Andrew Solomon Ted Talk: “Depression, the secret we share” (October 2013)
I’d like to share a wonderful video a ran across recently on tumblr. In light of recent events, I find that Solomon’s talk discusses the realities of depression in a clear, compassionate manner. In particular, I like Solomon’s discussion on alternative treatments.
“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.” In a talk equal parts eloquent and devastating, writer Andrew Solomon takes you to the darkest corners of his mind during the years he battled depression. That led him to an eye-opening journey across the world to interview others with depression — only to discover that, to his surprise, the more he talked, the more people wanted to tell their own stories. (Filmed at TEDxMet.)
Trail of the Cedars, Glacier National Park, Montana by Janson Jones of Floridana Alaskiana
“The Long and Winding Road . . . ” ~ Paul McCartney, The Beatles
“Will Never Disappear. . .”
I picked up my son Brett from school today. When he got in the truck, I could tell that it had been another bad day for him. My heart aches so much for him as he is certain that the rest of his life is going to be as bad as it is right now.
Even though most of his teachers and his counselor have been extremely understanding and have agreed to work with him, he is still suffering the pains of the anxiety and depression, and I have little doubt that almost all of it is caused by school.
When he asked me if his life is always going to be so bad, I just wanted to cradle him in my arms and hold him and never let go. That’s the mom in me talking, but it is also the person in me talking who has been and continues to be terribly unsure of herself, even after all of these years. I know how it feels to believe that life just sucks and that it is never going to get better. I know how it feels to believe that you are worthless. I know how it feels to bear the burden of putting on a good face just to make it through the day.
And because I know these things, it makes me wish that he could just skip these years and arrive at a better point in his life.
“I’ve Seen That Road Before . . .”
I mean, I actually didn’t have a horrible time in high school. I did pretty much whatever I wanted, managed to still get good grades, cheered, and belonged to every club I could join. But the truth is that it was all a big act: my attempts to fit in, to belong. And I always wore this façade, one that reflected someone who knew what she wanted and wouldn’t let anyone stand in her way.
I have to tell you that maintaining that kind of façade really takes its toll. I would move through school at this frenetic pace for weeks and weeks at a time. I would go to all-night study sessions, take my advanced courses, work part time four or five times a week. The pace I set for myself was insane now that I look back on it. But then the inevitable crash would come, and I would get sick and be out of school.
At the time I suspected that I was manic/depressive, as it was called then, but only from the little bit of research that I had done on the subject. Of course, information was not a mouse click away at the time, and research meant pulling books and articles from shelves and reading them on the library’s time. I just knew that I had these extreme highs that would shift on a dime.
My mother, of course, would say things like “snap out of it,” and “you’re just making yourself sad.” Or the best one: “You have your period.” To be fair, though, even though I cast my mother as uncaring, it was not that so much as uninformed. My mother came from a very small town in North Carolina and had no formal education. What she knew about depression was only what she might see in movies. And in her generation, mental illness was a big stigma: People did not talk about such things as it would end up on their permanent record.
Permanent record. You won’t believe how many times I used to hear that. I asked my mom one time where this permanent record was kept. She told me not to be a smartass.
But I digress . . .
“The Wild and Windy Night . . .”
My main point is that high school is an unendurable test of strength, will, character, and emotion. Think back to your high school days: Did you love them? Do you look back on them fondly? Bigger question: Would you go back?
No. Absolutely not. No way. Never. Fry some chicken and call me for dinner but N-O.
I was telling Brett that there are some people who never leave high school because it was the best time of their lives. We all know those people, and we usually feel sorry for them.
But in retrospect, there are only a handful of people from my high school days that I still care about. One of them is dead; he died much too young of cancer. One I was married to (no, we were not high school sweethearts, ugh). One is his best friend and was my best friend. One reads my blog regularly and has come in and out of my life for years and has always been in my life because we have known each other much longer than high school. And one is a gay man who lives with his partner up north.
There are other people who I remember fondly, There are moments that I remember fondly. There are incredible adventures that I will never forget. But that was then. I’ve moved on, matured, grown, aged, changed and changed again.
“That the Rain Washed Away . . .”
What I was trying to tell Brett was that all of those popular people in high school, the ones who everyone knew and envied, or wanted to be like or hated just a little because they were too popular or too handsome or too privileged—those people are not who they were in high school.
