How Problematic Are You?

 “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”

– Andrew, The Breakfast Club

In John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club (1985), five stereotypical teenagers, a “prom queen,” a “geek,” a “jock,” a “criminal,” and a “basket case,” attend detention at their high school’s library on an early Saturday morning. As punishment for their previous transgressions, the delinquents are instructed to compose a 1,000-word essay explaining “who they think they are,” but no work gets done and they spend the remainder of their detention forming unlikely bonds with one another. At face value, the film can be likened to an extended bottle episode that you would watch in a television show—not much else happens beyond a band of misfits talking about their problems and standing up to an abusive authority figure for an hour and a half. Upon further examination, we find a surprising character study on the nuanced complexities of adolescence, with our five protagonists discovering that, despite their assigned stereotypes that ostensibly divide them, they are in fact united by common struggles inside and outside of school.

The Breakfast Club was so successful that it grossed more than fifty times its budget, cementing it as one of the best movies of the 1980s and standing the test of time. The film resonates with me for its smartly written, dynamic, and relatable characters, who all have rich and complicated histories that provide clarity on their personalities. For example, we learn that Allison, the basket case, struggles with forming meaningful relationships because all her life, her parents have neglected her. Brian, the geek, is easily impressionable and contemplates suicide for fear of failing an important class. Claire, the prom queen, is deeply insecure about her virginity, while her friend group prevents her from forging a stable identity. Andrew, the jock, is pushed too hard by his father for not being a good enough wrestler. Finally, Bender, the criminal, incurs constant verbal and physical abuse from his father.

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to the issues that the Breakfast Club has spent the majority of its detention working through. The conclusion sees Allison and Andrew develop a relationship, Claire help Bender get in touch with his compassion, and Brian finish the essay for Mr. Vernon. However, their fate is largely open to interpretation, as no sequel is ever made that informs us of where Allison, Andrew, Claire, Bender, and Brian end up in the next 10-20 years and thus we presume that they all go their separate ways after detention ends. What is especially poignant is the understanding that even if these characters lives never intersect again, and if their issues persist through high school graduation and into adulthood, the impacts they leave on each other will last forever. This is best illustrated by the film’s hallmark song, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds, which sings about the necessity of transparency in human relationships.

While Hughes’s beloved coming-of-age film serves as a commentary on typical teenage angst and how frequently misunderstood it is by adults, I think many of the characters’ insecurities go well beyond and perhaps supersede the adolescent years, manifesting in a variety of cultures that are not relegated to white, middle class America. If they are left unresolved, they could yield disastrous consequences later in life. For instance, if Bender never makes amends with his abusive father, he could become an abusive father himself one day. If Claire never chooses the right friends, she might spend the rest of her life never knowing who she is. Finally, if Andrew never learns to cope with the prospect of failure, he may one day successfully attempt suicide. The aim of The Breakfast Club is therefore to encourage you, the viewer, to recognize how very little effort is involved in judging, attaching labels to, and dismissing another person based upon an eccentricity, idiosyncrasy, or superficial attribute that he or she is best known for, and that through digging deeper into what makes that person tick, you will make shocking discoveries about them and even yourself.

Think of a person in your life who, by virtue of something that you don’t like such as an annoying stutter or thick perfume, is assumed to be completely problem-free. Chances are, such a person doesn’t exist. In his video, The Science of Awkwardness (2015), Michael from Vsauce strikes this point upon discussing “protagonist disease,” a condition that erodes our interpersonal interactions by deluding us into thinking the world revolves around us 24 hours 7 days a week, or that we are the sole characters the drive our stories forward. Everyone else is just, as Michael puts it, “one-dimensional background characters” who have no virtually effect on your life. In fact, you couldn’t care less about them because they don’t understand what it’s like to be in your shoes—your goals, dreams, aspirations, internal conflicts, and all of the complexities that make you, you. Michael then uses the example of a guy who took too long to order in front of you earlier this morning to illustrate another psychological phenomenon interchangeable with that of protagonist disease, the fundamental attribution error. He states, “He’s obviously just an innately annoying person. That’s his entire purpose, but when YOU take too long, it’s because the staff was unhelpful—you were flustered, preoccupied by an earlier conversation.” But what if all along, the reason that guy took so long to order was because he was caught up in thought about his wife of 26 years, who unfortunately passed away to cancer earlier that week?

