Everybody Hurts


by Roxanne Tellier

Like many, I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since I was a young child. Poor old Joe Btfsplk, the Andy Capp character who lived under a cloud at all times, had nothing on me. I had an ulcer by the time I was ten years old, and toyed with the idea of suicide throughout my teens.  

Sadly, that’s not at all unusual. Right now, there are people all around you struggling with sadness and fear, and often those sufferers can’t really put a finger on why they feel like they do, or what they can do to stop feeling so miserable. Over 7% of people in North America admit to suffering from depression, and, amongst those in the 15-29 age range, suicide is the leading cause of death.

It’s the famous ‘Black Dog,” a state of depression characterized by a lack of will to do anything. A lack of dopamine stimulating pleasure centres of the brain. Anhedonia. Reduced motivation. A reduction of anticipatory pleasure (wanting), reduced consummatory pleasure (liking), and deficits in reinforcement learning. In short, a really unpleasant way to go through life.  

And yet – there’s still so much stigma around admitting that you have a mental health issue. It’s almost the last taboo. People will confess to murder or drug trafficking before they’ll admit they’re barely able to get out of bed – even to get more drugs.

For the last couple of decades, many of us have been told that our depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.  I understand why that happened – my hunch is that doctors and social scientists wanted to have some ‘real’ bogeyman to pin the tail on the depression donkey. But in truth, it’s a very, very small percentage of depressives that can be helped by treating a chemical imbalance. And yet, most doctors will first experiment on our poor brains, trying this or that drug, before looking to see if there could be some other explanation for this aching sadness.

Pills didn’t work for me. I tried more than a few, from the mildest to the heaviest. But once I realized that they weren’t helping, and that I could very well instead develop an addiction to them, to add to my other addictions, and thus create yet another reason to be depressed, I ditched the meds.

In truth, for many, depression and anxiety are not caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains. It is far more likely that we’re attempting to deal with crippling social issues that we cannot control or rise above. Situational depression is very often why we’re so scarily morose and unable to cope with life.

In a recent book called Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression & the Unexpected Solutions, award-winning journalist Johann Hari described how, after years of research, travel to countries with wildly different attitudes and treatments for depression, and after documenting multiple experiments, he uncovered nine real causes of depression and anxiety. That led him to scientists who are working on seven very different solutions, that appear to be having more success than the treatments used in the past.

His first epiphany came when he realized that every one of the social and psychological causes of depression and anxiety had something in common; they were all forms of disconnection. In each case, they were situations in which we feel cut off from something we innately need, but seemed to have lost in the course of our lives.

“We need to feel we belong to a group; we need to feel we have a stable future; we need to feel that we are valued; we need to feel we have meaning and purpose in our lives.”

While two of these causes are biological, the rest Johann discovered were related to social and personal disconnection.

The other causes of depression include:

  • Disconnection from others
  • Disconnection from childhood trauma
  • Disconnection from meaningful work
  • Disconnection from meaningful values
  • Disconnection from status
  • Disconnection from a hopeful future
  • Disconnection from nature

Mr. Hari describes nine solutions for resolving cultural disconnection, all of which involve social and cultural reconnection. By reconnecting with the most important pillars of our lives – what we consider our values, our purpose, and what work we consider meaningful, and by reaching out to our friends, families, and communities, we can improve our mental health, while elevating our relationship with, and hopes for, our futures.

Hari believes that the meaning of ‘antidepressant’ should be expanded from simply meaning a chemical antidepressant, to anything that makes people feel less depressed and anxious.

However, he cautions, “For something as devastating as depression—the worst thing I have ever been through—we need every strategy and tool on the table.”

In putting together this column, I looked up some current information on how Americans are handling the chaos of the trump administration. These figures show the past year’s prevalence of major depressive episode among U.S. adults aged 18 or older in 2017.

