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.

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Caring

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.

living roomWhile 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 treesamount, 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.

Early Snow

snowLet’s just get something out of the way up front, shall we? I don’t like snow. I’m sure at some point in my life when I was younger I might have enjoyed the white stuff and its ability to get me out of school for a few days a year, but those days are long since gone. Snow means cold. Snow means slick roads. Snow means uncertainty.

I could probably point to some key moments in life which helped shape this attitude. The time my dad drove us straight into a ditch about three-quarters of a mile from our house, which forced us to walk back home on a snow-covered road. The time I slid a car down a snowy embankment because another driver (who did not even stop to see if I was okay) cut me off. All those mornings I had to work while others “just couldn’t make it in.”

Stupid snow.

I could cite all these factors, but they wouldn’t cut to the heart of the issue for me. The bottom line for me is this: Snow scares me. It scares me because I know I’ll have to drive on it. It scares me because I know it can cause power outages. It can cause a run on gasoline and groceries. What annoys me more than anything about it, though, is the fact it causes fear in me at all.

I mean, snow is just basically water. Guys with big trucks plow through it like, well, water. Families with generators or gas logs don’t fear power failures. The better-prepared are stocked up on the essentials. I should be more like those people. Of course, in my mid, every other person on earth besides me is those people.

Now, I’m sure if I really sat down and thought about it, I could think of at least one person I know who has had an automobile accident because of snowy road conditions. I could probably name at least one other family without a generator. I could probably throw a rock and hit at least one house where the pantry isn’t fully stocked before the snowstorm hits.

But I don’t sit down and think about it. I assume I’m the only one who is nervous or scared or unprepared for what’s on the way.

Snow obviously brings out some of my worst comparison traits, but there are other triggers as well. In fact, it would probably be easier to list scenarios that don’t cause me to compare myself to others than to count up all the ones that do. Low self-esteem and comparisons add up to an endless trap. You’ll never be brave enough, prepared enough, or good enough. You’ll always be the only one not ready for winter.

You know what happened today, though? We received an early snowfall of about an inch or so. TheIMG_0099 roads were in good shape, and I drove in to work without a second thought. Then I remembered driving on the ice we had earlier in the year. Then I realized I didn’t wreck then. Then I thought, “Hey, we survived all that.” If you’ll pardon the expression, my thoughts snowballed into something pretty positive.

While snow isn’t always a killer, comparisons definitely are. The struggle to stay inside your own head and experiences and not idealize everyone else is more dangerous than any snowstorm. Snow may scare me, but it’s not nearly as scary as my own thoughts can be.