The fundamental attribution error becomes evident in the scene where the Breakfast Club gathers around for a group therapy session. In this scene, Brian claims that he considers them all to be his friends, but worries that as soon as Monday arrives, everything will go back to normal and they will no longer speak to each other. Claire is brutally honest with Brian, stating that if Andrew saw Brian in the hallway on Monday, he would briefly acknowledge Brian’s presence but then disparage him behind his back so that his friends wouldn’t think he’s a loser for hanging out with the geeks. Allison asks Claire what would happen if she approached her in the hallway, and Claire replies with saying, “Same exact thing.” Later, Brian calls Claire out on her conceit—of course she will look down upon the less privileged and less popular when she cannot even so much as determine who her real friends are, but Claire protests that it’s more complicated than that. “I hate it—I hate having to go along with everything my friends say,” complains Claire. Brian asks why, then, she continues to hang around people who clearly make her feel miserable. In tears, Claire admits, “I don’t know. You don’t understand. You’re not friends with the same kind of people that Andy and I are friends with. You know, you just don’t understand the pressure they can put on you.” An outraged Brian asks if Claire really thinks he doesn’t know what it’s like to be under pressure, and then shouts, “Well FUCK YOU! Fuck you.”

I am fascinated and quite relieved to know that everyone, not just high school students, has a unique set of challenges that they must overcome if they are expected to survive and thrive. I cannot, with respect to my friends’ and family members’ privacy, go down an entire list of their personal problems, but let’s just say that they are not exempt from them. Furthermore, I, too, have made the fundamental attribution error on a number of occasions. For instance, recently I discovered that one guy for whom I mistook excessive masculinity as his defining trait, actually used to go into the closet to cry when his customers became too abusive for him to handle.

It just goes to show that stereotypes, whether we subscribe to them or not, are only a small fraction of our personas.

What Cannabidiol Therapy Can Do for You

Megan, an old friend, messaged me on Facebook asking if I could write an article about her reactions to cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive sister cannabinoid to THC. Like THC, CBD binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, but they elicit a wide array of effects not hallucinogenic in nature. Some of the reported effects include an improvement in mood, increased sleep and appetite, pain modulation, and refined memory (Butterfield, 2016). It has gained popularity with an increasing number of patients interested in adopting cannabis as a form of treatment for their ailments but want to do so without experiencing the taxing head highs that marijuana is popular for.

With her permission, I am allowed to reveal why Megan chose CBD as her preferred treatment. Simply put, Megan suffers from mild depression and severe anxiety, and it took great courage for her to admit that to me when we consider the disastrous public mental health stigmas that plague Americans and ultimately turn them off from the getting help they so desperately need (Parcesepe & Cabassa, 2013). A common mental health stigma is that anxious or depressed people are weak. We know that to not always be the case.

But Megan’s story doesn’t end with this article—she wants to encourage other sufferers of depression and anxiety to not only seek possible treatments, but to seek natural treatments. Because while drugs like Prozac and Xanax have their respective benefits, one causes radical personality changes and the other yields a high potential for abuse, overdoses, and hospital admissions, especially when used irresponsibly (Harding, 2009; MacLaren, 2017). If I can use Megan’s story to spread the word that natural remedies are indeed out there and work just as effectively as synthetic drugs, I like to think that I’d be doing the world a service.

Then again, it’s very easy say that CBD therapy works, but that does not necessarily mean it will work for you. As such, this article will provide a brief rundown of Megan’s documented experiences with CBD over a period of 15 days so that you, the reader, can judge whether or not it is the right treatment option.

