Leave Jake Lloyd alone: We need compassion for mental illness, not snark

Published: Salon (April 11, 2016)

Life wasn’t easy for Jake Lloyd after his starring role in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” As anyone who went to the movies in 1999 will recall, his subpar performance was frequently singled out as a major weakness in a film that was hardly lacking in shortcomings. Lloyd has even discussed how the bullying he received from other kids ultimately turned him off acting for good.

Now Lloyd has been hospitalized for schizophrenia following a ten-month stint in jail, which occurred after he led South Carolina police on a high-speech car chase last June. Predictably, a great deal of the reaction from the Internet has ranged from unsympathetic to downright cruel. “Dude looks like straight sith material. Do not let him out” posted one reader at TMZ. A commenter on Inquirer wrote “too much metaclorian [sic] in blood, bad for the brain.” On Global News, a Star Wars fan snarkily joked that “someone probably showed him Phantom Menace.”

While it’s tempting to chalk this up to the sociopathy that seems to contaminate nerd culture these days (see: Star Wars fans complaining that George Lucas “raped their childhood” or the toxic misogyny brewing in Gamergate), there is a deeper issue at play here. Even though our society is appropriately sympathetic to celebrities who develop serious physical illnesses, we continue to ridicule the ones whose sicknesses are psychological in nature. Despite living at a time when scientific progress has made it clear that mental illnesses are no less preventable than many physiological counterparts, the stigma surrounding these disorders remains – and it is particularly evident in how we respond to celebrities who have them.

Take Amanda Bynes, who became the butt of late-night jokes and online barbs alike during her widely-publicized mental breakdown in 2014. Even though she was officially diagnosed as bipolar and manic depressive, the cultural consensus seemed to be that her condition was an acceptable reason to mock her. “I often hear people throwing around the term ‘Bipolar’ as if it were a personality trait like funny, mean or serious. It is a disease, and it needs to be respected as a disease,” explained Dr. Karen Latimer on AOL News at the time. “Imagine a celebrity, like Amanda Bynes, who has breast cancer. Now imagine, she is unwittingly caught on camera in an unflattering picture with a bald head exposed. Almost everyone with a conscious would find the publication of the photo distasteful.”

A similar point could be made about Charlie Sheen. Of course, unlike Lloyd and Bynes, Sheen has behaved in ways that are without question morally repugnant (a long history of domestic violence, issuing death threats), but for much of 2011 the media lapped up every salacious detail of a downward spiral that was clearly fueled by mental illness and drug addiction. The public wasn’t condemning him for the harm he had done others (which would have been understandable), but laughing at him for his mentally unhinged rants about possessing “tiger blood” or declaring that he was “winning.” Oddly enough, the most appropriate condemnation of this trend came from late-night comedian Craig Ferguson, who explained that he was uncomfortable poking fun at Sheen because it reminded him of the days when Bedlam Royal Hospital in London would charge a penny for spectators to gawk at the so-called ‘lunatics.’ “I think people look at that now and think, ‘Gosh, people were heartless and cruel back then,’” Ferguson commented at the time, “I don’t think they were heartless and cruel. They just didn’t know that mental illness isn’t funny.”

Despite the passage of more than three centuries, our attitudes seem to have only gotten slightly better. Whether we collectively accept this or not, the brain is an organ like any other part of the human body; as such, it is capable of getting sick and requiring medical attention. Just because a celebrity like Jake Lloyd, Amanda Bynes, or Charlie Sheen seems to have the wealth and fame necessary to treat these conditions, that doesn’t mean that they are capable of doing so – and, if the long list of high-profile meltdowns from public figures is any indication, very often they aren’t. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if one of the reasons celebrities don’t seek the help they need is because they know there is a stigma attached to mental illness. If Lloyd had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, the likelihood is that his plight would have been received sympathetically. It’s easy to imagine that – knowing how  a mental health problem will be greeted as shameful and deserving of ridicule – famous men and women might feel especially compelled to conceal them from the public, or deny their reality to themselves.

While individuals like Jake Lloyd may be the most high profile victims of these cultural attitudes, everyone who struggles with mental health problems winds up suffering as a result. If we want to truly progress as a society, we need to recognize that laughing at mental illness is as deplorable as mocking someone with AIDS or cancer or Parkinson’s Disease or any other physical ailment. We are better than this— or, at the very least, we should be.

From the Minds of Babes: We Must Take Depression Seriously

Published: The Good Men Project (December 17, 2015)

Do you want to read an observation about depression that is, well, depressing? I turn to a recent comment by Dr. Joan Luby, the director of the Early Emotional Development Program at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis:

“Nobody believed preschoolers could get depressed. People generally assumed children under the age of six were too developmentally immature to experience the core emotions of depression. I am not sure the zeitgeist has changed as dramatically is it probably should, given the data that’s available.”

In fact, as the Time Magazine article that interviewed Dr. Luby clearly demonstrates, it behooves Americans to take early childhood depression much more seriously. Scientific studies have proved that kids as young as three can have major depression, and when they do, the cortical gray matter in their brains that regulate emotions undergo unique changes. “Brain imaging showed that the children with depression lost more volume and thickness of their cortical gray matter as time went on than the kids without depression,” explains reporter Alexandra Sifferlin, noting Dr. Luby’s discovery that 3-to-5 year olds who had been diagnosed with depression were more than twice as likely to exhibit symptoms of depression through middle school… and, I would personally argue, throughout the rest of their lives.

