(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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Space

waltons-arguingRemember those old westerns where there was a family living on a homestead, and the oldest son desperately wanted to get off the farm, but his parents wouldn’t let him go? He would always go storming out of the house, and the mother would always begin to pursue him, but the father would grab her and say something along the lines of “Just let him go. Give him some space.”

Personally, I am not a big fan of “space.” I’ve always believed that if you give a person in a bad state of mind more room to move, the more likely they are to do something rash or stupid. I usually prefer to stay and slug things out, even if it is a terribly uncomfortable and unfruitful process. There are obviously times when some space would be a good idea, but I am rather stubborn about this. I would probably grab that kid on the way out the door and not let him leave the house.

Sometimes when a person is depressed or sad or disturbed about something, the people around them want to give them space. “Just give him a little room to get over it.” I think one reason this occurs is because depression can look an awful lot like anger to the outside observer. You have someone who is not really talking to anyone, not making eye contact, and making virtually no effort whatsoever to be sociable. Mad people need space to cool down, right?

Many times, though, the person you thought was angry is really very, very depressed, which can make communicating with anyone a considerable chore. Symptoms that accompany depression can be extreme feelings of shame, anxiety, guilt, and, yes, even anger. Many people who suffer from it tend to isolate themselves, which creates an odd paradox within themselves: They don’t want anyone to bother them, but at the same time they feel dreadfully, painfully alone.

This is why I don’t believe granting space is always the best course of action. I know in my personal experiences of attempting to isolate myself, I have been screaming inside for someone, anyone to make an effort to reach out to me. I don’t have the strength to come get you; I want you to come get me. Granted, I don’t always like what people have to say to me in those moments they come after me, but I do appreciate on some level the fact that they at least tried to do something. Too often, though, I see people walking on eggshells around me, afraid to find out what’s really going on inside.

If you are more in the “space” camp, I totally respect your point of view. Sometimes hotheads need to get away from everyone before they can cool off and think rationally. Too many times, though, I have seen people fall though the cracks of “space,” and by the time anyone notices they’re gone, it is too late to help them. Think about it. What is one of the most common statements following a suicide? “I had no idea…” I don’t say this out of condemnation, but rather out of concern. Not everyone needs to be left alone.

So the next time you notice someone drifting way or being more quiet than usual, ask them a question or two. You may not get an honest answer, but you may let them know that someone cares about them. They may still want to leave the farm, but at least you tried to keep them around for one more crop first.

Betrayal And Depression

“To me, the thing that is worse than death is betrayal. You see, I could conceive death, but I could not conceive betrayal.” – Malcolm X

There are any number of events that can happen in a person’s life that can trigger a downward spiral into depression. Loss of a loved one, financial difficulty, sudden change in lifestyle. One event that I don’t hear very often, though, is betrayal, particularly betrayal by someone close to someone else. Sometimes trust being broken can shatter a person’s perception of the world or of a situation. When reality is no longer a certainty, security can crumble and emotions can become fragile.

BetrayalWhile I was taking a break from writing here, I suffered what I considered to be a major betrayal at the hands of some people I trusted. I am sure they did not perceive what happened this way, but in my mind this is most certainly what happened. To be honest, I still haven’t gotten over it yet. The anger and the hurt have not faded one iota, and I’m not so sure at this point they ever will.

This type of anger and hurt can drive a person into isolation. Number one, they become unsure of who they can actually trust anymore. Number two, they feel particularly wounded and may view others as potential threats to wound them further. And, number three, they have suffered a sort of humiliation that has battered their pride and made them ashamed to face other people. Isolation is a prime breeding ground for depression, since one of the main symptoms of the disease is a feeling of being utterly and totally alone. Isolation just makes that feeling a reality.

It is no surprise, then, that my depression has been markedly worse since this incident occurred. What has been slightly surprising, though, is the relatively small number of people who know of what occurred who have attempted to drag me out of my hole. I think because of the obvious amount of hurt that is displayed by someone who has suffered a betrayal of some sort is so noticeable, people have a tendency to give them a wide berth, as if they just “need some space” to get over it. In reality, what they need is someone to reach out and help them re-establish trust in the people around them.

Just from my own experience with this, I have come to believe two things. One, that we should try with all of our might to not betray anyone, most especially people we have close relationships with, and, two, that we should keep a special eye on the betrayed to make sure they do not slide off into the cracks. The only hope someone who has been betrayed may have of bouncing back is someone else reaching out to them.

Keep your eyes open.