Before continuing, let me address the elephant in the room: CBD’s legal status. I’m sure you don’t want to obtain CBD hemp oil only to discover that it’s no less illegal in your state than THC is, so what does the legality of CBD look like both state-by-state and at the federal level? The short answer is “it’s complicated.” In December of 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration articulated that any extracts from a cannabis plant are Schedule I controlled substances, effectively putting them on the same level as heroin, LSD, and bath salts. Nonetheless, CBD laws are inconsistent across the country. That is, in the 28 states allowing for the possession and consumption of medical marijuana, CBD is also legal for medical purposes. Sixteen more states have passed laws that, although restrictive, have legalized CBD. In the 6 remaining states—Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana, and West Virginia—CBD, THC, and alternative cannabis extracts are 100 percent illegal (Summers, 2017).

Now that we’ve gotten that part out of the way, how has Megan’s time with CBD been?

Day 1: This was the first day that Megan ingested CBD to treat her anxiety. She writes in the e-mail that she used a vape oil called “FX Chill.” The device she used for ingestion was the high-grade vaporizer Yocan Evolve C. She took two puffs from it at 9 A.M. and pledged to take two every morning and two every night. Instantly, she felt rejuvenated—a little high-strung from the events of the previous day, but much less apprehensive than she would have been otherwise.

Day 2: Megan woke up slightly anxious from what she puts as an “odd dream.” To her surprise, she wasn’t as on-edge as she normally is when she wakes up, and her typical anxious symptoms like heavy breathing and rapid heartbeat were absent. She also mentions that she lost the mouthpiece to her vaporizer. Whereas before, her anxiety would have snowballed, this time she felt tranquil. “That is abnormal to me,” she writes.

Day 3: This was a Saturday, and Megan felt unusually contented. She worked in the evening and arrived home feeling calm.

Day 4: This day was an emotional rollercoaster for Megan. Apparently, she felt fine for the first half of it, then depressed toward the evening, and better at night. She also felt a tad nervous here and there.  Despite this, Megan asserted that she would continue on with CBD therapy hoping for longer-term mood improvements.

Day 5: This day was a Monday, and Megan complained that Mondays are stressful for her because they net the most traffic at her workplace. She still felt calm and collected, and it turned out to be a fine day.

Day 6: Megan explains that Tuesdays are hard because after working for 16 straight hours, she refuses to get any sleep. As a consequence of her lack of patience to rest up, she becomes very tired and thus aggravates her anxiety. However, on this particular day all her negative feelings—her depression, anxiety, and apprehension—were absent, and she only felt happy and carefree. She notes, “I am able to experience a glimpse of what life was like pre-onset of my anxiety and that was something I never thought I would see again.”

Day 7: Nothing of much importance happened on this day. Megan went out at midnight to celebrate her friend’s 21st birthday, emphasizing that while she normally feels uncomfortable in social situations of that nature, she felt like she could handle it well.

Day 8: On this day, Megan felt tired and restless but still wasn’t anxious. She worked a run-of-the-mill 8-4 shift and arrived home, relieved to discover that her boyfriend, in a gesture of affection, had completed an assortment of household tasks for her. However, he was troubled by things going on in his life, and Megan did all she could to make him feel better, but nothing worked. Even so, with the help of CBD, she felt more than capable of handling the acute stress associated with trying to console a partner who’s clearly distressed.

Day 9: Here, we start to notice a theme of liberation. Megan once again expresses that she just feels free, like all her troubles are ever present but minimized and less threatening. Later on, however, a rude and obnoxious customer triggered an episode of aggressive anxiety in her. She took a few more puffs of CBD to quell her frustration, but didn’t feel much better afterward.

Day 10: This was a bit of an off day for Megan. Still upset from yesterday, she cried intermittently but was able to pull herself together. In addition, she attended lunch with her dad and dinner with friends, and on both occasions, she drank alcohol.

Day 11: “It was a fairly normal Monday,” Megan writes. She experienced very little anxiety.

Days 12/13/14/15: After forgetting to take CBD on Tuesday and Wednesday, Megan’s anxiety came back in full force, with feelings of extreme sensitivity, despondency, loathsomeness, and most of all, doubt about herself and her capabilities. When she resumed treatment late on Wednesday and into Thursday, she could get back to living life on her terms again, attesting that all this time CBD has worked wonders for her and that she wouldn’t know what to do without it. The quality of her life, she states, has improved dramatically, and she didn’t realize how much better she felt until she missed her dosages.

