And even if I do believe I am good at something, I usually feel as if no one cares; it’s not useful; a billion other people are better at it than me; or I’m never going to be able to use it for anything.

This song is basically a guy listing all the things he likes about a girl. I’ve always found it easier to list good qualities about other people than about myself. I wondered today, though, what if that guy had to write a song about all the things he liked about himself. Would it come that easily? Would it be that positive? And would there be a harmonica solo?

Yes, once again, I seem to have successfully taken a fun song and analyzed most of the fun out of it. Another of those qualities I don’t like about myself all that much. The good thing is, I think this song is strong enough to withstand it. I guess it’s time I wrote one of my own that can, too.

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.

We Lost The Story

bass heroesI have a book beneath my bathroom sink titled Bass Heroes. It is compiled of interviews from the 1970s and 1980s with famous bass players pulled from the pages of Guitar Player magazine. The roster of interviewees is a veritable Who’s Who of elite bass players, including Billy Sheehan, Geddy Lee, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, John Entwistle, Bill Wyman, and Paul McCartney. I bought the book in Nashville several years ago in a music store. It was long enough ago I couldn’t even tell you the name of the store.

Why is this book beneath my bathroom sink, you may ask? Mainly for ease of accessibility. If I could compile a Bible of bass playing, this book would be it for me. It has been an invaluable resource, and even though it was published over 20 years ago and some of the players featured in it are now deceased, I still pull it out and read it from time to time. Its edges have become frayed, and I’m actually quite shocked it’s held together this long, but I imagine I will hold onto it until it crumbles into dust one day.

There are definitely tons of tips and discussions on bass playing techniques and instruments and amplification and even a touch of music theory here and there, but that is not what keeps me coming back to this book over and over again. What compels me to keep reading it is the stories it contains. Clarke struck out from Philadelphia for New York in the early 1970s with basically nothing to his name but his electric bass and some clothes. Wyman once tried to reach out to high-five a fan and fell off the stage, colliding with the concrete floor seven feet below. Noted blues bassist Jerry Jemmott, who played several sessions with the late B. B. King, nearly lost his ability to play at all after an automobile accident in 1972 left him severely injured.

To me, a person’s story is just as (if not more) important than what they have accomplished or how they managed to accomplish it. The story makes up the fiber of their being. How did they get from Point A to Point B? How did that journey influence them? What was their point of decision, the path that changed their trajectory? What was it that elevated them from a normal to an extraordinary life? These are the factors which drive ingenuity and encourage individual thought, and they are also the sparks that leap from art to encourage others to strike out on their own journeys.

Unfortunately, this type of book would be difficult to compile today. The majority of guitar and bass publications I pick up now are made up of at least 75 percent product reviews, which really sucks for a guy like me on a limited budget. More than that, though, the stories have been pushed to the side. Even if an artist is chosen for a feature interview, the majority of it focuses on either that artist’s latest project or the instruments and equipment they used to record it. My heart sinks nearly every time I pick up one of these publications these days. I can actually find better interviews free on the internet.

The point I’m getting at is this: Our stories are vitally important, not just to us, but to others who may get to hear them later on. When we lose our stories, we lose our emotional connections with each other. When we become more about gear and machinery and impersonal objects, we lose our ability to inspire. The newest effects pedal on the market never inspired me to get better at my instrument, but hearing Sheehan talk about learning all of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar parts on the bass makes my wheels start turning. Could I do that? And, if I couldn’t, what would my story be?

The human experience is what makes us what we are, not the tools of the trade. It would be like asking what kind of evel2hammer John Henry used or what brand of gasoline Evel Knievel filled up his motorcycles with. Toys are cool, but stories stand the test of time.

What’s yours?

Maybe It Is, Maybe It Isn’t

When I sat down at the keyboard to type tonight, I went totally blank. I had no ideas whatsoever. So I did what I usually do when this happens: I typed the word “depression” into the Google News search and sifted through the results.

Two stories sort of piqued my interest, even though they were fairly different in nature. The first came from 99.9 WBUR in Boston. According to a study by Boston economist Paul Greenberg, major depression is costing the American economy $210.5 billion a year. That number was $83.1 billion in the year 2000. The study speculated that the tremendous increase in cases of depression (particularly in those 50 or older) could have been sparked by the recent economic recession in the U.S.

The second was an opinion piece written for the New York Times by Hilary Jacobs Hendel, titled “It’s Not Always Depression.” In the piece, Hendel describes her work with a patient named Brian. Brian had basically been through every type of depression treatment imaginable, with the exception of electroshock therapy, which he did not want to do. Hendel eventually zeroed in on Brian’s chronic shame, developed from a childhood of emotional neglect. Once she was able to do that, she began the process of helping Brian experience emotions again and reducing the shame. After meeting twice a week for four years, Brian finally reached a point of recovery.

There has been lots of talk lately about how depression is a disease. A popular analogy these days is to compare depression with other diseases, such as asthma or cancer. In fact, there was a cartoon circulating around the internet not long ago titled “If Physical Diseases Were Treated Like Mental Illness” which puts this comparison in visual form. To an extent, it is an apt comparison; major depression is not something one just “gets over” usually, even though a great many people think recovery is simply a matter of will power.

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What worries me, though, is that to call depression a “disease” is a fairly one-dimension description of it. It makes it sound like you can just pop an aspirin in the morning and alleviate all the symptoms the rest of the day. Indeed, I think many people have this mindset already. “If I can just find the right antidepressant, I will get better.” Well, in Brian’s case, he had taken just about every antidepressant known to man, and he was still nearly comatose. He had been treated for the disease, but he was far from being cured.