For example, one of the really sad stories from my high school concerns the football star, the quarterback. He was actually a quiet, troubled soul, but few people knew that. Everyone just knew that he could throw a ball. A few years after high school, he killed himself. I won’t even try to surmise why he might have done such a thing. No one can ever know another person’s demons.
Or take some of the beautiful people in high school, the pretty blondes, the handsome jocks: Some of them are on their third marriages. Some are with spouses who they thought would treat them like queens only to find out that their husband is a monster who beats them behind the privacy of their closed door.
Some never made it to 20. They died from drug overdoses, suicide, homicide, illnesses. The ones other people looked down on, the brains, are working for GE, fortune 500 companies as engineers, NASA.
“Why Leave Me Standing Here? Let Me Know the Way . . . “
We can never know where life will take us. Most of us would never have guessed that we would be in the places we find ourselves today. Some of us have done much better than we ever hoped. Some of us have done much worse. Fate is fickle, and life is hard.
When we are in high school, everything seems possible at some point. Then nothing seems possible the next day. We go from highs to lows in the blink of an eye. Maybe it’s because of a rejection letter from the college we really wanted. Maybe it’s because we lost a parent or a sibling or a best friend. Maybe it’s because our family’s circumstances changed, and what we once had was taken away. Maybe it’s because we have no support system at home. Maybe it’s because we have no home. Who knows?
All of the petty grievances we had with people in high school seem so small once we move on and have to deal with real world issues: paying the mortgage, working with a boss who is sexist, finding out our spouse is cheating, losing a job because of circumstances beyond our control.
How can breaking up with your one true love at 16 prepare you for such things? It can help you to understand loss, but without a broader context, that loss will seem overwhelming at the time.
How can failing English or Trigonometry not make you feel like a failure? It can’t at the moment, but in a broader context, it can help you to learn how to overcome failure, and as long as no one rubs your nose in that failure, you may be able to deal with it in a way that does not tear at your sense of self.
“Many Times I’ve Been Alone and Many Times I’ve Cried”
I’m not trying to diminish all of the emotions, feelings and flailing that a young person in high school endures. It is precisely because of the constant bombardment of things that so many young people take their own lives. As I wrote about in a previous post, being bullied when you are 13 and unable to sort through all of the emotions can cause a young person to snap. And how sad and utterly wasted.
If only there were some way to go inside the heads of these young men and women and let them know that in one year or two or three, their lives will be different. They won’t have to endure humiliation, verbal abuse, or whatever obstacles they face now because they will have the power to get away from that source of pain. If only they can hang on long enough.
I’m not naive. I know that not everyone escapes. I know that for some, the abuse continues. I know that because of economic circumstances, some will never be able to touch even the periphery of their dreams. And some will continue patterns begun in high school that prevent them from ever really maturing emotionally.
Many an alcoholic and drug addict are born in high school. Those bullies grow up to be spouse and child abusers. Some of those who endured constant ridicule grow into people who survive by belittling others because that is all that they know. Others who had to lie and live in secret grow into adults who always keep their true selves hidden. And some who were never able to overcome their childhood fears grow into individuals who continue to be victimized their entire lives.
But there is always hope, and with luck, maybe the sorrows that they endure during this emotional, hormonal, confusing time will help them to become stronger people, or at least give them insight into how they don’t want to raise their own children, the things they should never say or do to their own children because they have the emotional and physical scars to remind them of how much words can hurt.
“. . . You Will Never Know the Many Ways I’ve Tried”
If high school was the apex of your life, and you still look on it fondly, then good for you. Cherish your memories. But for most of the rest of us, it’s a period that we are glad is in the past. We might go to a reunion to see a few familiar faces and say hello, and probably, we want to gloat a little inwardly at the beauties who have gained weight and the arrogant young men who are now balding and pot-bellied.
Sometimes, revenge is sweet when it is never served at all, when we just let life take care of things. When we just allow fate to dip into the well and present its own version of just rewards.
I wish with all of my heart that the high school years could somehow be avoided, jumped over, or abolished altogether. But that is not reality. As much as I might want to cosset my son and keep him from pain, I know that I have to step back and allow him to finish this particular journey in his life. I can be there to support him, but I cannot bear this burden for him, nor would I want to if I could.
“Don’t Leave Me Waiting Here/Lead Me to Your Door”
There is an old Spanish proverb that says “The journey is more important than the inn.” Only when we are a little older and a little wiser and a few years removed from the hardest legs of our journey—only then do we begin to understand that life truly is a winding road, filled with twists and turns and hillocks and vales.