Based on Megan’s feedback, does CBD therapy work? If so, is it within your best interest? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I would like to thank Megan for opening up a window into her life and allowing me to post this article. It is people like her who remind us that depression and anxiety are not simply character flaws, but rather afflictions that, much like a physical disability, can be treated and coped with. I hope that through sharing her story today, I can lift the stigma off mental health issues just a little bit and encourage my audience to finally request help.

 

References

Butterfield, D. (2017, February 09). CBD: Everything You Need To Know About Cannabidiol. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://herb.co/2016/07/26/everything-you-need-to-know-about-cbd/

 

Harding, A. (2009, December 08). Antidepressants change personality, study suggests. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/12/08/antidepressant.personality.changes/index.html

 

MacLaren, E. (2016, October 06). Xanax History and Statistics. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://drugabuse.com/library/xanax-history-and-statistics/

 

Parcesepe, A. M., & Cabassa, L. J. (2013). Public Stigma of Mental Illness in the United States: A Systematic Literature Review. Adm Policy Ment Health, 40(5), 384-399. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3835659/

 

Summers, D. (2017, March 22). Is CBD Oil Legal? Depends on Where You Are and Who You Ask. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.leafly.com/news/politics/cbd-oil-legal-depends-ask

Are You Only 20 Percent Effective?

Self-discrepancy theory states that our selves, or the core understandings of our identities, are split according to three components: the ideal, ought, and actual self. The ideal-self is the person we aspire to be, the ought-self is the person we want others to be and the person others want us to be, and the actual-self is the person we actually are. The theory was developed by Edward Tory Higgins in 1987, and since then much research has been aimed at identifying the three selves’ existence relative to one another and which of them is the most predominate. Not surprisingly, the actual-self dominates the other two.

Self-discrepancy represents a conflict that wages inside our own heads—and between our partners—every day. My spouse wants me to stop smoking, but cigarettes are the only things that remedy my stress. I know I should lose weight, but food tastes too damn good. My father wants me to become a doctor, but I’d rather be a pilot. I want to do well on that exam, but I’m too lazy to study for it. The list goes on. Do any of these conflicts sound familiar to you?

I am a classic example of a self-discrepant person. Need proof? I know that I should completely cut alcohol out of my life because it’s hazardous to my organs, but I still enjoy the occasional drink after a long day at work, or with a good friend. I know that I should revamp my diet because I consume too much grease and am probably clogging my arteries, but I can’t stop eating hamburgers, pizza, and pasta. I know that I should stop playing video games so often and start devoting more time to pursuing a career in psychology and expanding my reservoir of knowledge for the sake of it, but I love grinding my character in Destiny. And finally, I know that I should advertise my YouTube videos to stimulate viewership and conduct research on the stock market to make informed decisions on my investments, but I don’t care enough to do either of those things, so why even bother?

And yet, by sitting around and waiting to take initiative, I am actually doing more harm than good to myself. By continuing to drink alcohol, I am further eroding my organs. By continuing to consume greasy foods, I am routinely putting myself at risk for heart disease. By continuing to play too many video games and not pursuing a career and expanding my base of knowledge, I am setting myself up to live with my parents until I’m 40 and making myself stupider. And by not advertising my YouTube videos and investing in the stock market, I am wasting my time producing the videos in the first place and losing money.

If I was a truly self-sufficient person, I would write 5 of these articles a week instead of just 1 every other week. I would market my YouTube channel 8 hours a day to maximize audience retention and engagement, and I would release at least two, high-quality, 30-minute long video essays a month. I would quit my weekend job at the local supermarket and find a better one. I would practice meditation to more effectively manage my emotions. I would go to the bar to talk to women and get out of my shell. I would address every single criticism that I’ve ever had, or currently have, of myself—and then some.

The fact remains that I’m not 100% self-sufficient. Most of the time, I’m 10-15% self-sufficient, and 20% self-sufficient on a good day. That’s not very… sufficient of myself.

