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.

5 Criticisms of “13 Reasons Why”

SPOILER WARNING IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THE NEW NETFLIX ORIGINAL “13 REASONS WHY” YET.

13 Reasons Why is a great show—possibly one of the better shows I’ve watched this year. However, I couldn’t help but walk away from it without expressing a few criticisms of the way it handled its subject matter. So what might these criticisms be?

Criticism 1: Too often, it ignores Hannah’s mental health problems.

I do not personally believe that the writers glamorized suicide, but I can understand both arguments. On the one hand, the show did an exemplary job at illustrating the long-term ramifications that suicide has on our relationships. On the other, it deceived the audience into thinking that Hannah’s suicide was a revenge ploy, when in fact it was the result of her deep-seated psychological issues (e.g.: depression, bipolar disorder, histrionic personality disorder, or PTSD) that went unabated.

Criticism 2: It makes it difficult to sympathize with Hannah.

It was difficult to feel sorry for Hannah when she wouldn’t speak up for herself. After being raped by Bryce, why didn’t she tell her parents, or anyone for that matter? If she had explained what happened to her, she could have gotten the help she needed and therefore turned Bryce in. Instead, she allowed her pain to consume her indefinitely, and that made it hard to root for her.

Criticism 3: It places undeserved blame on the other characters.

Clay and the guidance counselor did absolutely nothing wrong. Clay was punished because Hannah expected him to be a mind-reader, while the counselor was punished because he was unequipped to advise suicidal students. Both clearly overlooked obvious red flags that Hannah displayed, but that doesn’t make either of them responsible for her death. The same holds true for everyone else on the tapes, including Bryce.

Criticism 4: It overstates the unpleasantness of high school.

The fact that Hannah was unwilling to cope with petty interpersonal drama (something that we all put up with) means that she probably lacked the emotional resources to solve real problems. More importantly, the show implies that high school is the worst time in a person’s life when it isn’t. Life gets much harder after we’ve graduated high school, and thus in Season 2, the show needs to do a better job at depicting the challenges that we face beyond those relatively insignificant 4 years.

Criticism 5: It imposes unrealistic expectations upon its audience.

It seems that the main message of the show is to “be kind to everybody, because you never know what someone else is going through,” but you know what the fundamental flaw is with that logic? You can never be totally sure when you’re hurting someone else’s feelings. Sometimes, I treat people poorly when I don’t realize it, and the opposite is also true. I should not be expected to moderate my language at every moment of the day on the off chance that someone is going to commit suicide because of some stupid thing that I said.

EDIT: The way I wrote about Criticism 5 is a little harsh and insensitive. The point I was trying to make here was that simple misunderstandings can have detrimental impacts on our relationships with our friends, family members, and strangers. If a comment that you make to another person is taken out of context, uncalled for, or simply interpreted in the wrong way, you could really upset them. Therefore, we shouldn’t have to police every little thing we say when it would be otherwise mentally taxing for us.

If you know me well enough, you’ll find that I am very sarcastic, so much that I am probably not well-liked by many. That doesn’t mean that I am not conscious of other people’s feelings, it’s just that by default, my personality can project auroras of condescension and abrasiveness when that isn’t my intention at all. However, that’s not to say I should change who I fundamentally am, and that’s more or less what I was trying to convey in Criticism 5. I just didn’t elaborate on it enough.

Despite all of this negative feedback, I agree with the writers’ decision to ultimately display Hannah’s suicide on screen, because by not showing it, they would have downplayed its severity and taken away the whole point of the show.

Overall, I hope that 13 Reasons Why further encourages younger people to seek professional help by driving discussions on highly sensitive topics like suicide and sexual assault, and that Season 2 (if there is one) addresses the criticisms I’ve listed above.

The Apocalypse Might Not Kill Us All

Normal body temperature fluctuates daily from 98.5 to 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit. When you contract the flu, you will feel terrible. You’ll have a sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, headache, or muscle aches, but your body temperature will also elevate way beyond its normal range, causing you to feel like you’re burning up and that you’re on the brink of death.

Fevers are triggered by chemical agents known as pyrogens, which flow in the bloodstream. Pyrogens activate special receptors in your hypothalamus that signal to your body’s immune system that is has to work overtime, and thus raise your body temperature enough to kill off hostile bacteria and hopefully eradicate the sickness. As unpleasant a fever may be, it serves a critical survival function in that it helps your body combat a potentially life-threatening infection.

So why the science lesson? Because a fever, no matter how bad it makes you feel, is an inherently good thing.

In my previous post, I introduced this idea of “good and bad” thinking—that if you incorporate perspectives that you hadn’t previously considered into your attitudes, you can begin to convert every inconvenience into an opportunity. This week’s post is about putting that idea into action so that you don’t have to feel like the inconveniences that do spring up in your life have to be treated as though they were end-of-the-world catastrophes. While practicing this strategy of thinking, that fever of yours could be treated as a welcome addition to your sick day, assuming that you drink plenty of fluids!

