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.

Is That You, Rona?


by Roxanne Tellier

Funny, I always thought that I’d get so much more done. Whenever I felt like I just couldn’t keep up with all of the richness and offerings of modern life, I’d mutter to myself…

“If only time would stop – just for a day or two – and let me catch up on all of this watching, reading, and writing!”

So here it is, and guess what I’ve been doing? Lying on my bed, watching YouTube, playing games on the tablet, and spending quality time with the cats. Between naps.

I have 24 library books here to be read and used for the three major projects I’m working on, but I’ve not opened one of them. Instead I’m storming through my stack of paperback novels, the pulpier the better.  Occasionally I feel guilty about not working on those weighty projects, but then I tell myself that I just can’t possibly start yet, not without that one other book that was on its way before the library so abruptly closed. 

I keep busy, no question. And I spend a lot of time wondering if I’m sneezing because of allergies, or because of the coronavirus.

I’ve also been doing daily stealth assaults on my local big box grocery stores. I’ll go very early, hoping to run in and out again without any physical contact. From the beginning, I’ve assumed our isolation could get well beyond two or three weeks, and have foraged accordingly. The shelves are full, you can’t squeeze one more item into the freezer, and I think I’m even good on fresh produce, at least for a while. I’m the daughter of a prepper – I was born knowing how to stockpile the essentials.

Which is a good thing, because on my last foray to FreshCo, there was nary an egg to be found, nor a bag of pasta representing. Panic in aisle 3.

(In my own defense – I HAD to do the shopping. If I left the hunter gathering up to the hubby, we’d be trying to divvy up a package of sliced processed cheese, a jar of peanut butter, and a loaf of raisin bread.)

Anyway, I think I’m good. I think we can now pass another couple of weeks without having to resort to UberEats or the like. Based on how the stock market plunged last week, not sure if we could afford UberEats anyway.  

For all that, for all of the inconvenience, for all of the upset and the crippling uncertainty of our futures, we’re actually doing pretty good, compared to others. Sure, I’m missing a library book or two that I really wanted to read, but luckily, I wasn’t in the middle of some government tug of war over my income or a missing passport. I’m not dependent on any addictive substances. I’m not waiting for some obscure medication to arrive from some far-off land. Heck, I’m not even waiting on anything from Amazon right now!

Although we worry about our families, and our friends who are vulnerable, we’re stocked up, we’re relatively healthy, we’ve got each other and our cats, and life could be a heck of a lot worse … and is, for many, all over the world.

At this point, all we’re really being asked to do is to stay home and not spread a disease. The Greatest Generation stormed a beach in Normandy – we’re being asked to Netflix and chill.

This is our chance to be unsung heroes, by just staying home and not actively harming other people. We’ve got this.

I worry about those who rely on convening in groups to deal with mental and health issues. So many people who are struggling to survive without drugs or drink, or who are depending on other people sharing helpful words and kindness are suddenly being thrown into close quarters, confronting their demons by themselves under highly unusual circumstances.

However, there’s a bright side. For once, this enforced solitude and curtailment of our usual mad rush through the days is allowing us to actually have time to do some things that we might just brush over normally. We’ve got more time to listen, and to think. We also have the option to be the ‘helper’ in our world; some have been offering to help those who can’t leave their house. Others have been sharing their creative output.

It turns out that musicians, artists, and creatives are far more important that was previously thought

This is a great time for those who have something entertaining to share to get their work out before a larger and more receptive audience than usual. We’ve got a lot of time on our hands. And look! There are people writing poetry, short stories and novels, and sharing their work for free or a minimal price! There are musicians giving free house concerts on Facebook!  Sure, there will always be meanies who choose profiteering over sharing, but the good people who just want to be a part of a bigger community far outnumber the bad guys.

The government is also really trying to do it’s best to try and help every citizen survive, even as we shelter in place. Beyond that, some companies are going beyond the minimum, in an effort to soothe the pain.

The United Nations declared internet access a basic human right in 2016, saying that all people must be able to access the internet freely. All well and good in principle, but far too many people can’t afford full internet access in Canada, which has one of the highest cost structures in the world. The good news is, nearly all Canadian internet service providers are suspending data caps and allowing freer wi-fi on their home internet plans right now. And Rogers has made all of its cable channels free to watch.  

In both Canada and the US, the government is preparing to spend trillions to keep the economy going. There are plans to ensure a temporary form of Basic Income for all taxpaying Canadians – a good first step in addressing some of our country’s inequalities. The most vulnerable need to be protected. We need to stop the shutoffs of electricity, water, internet that some predatory institutions may attempt. Mostly, we need to spend this money – the nation’s money – on infrastructure and in helping our people survive.

But they’re also talking about using billions and even trillions to prop up businesses that might be best left to fail. The hotel business, cruise lines, airlines, gambling,  – these are not necessities, they are extravagances. 

I worry that we will follow the ragged script left over from 2008, and once again patch up the buggy whip companies that have survived only by bailouts. People should be demanding that this money be spent on healthier, greener choices. If not now, when?

Times change. People change. Even those who continue to say that humans are not responsible for climate change must have seen what has been happening to the planet since we got out of Nature’s way. Cleaner air and water happen when we’re not inserting ourselves into the natural world, with our needs and our garbage. 

Yeah, when it’s all over, we could all be in clover, as Van the Man once said.  All we have to do is spend our time and our “Blue Money” wisely.

It will be worth all of the pain if we can come out of this crisis a better planet.