Can you imagine where humanity would be today if it utilized 100% of its potential? We probably would have cured every known disease, colonized the galaxy, and transcended space and time itself. But we know that human beings are not THAT perfect. How could they be? They’re notoriously flawed creatures. We’ve accomplished many great things, but only to a certain degree. We still quibble amongst, and go to war with, each other, we still haven’t cured some of the most deadly diseases, and we still haven’t traversed and uncovered the secrets of the far reaches of the galaxy. At least we invented the fidget spinner and sliced bread.

Perhaps our aggressive laziness could result from our propensity to favor pleasure over self-improvement. The human brain is largely rewarded through instant gratification, and not through evaluation of long-term consequences. Given the proper time and training, it can learn to delay gratification in the interest of its longer-term goals, but for the most part, it demands to be rewarded instantaneously and without obstructions. It explains why there are alcoholics, pornography addicts, and obese people—if they really wanted to improve themselves, they would’ve done so a while ago.

Self-discrepancy seems to be a conflict that arises from incessant instant gratification. In essence, we weigh the amount of pleasure we can derive from any given activity (i.e.: playing a video game, partying, or reading a text book) relative to whether or not such activity is befit to our well-being, and almost always, our hedonistic instincts kick into overdrive.

So what can YOU do to reach your potential? Close the gaps between your ideal, ought, and actual selves as much as you can. I’m not saying that I’ve done it already because it’s a conflict I struggle with every day, but I have become more aware of it.

It’s true that while you’ll never reach your full potential, you can come as close to your full potential as absolutely possible. And that’s about the best you can do for your short (and sometimes miserable) time on this God-forsaken floating rock.

Can We Look Up to Fictional Role Models?

“Simply put, there’s a vast ocean of shit you people don’t know shit about. Rick knows every fine grain of said shit… and then some.”

– Abraham Ford, The Walking Dead

AMC’s The Walking Dead is one of my favorite television series, slated to return in October 2017 for its eighth season and whopping 100th episode. I adore the show not for its graphic depictions of gore and violence, but instead for its thoughtful illustrations of the sociology, psychology, and politics of the zombie apocalypse. In fact, I love The Walking Dead so much that I dedicated this entire past summer to creating a video essay for it, arguing that we’re already living in the apocalypse by discussing issues of power, sanity, philosophy, community, and strength in the context of AMC’s highest-rated series. Aptly, you can find Parts 1 through 4 on this blog, and right now I’m working on Part 5 and a “definitive edition” to celebrate the show’s 100th episode milestone, quite a remarkable feat.

As much as I commend The Walking Dead, I will not overlook its flaws. Many of the characters are just plain weak and uninteresting (i.e.: Daryl Dixon), with a few exceptions such as Carol, The Governor, Gareth, Morgan, King Ezekiel, and Negan. In addition, the show’s writing is at times shaky and questionable, with the more recent seasons characterized by four great episodes, four good episodes, and another eight episodes of pure filler content—you can thank the Screen Junkies at YouTube for that observation.

One thing that I will never criticize The Walking Dead for, however, is giving me my first TRUE role model to look up to: Sheriff Rick Grimes.

Rick Grimes has seen it all. He’s transformed from a small town cop to the leader of The New World, calloused, exacting, and most of all, uncompromisingly tenacious. But Rick’s lived a hard life the past couple of years: he’s killed his best friend, grieved over a wife who died in childbirth, lost places he called home, faced betrayals and double-crossings, and witnessed two of his closest friends get brutally beaten to death by a sociopath with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Rick has even done things that he’s not so proud of, killing people in cold blood in the interest of safeguarding his group. Whereas other characters might have been rendered permanently insane from such experiences, Rick has always come out on the other side, and more vigilant than before the world went to Hell.

