What depression really is … from someone who knows.

The other day I wrote a phrase/quote and posted it on my respective social media timelines. It got some attention because of the really apt imagery it evoked. But I wanted to talk about it more, because this is a thing most people don’t understand and probably one of the most often miscategorised afflictions of all time.

Here’s what I wrote:

Depression is like trying to climb up a muddy hillside. There’s no place to grip & you keep falling face down in sucking, cold mud.

I had to condense it down to less than 140 characters so it’d fit on Twitter too. But the whole thought as it initially started out was this:

It feels like trying to climb up a steep, muddy hillside. There’s no where to put your hands and feet and you keep falling back down into the muck and you’re covered head to toe in sticky, sucking, cold mud.

I thought it was some pretty powerful imagery. Cold, muddy, mucky, the inability to be really comfortable with yourself and your surroundings for no reason that you can discern. Furthermore, there is so very little you can do until you find the help you need. In this imagery, a ladder or a rope or simply a helping hand would work great …  if only you could get your hand on it.

The worst part about depression is that somehow you find yourself thinking you deserve to be sitting in that bloody mud. It’s pretty irrational, but something about how you view your life up to that point tells you that being in that mud is all the result of every decision you ever made up to that point and thus a perfectly justifiable position to be in.

Some of us are able to keep trying until we get out and those people think, “Well, if I can do it, anyone can.” Which is kind of a cop-out on empathy. There is no natural or unnatural law anywhere that makes us all the same and capable of the same things at the same levels of competence. You may think I am just as smart as you are and thus able to accomplish the same things, but that isn’t true. We are individual people capable of different things. And being depressed – chronically now, not just feeling blue today – means we just want to lay down in that mud and say, “I’ll try again tomorrow … maybe” because it is truly exhausting have to keep trying to climb out day in, day out.

 

On echo chambers and the stark contrasts that exist among them

I think I sit in a particularly advantageous position of straddling several different cultures and ideologies because of the friends I have on my many social media contact lists. For some reason, I have collected a most diverse group of friends.

Facebook provides the most of this experience because of the nature of Facebook sharing. As a sampling of all the different people on my list, there’s the ultra conservatives (whose posts I have to go searching for because they don’t show up in my news feed – damn that filter bubble), and the staunch liberals, and there are the Jamaicans and the other Caribbeanites, then I have the Europeans (who I also have to go seeking their posts out separately too – probably Facebook’s annoying geographic filtering at work), and the Asians (same – have to seek their posts out) … and then national and political sectioning aside, I see the women and the men, the non-whites and the whites, the religious and the not-so-religious, and the downright irreligious … the point I am trying to make is that there are so many different people in my friends lists that I get to see all different perspectives play out on social media and it is fascinating. Especially when I have these visceral reactions to the things they post. That is usually a signal to me that I need to work on something internally.

One of the ways I know that my list is so diverse is when I see something pop up in my news feed that is just completely outside the rest of things on my feed (… one of these things is not like the other …) and I think, “Well, that kind of doesn’t fit in with the general flow of things”. And then I realise that on their feed, that is likely a post that fits right in. And right there is the whole “oh-shit” moment when I realise just how much of an echo chamber our news feeds can be. If we don’t hear the voices of those outside our general circles, we don’t realise just how insulated we are from the rest of the world. I mean, there’s so much happening elsewhere in the world and we often forget (or can’t handle it) because we are so embroiled in what’s happening within our circle.

I like to seek out as much of the different chambers as I can to get a better feel of what it’s like in someone else’s chamber. I like to keep myself reminded that my world is small and closeted and that there is a whole other world out there to partake of. One that doesn’t resemble my world in any way, shape, or form. It’s humbling and grounding. And something I would highly recommend to anyone.

Trevor Noah is slated to be the new Daily Show host, yeah.

I have this feeling that it’s all a big April Fool’s Joke and that Jon is going to tell us in a week or two that it was all a big joke and Trevor is just simply joining their staff as a regular “correspondent”. I don’t know why that is. All I know that after watching his routine on Netflix, that surreality is a bit stronger. Why? Let me tell you …

Two things struck me as I watched him: (1) that he seemed very uncomfortable in front of the audience; almost amateurish and inexperienced; and (2) that his routine seems overly obsessed with race in America. That he is inexperienced is probably true. His Wikipedia page states that he’s met with considerable success in other countries but that he is still quite new on the US circuit. That feeling of inexperience is likely to smooth out over the course of time as he gets a feel of what US audiences like and don’t like.

There has been much controversy surrounding his being named Jon successor. At first it was all about the fat jokes and the Jew jokes; and now there are those atheist jokes. And they all seem to have fallen so hard they fell through several floors before falling flat … assuming they were jokes at all. I notice that the first horror at his Twitter timeline was over the fat jokes and Jew jokes and the fact that he could make such ambiguous statements (because we still aren’t sure they are not jokes) about a marginalised group. It took a whole 2 days before I saw that the atheists also have bones to pick with him over statements made in the wake of Christopher Hitchens passing that were also ambiguously offensive (because those are also supposed to be jokes too although one wonders … but I digress). Atheists are also a marginalised group, but that they were left out of the initial outrage speaks volumes about our individual perspectives. I wonder how many other groups have been targeted by his so-called jokes but went unnoticed because those groups are so invisible that no one notices when they are being targeted?