Depression is a sum of parts. It may be fueled by shame or anxiety or physical illness or guilt or any number of other factors. Everyone has a lifetime of experiences they bring into the arena with depression. Granted, in some instances, the cause of depression can be more chemical in nature, and medication can improve a person’s mood drastically. In most cases, though, without some type of therapy, a person will likely not ever reach a place of full recovery (if that is even possible with depression). Experiences that have shaped a person’s way of thinking must be reckoned with.

Greenberg’s study does actually point out how the word “depression” actually encompasses a great many mental and mood disorders. The headlines, though, always trumpet the word “depression” and nothing else. There is so much more to it than just that. If we don’t understand this, the dollar amounts in Greenberg’s next report may reach the stars.

Envy & Us

Yesterday, I wrote about how depression can cause people to become very selfish and unsupportive. I only sort of hinted at what can cause this type of behavior, though, probably because I didn’t want to admit I had it hiding in myself, too.

It’s envy.

Here is a comment a friend of mine left on Facebook after I posted a link to yesterday’s post there: “But what’s worse for me? It brings me down even further knowing that I have those selfish feelings. It is an evil cycle.” The word cycle is one that can be used often in the life of a depressed person. It basically means there are feelings that beget feelings that beget feelings… It’s almost like building blocks.

facebook depressionSpeaking of Facebook, the news world was abuzz this week concerning a study by University of Missouri researchers published in Computers in Human Behavior which linked use of the social media site to feelings of depression. Specifically, researchers discovered a link between Facebook use and envy. The problem seems to stem primarily from people perusing other people’s pages rather than participating in the more community/social aspects of the site.

Why is this a problem? Well, just browsing over a person’s profile is not going to produce an accurate representation of that person as a whole. We all want to put our best foot forward in the public eye, so all of our pictures are going to be smiling and happy; none of our posts will expose our darkest secrets; and we will do our best to appear busy, confident, productive, and happy. Without a component of human interaction, why wouldn’t we all think everyone else has a better life than we do?

Interpersonal relationships often yield surprising results. They let us know that other people are just as vulnerable, just as scared, and just as apprehensive about certain things as we are. Facebook, as a whole, can yield some incredibly positive experiences. It can reunite old friends, deepen relationships, even lessen the symptoms of depression in some instances. The problem isn’t with social media; it’s with us.

We get jealous and envious of those who seem to have it better than we do. We perpetrate a false image of ourselves to the world because we are convinced no one would accept the real us. We turn away from those who actually are honest about their struggles because they make us uncomfortable. All social media has done is just give the already-envious people within us the chance to step out onto the stage a little more.

The great irony of a site like Facebook is that it is ultimately antisocial at its core. It is designed to allow us to communicate with others without having to spend actual, physical time with them. A survey such as this one is exactly right and exactly wrong at the same time. It is highly accurate in connecting social media use to intense feelings of envy and depression. It falls short in painting Facebook as the villain. The enemy, as they say, is us.

Tuneful Tuesday: I Like What?

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…

The Bone

I haven’t written anything here in a few days. I could blame that on a lot of different things. I was catching up this past week from being sick and basically out of commission the week before. I had a lot of extra work to do. I had to drive my kids to some various events. I went to a college basketball game one night. I could go on, but you probably get the point. If I needed a nice, tidy excuse, I could come up with one fairly easily.

Real life, however, is rarely ever nice and tidy, and neither is the mind of someone learning to deal with depression. We live in a day and age where people’s ability to share personal details is unprecedented. I have been routinely astounded by the amount of personal details shared by my fellow bloggers. In a way, they are providing a great service by letting other struggling souls know they are not alone in their struggles. Some of it is just so raw, though, almost to the point of being uncomfortable to read. Maybe that’s the point.

I have not reached that level of confessional writing, however, so when I found myself faced with some rather uncomfortable truths about my own thought processes last week, I wasn’t willing to share every minute detail with anyone with an internet connection. I suppose this could be a matter of pride on my part. There is enough of a people-pleasing narcissist in me that I want to appear as angelic as possible, so anything that would diminish my illusion here as a purveyor of some type of wisdom on depression and/or mental health tends to not have a spotlight shone upon it.

Sometimes in working through this journey, some issues just cut too close to the bone. Like when you discover you don’t have as much of a handle on your anger as you thought you did. When you realize you may be addicted to something. When you find yourself a little bit afraid of what you might be capable of. When the sadness you thought you had pushed down and triumphed over peeks out and shows its ugly face again. And, of course, when you realize you have spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing over those very issues when you would have benefited more from just living your life unaware and focused on the world around you rather than the battles in your head.

So rather than hammering away at topics that were largely exclusive to my own brain, I decided to take a break. I felt if I were to write about all my self-analysis, all I would be doing is descending deeper into the rabbit hole, and that was not a place I needed to be. I actually had someone tell me recently I needed to get out of my own head so much, and maybe they were right. Some self-assessment is a good thing, but when it begins to become the entire scope of what you think about, you lose touch with the world around you. Depression makes us feel alone; the best way to foster a feeling of being alone is to hole up in your own thoughts.

What’s in store for this week? Who knows. Maybe a nicer, cleaner wrap-up of what happened last week? That sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?

If only it worked like that.