Given Rick Grimes’s attributes, it’s no wonder he’s my role model, but this notion that “fictional characters are ineligible to be role models” is a myth. For a fictional character to even exist in the first place, then obviously he, she, or it has to come from somebody’s mind. In other words, somebody, usually a professional writer, has to imbue within a character the values, morals, beliefs, and personality traits that justify said character’s behaviors and underlying motivations. Some characters can even reflect the writers who wrote them. For instance, Rocky Balboa’s identity crisis in Rocky II (1979) is said to reflect Sylvester Stallone’s own struggles in dealing with fame and finding a voice (Schmidt, 2017). As such, you can imagine why audiences grieve over the death of a beloved character in a television show or movie franchise—their identities might become so inextricably tied to the character that’s just passed away, that they feel “chipped away” in their untimely absence.

I’ve struggled to come to terms with character deaths on a couple of occasions. Fear the Walking Dead (2015) is a classic example. Travis Manawa, a school teacher and my favorite character, was set up for an interesting arc at the end of Season 2, (*SPOILER*) brutally beating the hell out of two men responsible for inadvertently causing his son Chris’s death. However, the actor who played Travis, Cliff Curtis, was cast as the main villain in the upcoming Avatar sequels prior to the principal photography of Season 3, so the writers had to write his character out of the show by abruptly killing him off in episode 302 (“The New Frontier”). Since then, I’ve grown increasingly disinterested with the direction of Season 3, having found it difficult to identify and emphasize with the new lead character, Madison.

I was under the impression that Travis Manawa would be the Rick Grimes of Fear, not Madison, Travis’s girlfriend. And I have nothing against Madison because she’s a woman. Rather, she’s bland, boring, dull, and generally not a suitable replacement for Travis. Rick Grimes will always be my #1.

But why might I hold Rick in such a high esteem? In short, he’s experienced so much pain and loss in a short period of time, yet repeatedly come out stronger as a result. I figured, then, that perhaps I could follow suit, for one day, I will lose someone or something very dear to me—just as Rick lost his wife and the Prison. But that won’t be enough to stop me, because even when my life is shattered into a million pieces, I’ll somehow put them all back together again.

I don’t want to be weak. I want to be strong like Rick Grimes. And if you’ve been paying attention, that’s really what this blog is about.

 

Reference

Rockall-Schmidt, G. [George Rockall-Schmidt]. (2017, August 19).  How The Rocky Films Changed Over Time. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKTmkLvESI4

When to Know You Have Redeemed Yourself

I work at the local grocery store, and one time, I was facing the shelves in Aisle 15. While I was minding my own business and organizing items, a customer approached me and kindly asked where the prunes were. Prunes, I thought, were located in the produce section—they’re a fruit after all. It turned out that at my store, prunes are only sold in the form of a can, and that they were actually located in Aisle 9, the baking aisle. Of course, I erroneously instructed the customer to search for them in the produce department, but to my dismay, the hostess was working next to me and therefore overheard my misleading feedback.

In case you’re wondering, the hostess’s job is direct customers to the items that they cannot find, so you can probably imagine how frustrated she was with this pathetic cashier’s uninformed, uneducated guidance on the whereabouts of prunes. She corrected my mistake by ushering the customer to Aisle 9, and then returned to Aisle 15 to scold me.

“These people pay our salaries,” the hostess angrily exclaimed. “If you constantly direct them to the wrong locations, they’ll get fed up and WE’LL lose business.”

Little did she realize that at the end of the day, I am just a cashier and thus not expected by my managers to know the locations of every conceivable item in the store. But I’m a man of principle in that when I’m asked a question—any question—I try to give the best answer possible to it, regardless if I’m right or wrong. That was how I was taught. I protested to the hostess that if I relinquish my competence by constantly relying on others to answer questions that were originally asked TO me, then I’ll be perceived as weak. When she continued to poke that bee hive, I naturally reacted with agitation.

“Okay, SORRY” I said with a snide tone, turning my head away and continuing to organize the items. For the next ten seconds, neither of us would say a thing. The hostess, dumbfounded by my defiance, asked what my name was in order to report me to a manager, but before she could leave the aisle, I promptly apologized to her. “I apologize for my tone-of-voice. I’ve had a long day and took my frustration out on you. I didn’t mean to.”

That was over a year ago, but I’ve routinely thought about the ways in which I could’ve better handled the encounter. Perhaps I should’ve set aside my pride, and allowed the hostess to answer the customer’s question all along. Maybe I should’ve been a little sterner when she scolded me, or maybe I should’ve just known where the damned prunes were.