If you still don’t believe me, I’m going to provide three examples of objectively classifiable catastrophes, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the bombing of Hiroshima, to further demonstrate that beyond all of that large-scale destruction is an opportunity for positive change.

Disclaimer: I am in no way neglecting or dismissing any of these disasters. I am merely using them to illustrate the point that, in spite of the inconceivable destruction and enormous loss of life, they still brought some good.

September 11th

9/11 is thought of as profoundly devastating because it was an attack on American people and most of all, an attack on American values, or the very fabric that once made America so highly esteemed. Over 3,000 innocent people, many of which were mothers, fathers, boyfriends, and girlfriends, lost their lives while two of the most iconic towers in New York City collapsed in just 102 minutes. What further exacerbated this tragedy was a growing hatred and gross misunderstanding of the Islamic faith (Rose, 2013).

Those who were directly involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and lived to see the next sunrise could never truly let go of what happened to them. At the same time, many participated in what was one of the greatest coming-together occasions in all of American history, while multiple foundations were established that appropriated funds toward other causes like hurricane relief and the assisting of emergency respondents (Davis, 2013). The attacks also motivated the Federal government to upgrade security measures and conceive of the Department of Homeland Security, which has since been responsible for multiple counter-terrorist operations.

It just demonstrates that while terrorists can destroy all of the buildings they want, they can never destroy the American spirit.

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina was an event of destructive proportions. The storm, with winds stretching over 50 kilometers and blowing 40 mph on average, caused the deaths of an estimated 1,833 people and a whopping $108 billion in total property damage (Zimmermann, 2015). It is ranked as the sixth strongest storm in recorded Atlantic hurricanes, and has sent the city of New Orleans into social, political, and economic disarray. Thousands of people were left without homes, stripped of all hope and a will to move on.

However, even Hurricane Katrina had positive effects. Juan Williams (2010) uses the example of former New Orleans resident Josh Levin, who wrote in a post for Slate Magazine saying “[Katrina] gave New Orleanians an unprecedented opportunity to remake a city that wasn’t working.” According to Levin, Republican Joe Cao and Democrat Mayor Mitch Landrieu used the storm as an opportunity to tackle rampant poverty, crime, and education issues, inciting major reforms that would set the city in the right direction and essentially hit the reset button. Williams also states that interestingly enough, Hurricane Katrina lifted the stigma off New Orleans’s widespread poverty and improved upon previously tense race relations.

Right now, New Orleans is still in a very tight spot, but even if it takes another 10, 50, or 100 years, I believe that someday that town will be better off than before Katrina first made landfall.

Hiroshima

Unlike the 9/11 attacks and naturally based Katrina disaster, the bombing of Hiroshima was instigated on American prerogative in an effort to put a stop to WWII and therefore save countless lives. Harry S. Truman was faced with the hardest decision a president has ever had to make: force Japan to surrender unconditionally, or suffer hundreds of thousands more American casualties by allowing the war to continue. Finally, at 8:15 A.M. on August 6th, 1945, the decision had been made, and the United States dropped an A-bomb on the heart of Hiroshima. Most if not all people within a two-kilometer radius were instantly vaporized while the city had become leveled and shrouded in atomic fire.

Overall, around 140,000 were killed or died in the following months, either by burn damage or radiation poisoning. Yet as much of a stain on our history as Hiroshima is, it was necessary to end a war that claimed, and would continue to claim, millions of lives. In fact, the total amount of prevented casualties is roughly as high as 1,237,980, not counting for conservative estimates (Vespa, 2016).

The argument as to whether the bombing of Hiroshima was morally and ethically justifiable remains unresolved, and like other moral grey areas, there will never be a single answer that everyone agrees with. One thing is for certain: it was preferable to the alternative.

Final Word

9/11, Hurricane Katrina and Hiroshima are evidence of how all life is a double helix of good and bad; that all bad has to lead into good and vice versa. I’ve found this way of thinking incredibly helpful not because it promotes positive thinking, but because it promotes critical thinking. It allows you to get creative and actually use your brain to arrive at an accurate conclusion of the universe’s complex dynamics.

Anyone can curl up in a ball and cry when the world’s about to end, but to stand up and smile in the face of imminent annihilation? That takes character.