Perspective is a hell of an equaliser. Take his race-centric routine. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to make a reference to how the US has traditionally handled race issues and what impact those ways have on his experiences here. He is from South Africa where race has always been a high stakes issue. He was born into a racial divide that personifies racism. In spite of his experiences at home in South Africa, the issue of race in the US is very confusing to him and he works it out in his comedy routine. The thing is, US Americans claim that this is a post-racial society. But those of us coming from outside think that is the most oblivious statement ever. The US is more embroiled in racial issues than they ever have been because now the racism is no longer obvious and on the individual “you stay over there” level. It’s in the system and the tiny little biases no one is even aware they have until they call an 18 year old man a demon (and sometimes even then they don’t realise it).

If nothing else, Noah will be good for this so-called “post-racial” society because he can shine some light into places most US Americans don’t even know exist. It’s the same place I find myself in. They say you never see yourself more clearly than when someone tells you how you look. (I don’t know who said that. I just pulled that out of my ass. It sounded good at the time. Sue me.) Noah and others like him bring a perspective that the US ought to welcome. Even if you don’t see his perspective as being unquestionably neutral, you can at least see it as bringing contrasts to a situation that has too long been seen in insular ways.

And to those who wonder whether he can be trusted with our national media spotlight, I say he will be good for some issues. His thoughts and opinions on fat people, or Jews, or religious/irreligious may be controversial, but we can’t expect him to be perfect. And he will be very good for the discussion on race – which is a discussion that still needs to happen. Maybe even more so than the fat, Jew, religious ones because those are already happening. The one on race isn’t. At least not in ways that it needs to.

 

A little musing on “Crucial Conversations”

I’m reading a book that I was introduced to during my 40-hour mediation training in late-January. The book addresses some very important aspects of conversation that have been haunting me for near 6 years. It has always fascinated me that human beings are gifted with the ability to speak, yet we almost are never able to have a conversation that yields useful results. That may sound ridiculous to you being that you have conversations everyday … but think about the last time you had a serious conversation with anyone and tell me whether you came away from it feeling completely satisfied or whether there was this slight to urgent feeling of not quite having addressed everything in one sitting. If you can tell me “Sure I came away satisfied!”, then let’s talk. There is clearly something you’re doing right and I want to know what it is.

It shouldn’t be surprising to me that I ended up in the fields of communication and conflict resolution (if even on a volunteer basis). There are aspects of communication that have always been of concern for me. Even if I had a peripheral interest before, after moving here to the US that interest has grown into the forefront of my thoughts. And most specifically on how conversation happens around “race” which is a topic I never had occasion or need to discuss before moving to this country. “Race” is a gargantuan issue in the US – in spite of what people might tell you, the issue of how people who look different is a central and underlying aspect of every single interaction. Many of you will disagree and many more will nod and say to themselves “Amen sister!”. To those who disagree, here’s a thought: if even one person in a room think it’s too cold in that room, then there is a conversation to be had around temperature; if even just to acknowledge that Yes, they are less tolerable of cooler temperatures than anyone else in the room.

So anyway – back to that book I started talking about … it’s called “Crucial Conversations” and in short, it takes us on a journey through conversations that have a tendency to turn bad quickly and without notice just based on the fact that each participant has high stakes on the outcome of that conversation. And when we say “high stakes” we just mean that each participant wants to be heard and understood, each participant feels their point or points are integral to the progression of said conversation on race, or that without their perspective there is no conversation to be had. Right or wrong, everyone has the right to be heard and this book helps us understand how we can keep those high stakes conversations moving forward without rage and recriminations that inevitably derail the whole effort.

I can’t wait to finish it. I wish I was less distracted by other pursuits (cough World of Warcraft cough) such as the job search and whatnot … but I’ll get there – I know I will; I have to because it will certainly help me become a better mediator.

Because oh yeah – that is still a thing. I am working on my exam (well, sort of – haven’t touched it in a week or two because distractions and illness) and I am hoping to start on my practicum real soon. More on that later … in the meantime I heartily recommend that if you find yourself in discussions that turn ugly real fast over key issue, “Crucial Conversations” is an important book to have read. Trust me; go get it and read it.

 

Curious ways in which we use language

I am fascinated by the manner in which language meanings drift and change hue over time. The intellectuals among you might know this because you have often argued with people over the meaning of a word that has had its meaning change with the generations. My father and I often had discussions where he would tease me about how my generation described something utterly fabulous as “wicked“. It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s happened with just about every generation since we started forming words to communicate with one another.

This morning, one phrase kept gnawing at me because it seems a rather innocuous phrase but is said with such disdain that I had to google the term. “American exceptionalism” is a term that is used quite derisively these days. According to Wikipedia, the term started out very positively. It was used to describe the attitudes and approaches of the new nation of the United States – particularly in the early 1920s – and encompassed the concepts of “liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy, and laissez-faire”. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there are several contradictory terms in that summation. Can one be egalitarian and still hold to the tenets of individualism? But that is a side issue and not the one I am attempting to make here.