Interestingly, five days ago, I’m working the register and a different customer approaches me to ask about where to find the prunes. “Aisle 9,” I told him.

I told this story because it is a glimpse into what self-redemption could look like. We’ve all made thousands of mistakes that we wish we could take back. Due to the nature of time and how it works, we can’t undo or rescind them, but we can register and put them to work.

Let’s say, for example, that I was never approached by that fateful customer. Big deal. I could’ve done my job in peace and circumvented an uncomfortable conversation with a pesky coworker. Five days ago, however, the outcome would’ve been the same as the incident that occurred over a year ago, but with one key difference: I would’ve erroneously directed the customer to the produce department, and never learned about the location of prunes, thereby setting myself up to repeat the same mistake as before.

In a world outside a grocery store, we might fail at relationships, fail at new jobs, and fail exams, but that doesn’t always mean that we’ve failed as people. Through applying this knowledge to navigating interpersonal relationships, learning a novel career position, and taking an important exam, we begin to realize that each of our mistakes, lamentable as they may be, are stepping stones toward achieving a more favorable outcome the next time an opportunity presents itself. That is the precise definition of self-redemption, because to achieve it, you must endure profound failures and hardships but take away from them the wisdom to know that you’ve done a poor job, and that you hope to do better the next time.

Now go and find those prunes.

How to Take Advantage of Any Disadvantage

I have a genetic skin disease called rosacea. My grandmother passed it down to my father, who then passed it down to my brother and me. Rosacea is characterized by episodic, superficial dilation of blood vessels beneath the face. This usually occurs on or around the nose and cheeks, and just below the mouth. It can be quite irritating when, upon extended exposure to heat, my skin itches and flushes so much that I look as red as an apple.

Of course, I could lament and complain about my rosacea all I want, but that won’t change the fact that I will always be stuck with it—at least until they are able to come up with some long-awaited cure for it. The best thing I can do for now is attempt to manage the condition every day by applying skin cream that reduces flushing and inflammation. “Treatable, not curable” is my motto.

Using my skin rosacea as an example of how we can adapt to the circumstances that we are involuntarily thrust into, let’s put things into perspective. While I could let my rosacea get the best of me and never go outside again because I just cannot tolerate episodes of flushing and inflammation, I would miss out on so much in life if I stayed home all the time. In the same vein, the mere management of our physical and mental disabilities is infinitely preferable to giving up and admitting defeat by virtue of their unwanted existence.

Allow me to share with you a story that perfectly illustrates what I’m talking about.

Last week, I attended Michigan’s Adventure (an amusement park) with my father and brother. I was initially apprehensive about tagging along because I didn’t want to have to fight the 4th of July crowds. I tagged along anyway because my dad insisted that it would be the last time we’d ever go there. While I had a fair amount of fun, that old and familiar childlike excitement eluded me and was instead replaced by an almost melancholic desire to return to a simpler time.

In many respects, the trip didn’t go as planned: my dad rear-ended the driver in front of us, and wasted over $100 on fast passes that we barely used. What’s worse is that I arrived home with sunburn that itches at this very moment. Maybe I should’ve trusted my apprehension and persuaded my dad to stay home after all—I could’ve circumvented a damaged vehicle and saved $100. But I figured that if I hadn’t gone, then I wouldn’t have acquired the material to write this article.

The highlight of the trip was easily seeing a man with his girlfriend, who unfortunately couldn’t walk due to an unknown disability and thus needed to be pushed around in a wheelchair. We first encountered the couple at a water ride, and it was there the man picked up his girlfriend and carefully helped her into the canoe, leaving the wheelchair behind until they returned. We encountered the couple a second time at The Wolverine, and once again, the man picked up his girlfriend and helped her into the coaster. Most attendants felt inconvenienced from having to wait their turns for longer than usual, but I stood there in awe of this man’s enormous determination to show his girlfriend a good time.