Until then, we must endure all of the more arduous legs of our individual journeys and bide our time for the smoother paths. And if we can be patient, sometimes along the way the light will shine through the trees to help us along our paths.
Let me leave you with this beautiful memory of Paul, George and Ringo together live with John in video. More later. Peace.
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“I read the news today, oh boy” ~ From “A Day In the Life” by Lennon and McCartney
“And though the news was rather sad”
About a week ago, I read an article in newsweek.com that really bothered me. I keep going back to how I would feel if I were in this family’s position, how I would react, how I would be able to withstand the horrible infamy that has befallen their family.
The gist of the article was that a family had lost their 18-year-old daughter Nikki Catsouris to a horrible car crash, one so bad that the parents were not allowed to view the body. A couple of state troopers took pictures of the scene—the reasons given for such a disrespectful action have included supposedly documenting the crash and wanting to use the photos as a warning to their families—and now those pictures have gone viral on the web (http://www.newsweek.com/id/195073/page/1).
The article, entitled “A Tragedy That Won’t Fade Away,” was written by Jessica Bennett and appeared in the May 4 issue of the news magazine. In it, the Catsouris family speaks about how horrifying this entire ordeal has been for them, and apparently, there is little that can be done to make the pictures go away.
“I saw the photograph.”
But the posting of the pictures wasn’t the only indignity that the family had to endure. The father received a text message after the accident, and when he opened it, there was a horrifying picture of his daughter along with the words “Woohoo Daddy! Hey daddy, I’m still alive.”
Nikki’s three sisters live in dread of happening upon the pictures by accident when they are on the Internet, so much so, that their mother and father, Lesli and Christos, have made disabled popups and have forbidden the three girls from visiting social networking sites such as MySpace.
The entire family is now in therapy, and they continue to fight whoever they can to have the pictures removed from websites. But as you can probably surmise, this is not a fight that can be won easily.
“He didn’t notice that the lights had changed”
Let’s think about this for a minute. Cyberspace has allowed people all over the world to connect in milliseconds. We can e-mail people around the world; we can post blogs that can be read by anyone unless we engage special filters; we type in any word, and a listing of possible connections becomes readily available to us.
But what are the ramifications of such actions? The Catsouris family certainly never wanted the pictures of their daughter to be seen by anyone. They have sued the Caliornia Highway Patrol (CHP), but that action will not stop the spread of these photographs. They have sent cease and desist orders to the sites on which Nikki’s pictures appear, but on the Internet, that action is akin to spitting into the wind.
When I was in my copyright class, we learned all about copyright laws on the Internet and the use of cease and desist orders. The reality is that copyright is more protected than online privacy. Libel and slander laws are hard to prosecute for web-based material. Why?
Quite simply, the laws have not caught up with the technology.
“A crowd of people stood and stared”
Imagine that you have a teen-aged daughter. She takes some suggestive pictures of herself for her boyfriend. She sends these pictures to her boyfriend with a complete expectation that the pictures won’t be shared. (Ah, the naivete of youth.) Two months later, she breaks up with her boyfriend. Within a week, the pictures of her have gone viral.
The scenario as described is not at all far-fetched. It happens everyday, all over the world. People send things via e-mail with certain expectations of privacy. But in fact, this privacy does not exist. E-mail accounts can be hacked into. Databases are being breached continually. Just last week, we learned that the pharmacy database of Virginia was being held for ransom. The hijacker claimed that he had all of the personal information of thousands and thousands of people who use prescription medication, and he was going to sell it if a ransom was not paid.
I’m on that database. All of my personal information is on that database with the exception perhaps of my social security number. Imagine what the distribution of this information could do to individuals. For example, let’s say that someone on the list is taking medication for HIV. The hijacker, whoever he or she is, can disseminate that information and ruin a career in a matter of seconds.
Almost daily, I post information on this site about my family, our living situation, my children, my house, etcetera. I am careful not to post too much information, but I know that at times I have probably been lax. Will this come back to haunt me someday? How? Will I be able to prevent it?
“They’d seen his face before”
The Catsouris family has endured one of the most painful things that a family can endure: the death of a child under horribly gruesome circumstances. Yet they have not been left alone to grieve. Just as they were beginning to deal with the inconceivable truth that their oldest daughter was dead, pictures began to pop up in e-mails. A fake MySpace was created on which people left vitriolic, hateful messages.