Catching Up

Every article I’ve ever read on being a successful blogger says the same thing: One of the keys to increasing readership is to write at least one blog post a day. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to post more than one entry per day, with the length of each entry being shorter in nature. This, apparently, encourages traffic to your site.

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed, but I haven’t posted anything here since this past Friday. I believe I had 12 page views today, so maybe all those experts on blogging are onto something. As I’ll explain in a moment, I had some pretty good reasons for going that long between postings, but I quite honestly have many times questioned the wisdom of posting more than once a day. That just feels like overload to me. Plus, I don’t understand how people have enough time to do that anyway.

Prior to Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of this week, I honestly felt as if I had somehow managed to drop off the face of the planet. I’m not sure how it happened, but I managed to become incredibly, almost frighteningly, isolated this year. Most of my evenings seem to be spent doing what I’m doing right now – working on this blog. Don’t get me wrong; I love writing, and I love being able to use this space to contribute something to the growing discussion on depression these days. Creating a compelling blog does not a fulfilling life always make, however.

I have mentioned here before that I have struggled with social anxiety issues for a long as I can remember. I consider myself a very introverted person. Given my preference, I would probably choose to be alone as much as possible. It would seem to make sense, then, that living a life of general solitude would be very appealing to me. Lately, though, I’m finding the opposite to be true.

I need people … darn it.

Sunday night I played basketball with a group of guys; Monday night was our company Christmas 1503361_10154899491520551_4710955220160445037_nparty; and last night I attended a showing of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies with some friends. Three nights in a row of not sitting on my couch and actually interacting with other people, a fairly miraculous achievement for me. I’m not sure I would have the mental stamina to keep up that kind of schedule all the time, but I feel infinitely better than I did this past Saturday, when I found myself sitting in my bathroom wondering if I ever wanted to come out again (That will probably be the subject of another post soon…).

Isolation is one of the classic traps of depression. You start feeling as if everyone has forgotten about you, that no one knows how you’re feeling, and that no one particularly cares about either one of those two points. Perhaps even more insane, you start actually believing you can handle everything on your own, leading you even further down the path of being alone. Bitterness, anger, loneliness, and all kinds of other negative emotions can follow. It’s a downward spiral.

Today, I am catching up on this blog, but for the past three days I feel as if I’ve been catching up on being a normal human being again. I’ve been re-learning how nice it is to have casual conversations and play games with other couples and eat out at restaurants without having to make sure a high chair is available. I missed writing here Monday, and there was no Tuneful Tuesday entry yesterday, but I think I can live with a few less page views if it means me reconnecting with reality.

Tuneful Tuesday: Beauty & The Beast

This may get my man card revoked, but I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I love Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. I don’t mean I think of it as one of the greatest animated films of all time. No, I mean I have a ridiculous teenage girl crush on it. Two of my favorite things from our recent trip to Disney World were getting to see the musical production and getting to eat lunch in the Be Our Guest restaurant. My family was sitting there commenting on the food, and I just kept thinking, “I’m sitting in the Beast’s dining room!”

I know. It’s somewhat pathetic.

I’ve tried over the years to put my finger on why I would feel this way. I used to believe it was simply because I felt the movie was extremely well-made, with a plot that flowed nicely, excellent voice performances, and sparkling animation. There was always something deeper than that, though, even though I couldn’t verbalize what it was. Now that I’m facing up to life with depression, I think I’ve finally figured it out.

I think I’m the Beast.

1002141154The picture here was taken at the restaurant I mentioned earlier, and it sort of captures how I feel a lot of the time. There’s the person next to me, seemingly perfect, having everything together, patiently waiting for me to change. And then there’s me, an ugly mess, angry, rude sometimes, hiding secrets, but really wishing at the same time that I could get that person to like me. I love that the Beast (By the way, does anyone actually know the Prince’s name? Did he even have one? I don’t think he was “Prince Beast.”) manages to get his act together enough by the end of the film to be redeemed. Sometimes I feel as if I’ll be stuck in Beast mode forever.

There’s also the dynamic at play that everyone around the Beast – namely, the cursed castle staff – not only would like to see him improve for his own sake, but are also depending on him for their own sakes as well. I think maybe the Beast feels the pressure, and that adds to his already foul mood. He knows he’s letting those around him down, but he can’t seem to change.

Or perhaps I’m reading too much into a Disney cartoon. I’m sure there are some excellent Stockholm Theories out there as well.

The “tale as old as time” is the love story, obviously, but it could refer to the struggle people have had for years and years with feeling like, well, beasts. At the risk of over-thinking this any further, I’ll just go back to my original statement: I love Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some snow globes to paint and I have to complete my nightly diary entry. Hee-hee…