Wikipedia goes on to say that the term has become, in the late 20th and 21st century, far more derisive and used to describe the “neoconservatism” that began to rise in that period. That it now is used to describe the notion that is “less concerned with justifying American uniqueness than with asserting its immunity to international law”.

Overall, the whole thing reminds me of something my mother drilled into me (and still preaches about even today). “Everything in moderation” she always said. And she said it a lot. It seems to me based on the descriptions that in the beginning it was a positive reinforcement and support mechanism but that it was taken so far that it became an emblem of superiority. Of course, that’s my interpretation. I am sure the term means many things to many different people.

The point is, though, that a significant part of communication well with each other is the conscious recognition that the words we use when we speak have the potential to mean entirely different things to different people. Thus, the interpretation of our words is largely coloured based on their own perspectives and world-view. There really is no black and white. It is all shades of grey.

Where have I heard that before …

Just a thought or two today …

I really need to start blogging again regularly. You never realise just how much you’re slacking until you make one post you really want people to see and comment on and no one does. And you realise that part of the reason is because you haven’t blogged in so long that everyone who used to stop by have just stopped because you’ve stopped writing.

Yes – I was particularly proud of yesterday’s post because it signalled to me the return of what I thought to have been my completely stagnated creativity. A couple of people have said to me that that is what school does. It stifles creativity. One person went as far as to explain that school forces you to think in one way, and when you’re used to thinking in one or several other ways, it serves to stifle the voice you once had. I want to believe it … it would explain why I’ve felt like an empty bucket for the last year or two.

Anyway … one of the thoughts I had this morning is how utterly alone I am in this country because no one I know seems to have any grasp on how things actually work in this country. People just tend to believe what they hear without question. It angers me. I want to have a drove of people I can turn to and ask “Hey … this seems this way to me. Is that how it really works?” Back home, there were several sage individuals amongst the masses to whom I could turn and ask that question. It was mostly as a result of having grown up there and made friends of friends and friends of parents over the years, gathering a community of expertise and skills and talents into my extended family. I haven’t had that kind of opportunity here.

Another thought I had upon awakening is how much the military community is lacking for people who are really in need. Oh yes your neighbour is a good person to call on if you want to talk or share recipes. But when you’re sick and you don’t want to ask strangers for help, would rather ask close friends to help because of the sensitivity of the situation, you are completely and utterly fucked. Military service? It’s isolating. It isn’t as welcoming and tight knit as they want it to be. It can’t be. There are far too many differing personalities and world-views coming together in one place to give the sense of security and family most of have grown accustomed to over the course of our lives.

And even more especially for those of us from the Caribbean with an immensely strong sense of community.

On a positive note, some of you may not have heard this yet: last week I completed the 40-hour professional mediation training. :) Not yet a professional mediator; that takes practice and after I am done with an exam, I will enter into the practicum to become certified. But that training is a milestone – one I have been looking forward to for almost a year. :) So congratulations to me!

What abuse looks like

I was awakened violently out of sleep very early this morning. I’d say around 4 or 5am? Why? I was dreaming of a woman married to a rich man, who had produced a baby girl for him but was subsequently ignored and sidelined by him. It was one of my vivid dreams in which I was actually in the dream, feeling, seeing, hearing, experiencing. Visceral is a nice word for this kind of dreaming … the word visceral echoes in my lower abdomen and really prompts the feels … if you know what I mean. Still, in this dream, this woman makes the decision to leave this man and take with her the clothes on her back, the money in her purse, and an old car he had once purchased for her. His response was to hire the most popular and competent lawyer in Jamaica he could find (of course it had to be a Jamaican scene – what else would it be?), which ironically turns out to be a woman (go figure!) to wring every last penny she has out of her and essentially leave her and his daughter with nothing. The dream ends abruptly as the community begins to rally around her, volunteer lawyers and counsellors in droves, with offers of beds and flats incoming by the millions. Because … that’s obviously wrong of him. Isn’t it? The real irony is that this happens all the time. We don’t see it because the women are not physically hurt, and a lot of them are stoic in their suffering. But do we really know what abuse looks like? And can we really stand in judgement over those it hurts?

This is the resulting poem that I literally vomited out as a result of that dream:

Abuse is subtle in the ways it crushes us
It lurks in the details
Abuse is not always a bruise or an unkind word
Abuse can sit in the shadows
Quietly breaking foundations
Abuse is when a man tells a woman her worries and concerns are less than his
Abuse is when a woman expects her man to stand up beside and for her
But instead he stands in front of and on top of her
Abuse is neglect
It is being ignored
Is it being valued less than others
It never looks the same
When you look directly at it
It shifts and curdles in the darkness
Abuse is silent, deadly, and very often hidden
If you’re on the outside looking in
Don’t pretend you know
Hold out your hand
And lift them up and out
Not help keep them down
Listen, don’t speak.
Abuse withers when confronted
And signals powerful allies with wealth
And violence with poverty
Just because you can see sometimes
Doesn’t make it always visible
It is the in the subtle ways we claim ownership of others bodies or time
And the excuses we make as a result.