  • An estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 7.1% of all U.S. adults.
  • The prevalence of major depressive episode was higher among adult females (8.7%) compared to males (5.3%).
  • The prevalence of adults with a major depressive episode was highest among individuals aged 18-25 (13.1%).
  • The prevalence of major depressive episode was highest among adults reporting identifying as being of two or more races (11.3%).

North Americans are indeed experiencing more depressive episodes, in the last five years. It seems like the combination of politics and mental health is not … healthy.

The American Psychiatric Association reported that from 2016 to 2017, the proportion of adults who described themselves as more anxious than the previous year was 36 percent. In 2017, more than 17 million American adults had at least one major depressive episode, as did three million adolescents ages 12 to 17.Forty million adults now suffer from an anxiety disorder — nearly 20 percent of the adult population. (These are the known cases of depression and anxiety. The actual numbers must be dumbfounding.)

The really sorrowful reports concern suicide. Among all Americans, the suicide rate increased by 33 percent between 1999 and 2017.” (The New York Tmes, January 2020)

I dread seeing the figures for the years 2018—2020 when they are finally released. There has simply never been a harder time for many people, suffering under the multiple burdens of a global pandemic, a collapsing economy, a lack of equality, and a dawning recognition that the ‘normal’ we took for granted most of our lives, is really only beneficial to a small percentage of the population … and that doesn’t include you or me.

I highly recommend Lost Connections for anyone seeking to understand a little more about their own depression, and how to see, and understand, the ‘hurt’ so many of us live with on a daily basis. Kindness only kills when we deny it to ourselves and others.

Pick a Future, Any Future


surrounded by booksWhen I say that I am a voracious reader, I’m not exaggerating. In any given week I will get through about seven books, a slew of daily newspapers, and a bunch of junky magazines I drag home from the supermarket because I feel too guilty to just read them while standing in line to pay for my groceries.

And yes .. I’m a speed-reader. Always have been, just born that way. Most of my family are the same … speed-reading book junkies.

My tastes are catholic, and I routinely run the gamut between politics, humour, philosophy, current trends, and plain old fiction. I like mysteries and stories of alternate futures, worlds that might have been or are yet to come.

all our wrong todaysOne fascinating book that still has real estate in my brain is a terrific new novel called, “All Our Wrong Todays, ” by Elan Mastai, a Canadian screenwriter who lives in Toronto. Like every sci-fi movie or novel, the book presents another vision of what our future could or should look like.

In this case, Mastai asks us to hold two separate realities in our mind simultaneously, and see the beauty and the horrors in both. From the jacket,

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

     Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

     But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career and–maybe, just maybe–his soulmate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future–our future–is supposed to be.”

Since the book is set in current day Toronto, I sometimes realize I’m actually travelling on the streets referenced, half expecting to see Tom wandering by, struggling to find his place in this upside down world in which he’s found himself.

In the end, our hero comes to see that it is our every day actions and dreams that shape the future in which we find ourselves living. If you dream it, you can make it.

dystopian novelsWhile this book presents a fairly utopian future (that we j-u-s-t missed … ) the public’s interest in dystopian literature has been on the rise for .. oh, nearly two years now. It’s simply not possible to deny that the current reality of America’s highly partisan politics was postulated many years ago. Sales of books like It Can’t Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis,Brave New World (Aldous Huxley,) 1984 (George Orwell,) Ready Player One (Ernest Cline,) and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood have boomed with each new outrage and indignity unleashed in the United States.

These books provide us with some idea of what can happen to any nation when individuals with a taste for dictatorship manage to snow the people for long enough to step into power. By the fall of 2016, I was already saying that I felt like Poland nervously watching Germany in 1939. And yet, many still, even today, see nothing wrong with a national leader believing that the country over which they wield power, should be his personal property, run only by himself without dissent.