Let’s face it, how many disabled people have you seen ride a roller coaster? Not very many I’d assume. You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to tell that this was a man of initiative. He could’ve easily told his girlfriend, “Sorry honey, but I don’t want to risk aggravating your disability just so that you can ride a few roller coasters. It’s too dangerous.” The fact remains that her disability wasn’t a factor in her enjoyment. And so, whereas most men wouldn’t let their disabled girlfriends see the light of day because it’s “too risky,” this man took charge. It spoke volumes of his character and was a testament to how far he is willing to go to express the love he feels for his girlfriend.

More people need to be like this man. Stop making excuses already and take charge of your fate, or else let it get the best of you and spend the rest of your life feeling like a victim.

Depression Is Your Friend

It’s crazy, right? How can something as unpleasant as depression, the leading precursor to suicide, actually be thought of as a good buddy?

First off, I would like to emphasize that I am in no way praising deep, debilitating depression. Instead, this article is aimed at discussing depression as a form of motivation, not a psychological disorder.

When you think of a friend, what is the first thing that comes to mind? A friend might be someone who you watch a ballgame with. They might even be someone who drives you home when you’re too drunk to drive yourself. For me, a friend is someone so much more than that; someone much different than a family member or spouse.

For me, a friend is someone who attends that ballgame not because they want to get out of the house for a few hours, but because they genuinely enjoy your company. A friend is someone who drives you home when you’re drunk not out of obligation, but out of concern for your safety. Really, a friend is someone who accepts you without question, sees the value that you bring to the world, and looks out for you during hard times.

So how does depression look out for you? Well, for starters I’m writing this post with my fingers. I have a brain that thinks and reasons in order to produce the language that is responsible for the post in the first place. I have a stomach to digest the food I ate two hours ago and a heart that pumps blood to keep me alive. The truth is, depression wouldn’t exist if, along with every organ in my body, it didn’t serve some kind of a survival function. The theory of evolution suggests that our predecessors who did not experience depression were selected against and died off, while those who experienced depression lived on to spread their genes and ultimately create you and me. With that said, depression is as much a part of us as our fingers, stomachs, brains, and hearts are. It is an instrument of survival.

Then again, depression doesn’t get enough credit. We condemn it, scrutinize it, and in many cases medicate it when it doesn’t need medicating. How do you even define depression in a positive light when it is this widely stigmatized and condemnable “sickness of the mind” or worse, character flaw? Well, it’s not an impossible task.

Normal depression, and by extension grief, can be defined as a self-regulatory mechanism in which a problem is continually reflected on and analyzed with the intent of preventing it from reoccurring. It’s almost like trying to solve a math equation that you’ve been stuck on for hours in that you’ll rework the problem over and over until a correct solution becomes evident. The only time the mind-boggling math equation that is depression becomes debilitating is when episodes are prolonged, lasting for weeks and months at a time, and disrupt personal and professional relationships. At that point, you never solve the problem, you just keep staring at it and expecting something to change.

I can tell you with certainty that for every mistake I’ve made and problem that I’ve created, I never would have improved as a human being if I didn’t feel depressed afterward. There were times when I failed a test or said something extremely hurtful to another person, and afterward that was all I thought about for the rest of the day and even the rest of the week. I’d think to myself, “How could I let this happen?” and “What went wrong, and what can I do to fix this mess?”

Don’t get me wrong, depressive rumination isn’t fun. Some of the worst moments in my life were where I would become so emotionally drained, so dispirited, and so, well… depressed, that I couldn’t even move. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t play video games, and I generally couldn’t function normally. Why would anybody want to suffer through such an experience? The answer is that it can be used as motivational fuel when it is channeled into something more meaningful. I look at it this way: you could achieve every major success in the book, but by the time that one failure comes around it’s suddenly the worst thing in the world because you haven’t acquainted yourself with what it’s like to truly lose. To truly face defeat. In this manner, the low points in life help us appreciate the high points and remind us of the progress (or lack thereof) we’re making.

Occasional, not chronic, depression is your friend because it’s got your back. It PUSHES you toward improvement by notifying you that you need to make some much needed corrections in your life. And trust me, you’re better off with than without it.