Attempts by the family to have the pictures taken down have not succeeded. Their suit against the CHP was dismissed. According to Bennett’s article, a superior-court judge ruled that the CHP dispatcher’s conduct hadn’t violated the law. The judge acknowledged the reprehensible conduct, but the ruling reads that “no duty exists between the surviving family and defendant” because privacy rights don’t extend to the dead.
But what about the living?
“A crowd of people turned away”
However, this is just one case. Last November, a Missouri woman was convicted of three lesser charges in a cyber-bullying case. She faced felony charges on criminal conspiracy, but was only convicted of three lesser misdemeanor offenses of accessing computers without permission. Again, finding the laws to support charges against the woman was the main reason for her lesser conviction.
The woman, Lori Drew, and her daughter and a third woman engaged in cyber-bullying on a horrible scale. They created a fake MySpace account under the name Josh Evans, a supposedly 16-year-old boy. They began correspondence with 13-year-old Megan Meier in an attempt to lead her on and find out what she had been saying about Drew’s daughter. Finally, Drew sent Meier a message stating that “the world would be better off without” her. As a result, Meier, who suffered from depression, hanged herself.
The indictment originally read that Drew “used the information obtained over the MySpace computer system to torment, harass, humiliate, and embarrass the juvenile MySpace member.” Nevertheless, Drew managed to elude prosecution for her role in Meier’s suicide. But there’s more: Megan’s death was originally investigated by Missouri authorities, but no charges were brought because no laws seemed to apply to the case.
Since Megan’s suicide, Missouri has passed a law making it illegal to harass someone online.
“But I just had to look”
In both cases, the incident began as one action that quickly snowballed out of control. But what role do we—as members of cyber-space—actually play in these situations?
Unfortunately, there is plenty of blame to go around. People still search the web for Nikki’s pictures. These individuals actively seek out gruesome photographs of this young woman without any thought as to how their actions might be affecting her family. I think of it as the accident slowdown drive-by, except that it’s on the web.
There are more cases of fictitious MySpace accounts that are out there, even though every member of MySpace signs a “terms of service” agreement that includes “not promoting information they know to be false or misleading; soliciting personal information from anyone under age 18 and not using information gathered from the Web site to ‘harass, abuse or harm other people.'”
“And though the holes were rather small”
Yet reputation-bashing is a commonplace activity in high schools throughout the country. All it takes is one text message or one instant message or one comment on a MySpace page for rumors to become viral. And this isn’t the harmless game we played as children in which we would whisper something about a person in one ear, and then that person would whisper his interpretation in the next ear, and so on, so that the original phrase of “Billy likes Tammy” becomes something mangled to “Meanie bites too hammy.”
There are real consequences to these actions: suicide, depression, alienation, an unwillingness to leave the house, fist fights, and more. But the law that stands behind these actions is the First Amendment, which allows people free speech, including opinions. And there’s the rub: saying “I think that Tammy is a slut” is not that same thing legally as saying “Tammy is a slut.” The first statement is protected as an opinion, the second could be considered defamation.
“They had to count them all”
However, in the U.S., the following are commonly-accepted legal elements for intentional torts (wrongdoing):
Parents can also be found negligent in failing to provide reasonable supervision of their child. Depending on the facts, the following legal actions might be possible:
Defamation – Someone publishes a false statement about a person that damages his or her reputation.
Invasion of privacy/public disclosure of a private fact – Someone publicly discloses a private fact about a person under conditions that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
In the end, what we are left with is a tool that is truly wonderful in many, many ways: The Internet provides access to the outside world for people who are home bound. It provides instant medical information for people who are trying to decide whether or not they should seek medical treatment. It offers news from around the world 24/7. It offers a real-time connection to those with with whom we wish to stay in contact.
But the very dark side of this phenomenon, this service, this lifeline, exists in a world that most people do not like to acknowledge: The Internet contains sites that show people being killed, sites that include horrific scenes of torture and mayhem. And for now, it offers people with little conscience a means of extracting their pound of flesh from innocents, whether intentional or not.
“Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire”
And that, my friends, is a street full of holes that we cannot possibly fill before more irreparable harm is done to those who do not have the power or the will not to fall or be pushed.
Let us hope that the skies clear soon. There will be more later. Peace.