In 1990, attorney Mike Godwin came up with what was to become known as Godwin’s Law – the belief that, sooner or later, in any online argument, someone will bring up Hitler. It may be an inevitable consequence of free speech, and certainly is frequently used inappropriately, but by 2017, even Godwin said that Trump’s populist and fascistic campaign really did beg the comparison.

dystopia bookThe best dystopian novels are about characters like ourselves, whom we can cheer on through the worst times, and mourn when they suffer losses. We want to see how people react in the face of a world they have to navigate despite the viciousness of nature gone mad, or of all-powerful despots and their evil minions. The survivors are the rebels, the quick-witted, those who manage to turn a horrific society into a place where they can simply live without fear, against all odds.

They battle the commonplace as well as the absurd. In “Station Eleven,” Emily St. John Mandel‘s character faces a world decimated by what seems to be a mutation of the common cold.  In “The Age of Miracles,” Karen Thompson Walker‘s young heroine struggles to find meaning in a world where the sun has slowed, and the days become longer and longer.

Does our interest in alternate – and especially dystopic –  futures stem from an attempt to  control the outcomes? Act as a sort of “SciFi Survival 101” handbook to coping with the possible pitfalls which may arise?  Soothe our worries of how to live in our current reality by reading about futures impossibly worse?

I know that my dystopian readings alerted me early to where the Trump presidential campaign was headed, and what was likely to ensue if he was elected.

ciut bill kingIt’s funny – way back in October or November of 2016, pre-election, I was a guest on Bill King‘s radio show, along with Jane Harbury and Bob Segarini. I was asked if I thought Trump would win the election, and found myself the only person who thought it very likely to happen. Like Cassandra of legend, my predictions elicited only scorn. But I could see it and feel it, and I knew the world was about to change dramatically.

Sadly, I was right then, and can only hope that my other beliefs of how quickly and how tragically the U.S. will be damaged – perhaps to a point of no return – while the current administration tears down the nation, are exaggerated. Tho’ … I doubt it.

dystopian novels 2The sad truth is that the steady drip drip drip of horrific executive orders, ‘breaking news!‘ and the knowledge that the hands of the nuclear clock steadily move more surely to midnight, has already taken an enormous psychological toll on most thinking humans on the planet, leaving us more prone to mental and physical disorders.

Until the world feels a bit more like the grownups are in charge, I’ll keep devouring the novels that hold out at least a little hope for a brighter future, even if it’s only in fiction.

 

To Boldly Go …


Thintelligence: “The state of mind where a person does something without considering the consequences. The idea may seem brilliant at first, but the after-affects usually prove to be deadly. This phrase was invented by Michael Crichton in his 1990 book Jurassic Park.

JurassicPark glasses

“They don’t have intelligence. They have what I call ‘thintelligence.’ They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and call it ‘being focused.’ They don’t see the surround. They don’t see the consequences.”

While it might be possible to reanimate a dinosaur from it’s DNA, what real purpose would that serve in a world where a dinosaur would be just another endangered species?

Most of us are eager to jump on hot new technologies that promise to improve how we experience our lives, while rarely considering what the lasting effect might be on current technologies. The invention of the car put an end to all of the industries previously surrounding the care and comfort of horse drawn carriages. obsolete techDigital photography killed most of the industries that provided material to those who preferred film. Cassettes replaced vinyl, and then were themselves replaced by CDs.

If it’s new, it’s cool, and we can afford it … we want it. Now.

This is the world we have created, bit by bit, as we embrace what science and technology have helped to provide for our entertainment.

Without realizing it, and without ever technically agreeing to these changes, we have slowly awoken to a world that greatly differs from the world in which we once lived. Most of us just buy into whatever becomes the new standard. How we live within our world subtly alters, and we barely notice.

When I was a young woman, social contact with other people was my primary focus. When I couldn’t be with friends, I had a slew of hobbies to keep me busy. Now, I can’t remember when I last pursued any of those crafty pastimes.

And I honestly can’t remember ever being ‘bored.’ Oh, I’m sure there might have been an instance or two before I discovered boys and booze, but overall .. nope.