 

References

Davis, L. (2013, September 12). 9 Ways 9/11 Inadvertently Sparked Good In The World. Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/12/9-ways-911-inadvertently-_n_3909148.html

 

Rose, S. (2013, November 11). Since 9/11, Racism and Islamophobia Remain Intertwined. Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/steve-rose/911-racism-islamophobia_b_3908411.html

 

Vespa, M. (2016, May 27). Yes, Dropping Atomic Bombs On Japan Was A Good Thing. Retrieved September 29, 2016, from http://townhall.com/tipsheet/mattvespa/2016/05/27/no-america-dropping-atomic-bombs-on-japan-was-a-good-thing-n2161273

 

Williams, J. (2010, August 27). Even Katrina Has a Silver Lining | Fox News. Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/08/27/juan-williams-katrina-brookings-new-orleans-gulf-coast-black-poverty-pew-poll.html

 

Zimmerman, K. A. (2015, August 27). Hurricane Katrina: Facts, Damage & Aftermath. Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.livescience.com/22522-hurricane-katrina-facts.html

The Dangers of Seeing Black & White

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the narco world, it’s that life is more complicated than you think. Good and bad, they’re relative concepts.”

Narcos (Season 1, Episode 1), Steve Murphy

I used to think colorblind patients literally saw the world in black and white, like their lives were an unending 1940s noir film that lacked in depth and quality. Later, I realized that colorblindness is actually a deficiency of the retina’s cone cells to properly differentiate between colors. It is, of course, still possible to see in black and white, but not in the way that you would expect.

Disclaimer: I take no credit for what I’m about to say here. The purpose of this article is to put my own spin on what’s been known for the entire course of human existence.

You do not need eyes to see. I was introduced to this concept when I attended therapy last year, as I wanted to get a better feel for how the process worked. I only went a couple of times because I didn’t see the value in talking about my problems to a stranger whose job was to more or less regurgitate much of what I already knew. My therapist, by her grace, brought up an interesting point that I will never forget.

She told me, “Well Marc, you seem like an all-or-nothing kind of guy.”

Her statement struck a chord with me because it identified a personality trait that I wasn’t previously aware of. It appeared that my understanding of the problems I was discussing ad nauseum was the real problem, and not external forces. Perhaps if I viewed them as opportunities and not impossibly unreachable obstacles, they wouldn’t be so problematic anymore.

I felt transformed and revitalized, but as time had come to pass, I reverted back to my age-old ways of interpreting reality. Nonetheless, my understanding of what my therapist told me that day became further solidified upon listening to the audiobook Positive Intelligence (2012) by Shirzad Chamine. There was a particular chapter in that book where Chamine referenced an ancient Taoist parable that is also my now-favorite philosophy.

The parable chronicles 5 days in a Chinese province. On the first day, a horse jumps a poor farmer and his teenage son’s fence, causing major property damage. However, by the terms of the local law, the boy and his father were allowed to keep the horse, meaning they would become wealthy and prominent. On the second day, the horse gallops back to the mountains and leaves the farm behind, yet returns on the third day with a dozen more wild horses. On each of these three days, the father dispassionately asked his son, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

On the fourth day, the boy gets violently knocked off one of the horses and breaks his leg. His father, noticing that his son is in tremendous pain, asks him once again with his usual indifferent tone, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” Finally, on the fifth day, the province goes to war, and Army recruiters arrive at the town where the poor farmer and his son live and begin drafting able-bodied young men to go off and fight. Every young man in the town is sent away to certain death except for the farmer’s son, and all because of his broken leg from the day before.

This old but gold parable led to the creation of an idea I call Noir Syndrome, with noir being a reference to the film genre that was traditionally shot in black and white. Noir Syndrome proposes that all of our anxieties originate from our tendency to view life as falling on one extreme or another without taking into account deeper meaning, contrary evidence, and alternative perspectives. All or nothing.

We’ve been conditioned to view life in this way because it is effortless and requires very little additional thought. However, this manner of thinking is dangerous in that it harbors the delusion that everything is always operating on a good-bad dichotomy, when it is anything but. Chamine talks about the same thing in his book. Again, I am not the first person to think of this, and neither was he.

How do you even define what is good and what is bad, or what should fall on one extreme end of the spectrum and the other? The poor farmer could only ever ask this question because he was wise enough to know that it didn’t possess an answer. Technically, every “bad” thing in life is nothing more than a momentary inconvenience, while the extent of this inconvenience is the primary determinant for how “bad” it really is by our standards. Life is a double helix of sorts, and not a straight line; all good eventually leads in to bad and all bad eventually leads in to good, creating a self-contradiction of sorts since the two cannot be categorized independently from each other. They are two sides of the same coin.

You have to search for some shred of good in every tragedy or setback you experience. In fact, you don’t even have a choice in the matter. This is because if you constantly view things as the best or worst, good or bad, all or nothing, you’re setting yourself for unimaginable heartbreak if they fall somewhere in the middle. By that logic, you determine your reality by setting the parameters for how it’s supposed to look in your eyes.

Start seeing grey, and the world becomes a whole lot more colorful.