I don’t see friends nearly as often as I used to, these days, even though I probably have more free time now than I ever did then. It’s just so much easier and more convenient to keep in touch through social media.

That loss of face to face, hand to hand, contact has had an affect on how we see and treat others. We are quicker to make judgements about other people, for good or ill, and less empathetic to those outside of our social bubbles.

Those tiny steps from there to here were imperceptible. Those of us who now rely on a tablet sized phone to corral all of our communication and computing needs hardly remember the consumer uncertainty and fear that surrounded the advent of the first personal computers.

first pcEarly adapters eagerly coughed up the cost of a new car to have one of the ungainly machines in their home. But for the average consumer, it would be a good twenty years before a home computer became commonplace.

Today’s teens can’t remember a time when they weren’t tethered to their phones. They barely spare a thought for their ability to be in constant contact with anyone, anywhere in the world, and to the informational capability of their device.

UN human rightsIn fact, this access to knowledge has become so universally accepted that the United Nations have now decreed internet access human right, up there beside food, water, and freedom of speech.

Knowledge is Power.” At one time, only the educated and the rich had access to the amount of knowledge now available to every one of us with the desire to be taught, and an internet connection. From the most obscure bit of trivia to schematics for the creation of nearly every machine known to man, any one of us can be experts in as many fields as we wish to conquer.

Or we can watch funny videos of pets being shamed; it’s our choice.

The flip side of the process that lets us do price comparisons online is that it is the same means that allows terrorists, criminals, or sexual deviants, to find online communities filled with like minded, twisted, individuals, and gives them the freedom to access instructions for how to make bombs and other destructive weapons.

pros and consAnd the computer language that allows us to do our banking online is always under attack by those who would use computer made trojans and viruses as a way to steal our money and personal information.

This is the place where the future can be held hostage, in a struggle between the thintelligent and those who rightly wonder what horrors could potentially be unleashed by new technology.

Even the smallest of changes can impact directly on what our future will look like. You do, however, have to have an understanding of how fragile civilization can be, to see what devastation can occur when we fail to take into consideration the impermanence of our past achievements.

Those who would rather argue over who is responsible for climate change, rather than deal with the effects of that change, will suffer the consequences as horribly as those who can see that we have to alter how we treat the planet, or risk not surviving. Those who believe it’s better to put government and corporate resources into sucking out the last of the oil, wherever it can be found, and at a frightening cost to the planet’s ecology, are arch princes of thintelligence, unable to see the consequences of NOT buying into less aggressive and sustainable energy sources.

We are in a time of flux, just as we were when the first cars began to appear on the dirt roads, that would, in good time, become the highways we drive upon today. The biggest difference between the past and present is that we now communicate our words and thoughts much more rapidly. For some, this onslaught of possibilities is exciting; for others, a nightmare.

But we cannot halt the future. Those who vilify a good old daysworld that doesn’t resemble what they believe to have been better times, and who would tear down all that has gone before that doesn’t fit into their memories, be it governance or infrastructure, are naive, and dangerous.

Demolition may be exciting to watch, but the slow and back breaking labour necessary to rebuild can throw up roadblocks that may stymie future generations for decades.

And it takes a great deal more than bravado to create the future. Most of us simply don’t have the intelligence or ability to transform thoughts and words into architecture or proven science.

There’s a middle ground to be found and walked, one in which we honour what we have created, and look to the possibilities some visionaries have proposed. But always with a nod to the unforeseen consequences all change brings to the planet and it’s inhabitants.

Defining Down


no meat on FridaysI grew up in a time when single mothers were scorned, when people who ate meat on Friday went to purgatory, when interracial marriage was illegal in many parts of the United States … My husband’s mother married a black Bermudian, and most of her family refused to speak to her for years. There were few visible minorities.

Gays did not only have no option to marry, they were closeted and lucky if they kept their sexuality hidden, tormented by local bullies, or prosecuted under archaic laws against homosexuality if found in compromising positions.

But times have changed. Change happens because you care enough to make a difference, when enough like-minded people decide that the guiding principles they’ve been following either no longer make sense, or are plainly unjust.

It’s frustrating to watch how slowly organizations and governments move to make change. The people speak, and when their voices shake society’s pillars, those who control power acknowledge a possible problem. In order to defer action until it’s decided if the issue is good or bad for those in power, comObamaSignsBillprehensive studies are done, dragging out the questioning still longer. When finally a solution is presented, it’s inevitably a compromise that makes no one completely happy, but which we all hail as a step forward.

There are downsides and upsides to expediting change. While it’s frustrating to wait for the wheels of progress to turn, lore tells us that slow change would be of a “sober second thought.” But in a world that regularly examines and attempts advancements based on new ideas and technological advancements, a less cumbersome process allows opportunities for change that really matters. And if the change is not completely positive, swift movement to curb or perfect that change should occur.

defining deviancyFunny how we absorb change. In 1993, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an insightful paper on how American society has coped with massive social change. When deviant behaviours – from births to unmarried women, to violent crime, to a simple rejiggering of our attitudes towards pornography – reach a certain level, we soothe ourselves by “defining deviancy down.” By declaring these behaviours normal, we take the stigma and the sting out of the action.

iatrogenic govtHe had another theory, of “iatrogenic government.” This proposes that some social problems may have been inadvertently caused by government; for instance, the conservative contention that liberal policies produce a culture of dependency. (In the medical field, an iatrogenic ailment is one inadvertently induced by a physician or medicine.)

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Politics is an argument about the future.

By defining deviancy down, those who prefer to live peacefully are kept lulled by what they are told by authority figures. While they may sense a problem, they are easily soothed when a mainstream media assures them that this is the ‘new normal.’

When it comes to social mores, they can safely quote authorities who tell them not to worry about the stuffy old ways of thinking they learned from their parents and grandparents; that’s ‘fuddy-duddy thinking now. All the cool people know what’s really happening, and it’s all just fine.

storming the castleHowever, there are bigger issues at stake. There’s a surprising lack of dismay over economic numbers that would have given our recent ancestors cause to storm the Capital with pitchforks. Those numbers get massaged until the public can be assured that all is well, despite what they’re seeing with their own eyes.

In the United States, the passing of Citizens United completely changed any sense of a level playing field in a democratic government.

“The Citizen United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads andcitizensunited other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.” (http://www.publicintegrity.org/2012/10/18/11527/citizens-united-decision-and-why-it-matters)

Flash forward just five years, and we have the Koch Brothers, the 7th and 8th richest men in the world, vowing to spend nearly a billion dollars on whomever they’ve decided to back in the next Presidential election. citizensunited 2

Welcome to the oligarchy. Most democratic governments currently in power already appear to be hamstrung by those who have exchanged campaign funding for a say in government policies. Citizens United simply made the manipulation more visible.

(As Katty Kay, journalist and lead anchor of BBC World News America, recently  said, “The Democrats would do it too, if they could. She added, “It is only going to get worse… If I invested $10 million in an election, I would want a return on my investment. I would want to make sure there were votes on the floor.”)

Our cultural instinct is to find those who think like us, a society where we are safe from having to be responsible for caring for all around us, since it’s difficult enough to get through our busy lives. Exhausted at the end of the day, we don’t want to feel obliged to think very deeply about a myriad of issues, each more convoluted than the next.

Our media knows that, dutifully feeding us mere tidbits of real ‘news,’ and filling the rest of the air time with feel good stories and barely concealed infomercials for the products of advertisers who sponsor the show. choose responsibilityWe can choose from a variety of consumer goodies, but are given only a tiny menu of pre-approved opinions and positions on the things that really matter – like how our countries are being run.

Because if we choose, then we are responsible, are we not? Better to define deviance down, to live with a new normal we feel powerless against, than to choose to make changes that matter.