From there Dr. Luby goes on to explain that “there has not been enough research into how to effectively treat the disorder” and advocates a form of therapy that she developed (called Parent Child Interaction Therapy – Emotion Development) to help children who are depressed. While I don’t doubt that her observations about current treatment options are accurate, and lack enough information about PCIT-ED to assess whether it works or not, I can’t help but wonder… To what extent could this problem be effectively addressed if we actually listened to children when they tell us how they feel?

Let me explain what I mean with a personal story. Back when I was seven, I first began to notice that other children in school mistreated me because I was “different.” At the time, neither my parents nor anyone else in my immediate environment knew about Asperger’s Syndrome (to say nothing of the possibility that I had it), but they did know that other kids bullied and rejected me on a regular basis. What’s more, I remember the very specific words I used to explain why this bothered me – namely, that even when I wasn’t being ridiculed by the popular kids or told that I had no friends, “I always feel like people are picking on me.”

Even though I had no concept of depression or social anxiety disorders at that time, in retrospect I was clearly warning the adults around me that the misery I felt when I was being actively bullied continued to linger long after the individual acts of mistreatment had subsided. Although I wasn’t articulate enough to explain this beyond simply stating that I always felt picked on, I’m surprised and dismayed that I don’t recall a single adult in my environment taking me seriously on my own terms. This isn’t because I don’t remember how they responded at all; in fact, I have countless memories of being told to “just ignore it” whenever I opened up to an authority figure about what I was experiencing and how it made me feel.

None of this is meant to simplify the problem of depression or dismiss the suggestions made by Dr. Luby. This is a complicated issue that transcends easy understanding, and it would be irresponsible of me to imply otherwise. At the same time, I can write this article as an adult who – for quite literally as long as he can remember – has suffered from depression and anxiety because the people who had a responsibility to listen to him chose not to. It’s hard for me to avoid the conclusion that, if they had only taken me seriously when I told them how I felt at the time, my brain would be structurally different than it is today… and that I might be happier as a result.

If we actually care about our children and want to avoid repeating the previous generation’s mistakes, this is our cue that we must start listening to them.

On Autism and Loneliness

Published: The Good Men Project (November 12, 2015)

I recently discovered some lyrics from a Beatles song that resonated so strongly with me that I needed to include them here.

Courtesy of “Eleanor Rigby”:

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

For a moment, I’d like to focus on the last three verses. When you are on the autism spectrum, you struggle to comprehend people’s facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal forms of communication. Indeed, even when language is directly involved, those of us with Asperger’s Syndrome still find it difficult to both comprehend what is being conveyed to us and respond to that information correctly.

Although I’ve heard “Eleanor Rigby” several times, the deeper implications of its story didn’t sink in until now. When Paul McCartney wrote about “the face that she keeps in a jar by the door,” he was talking about her inability to both communicate and be understood by others. Because we use our faces to communicate to others, the fact that Rigby keeps her face “in a jar by the door” means that she can’t/won’t develop those connections. Similarly, because others aren’t able/willing to read any messages she may try to send it out, McCartney rhetorically asks why she should bother keeping her face at all – i.e., who is it for?

Just as “Eleanor Rigby” contains a great metaphor for living with autism, so too does it include the perfect lesson everyone can draw from our experiences.

All the lonely people,
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people,
Where do they all belong?

I can answer this question for some of the lonely people – i.e., they “come from” the mistreatment that is regularly heaped on non-neurotypicals by our society, largely because we have yet to widely accept that they don’t deserve it on some level. That said, this doesn’t apply to all of the lonely people, or for that matter even a majority of them. There are millions if not billions of us out there, and we all belong in the same place: With the rest of you.

Hence the lesson that I take away from “Eleanor Rigby.” The world is filled with lonely people, suffering in emotional or even physical solitude for reasons beyond their control, and their only hope is that others will take the time to learn about, empathize with, and ultimately make meaningful efforts to address their plight. This may be a message that applies superficially to Asperger’s Syndrome, but on a deeper level it pertains to everyone.

This is my musing of the day.

An Asperger’s Bill of Rights

Published: Asperger’s 101 (October 2, 2015)

If you are a High Functioning Autistic (HFA), the odds are troublingly high that you also suffer from some form of depression.

As someone who suffers from depression myself, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how to find happiness when you struggle with the burdens of having an autistic brain. One possibility for the prevalence of depression in autistic brains is that HFAs, for reasons distinct to their neurological condition, are innately more likely to feel depressed.

My sense, though, is that we tend to be depressed because life is difficult for us in ways that are somewhat different from the experiences of the Neurologically Typical (a satirical term for non-HFAs). As such, any discussion of why HFAs tend to be depressed must be approached as a social justice issue, with a clear statement of ethical axioms that, if followed, would help HFAs and non-HFAs alike.

Note: This article refers to Asperger’s Syndrome by its clinical term, high-functioning autism. It is meant to be distinguished from more severe forms of autism. For a description of Asperger’s from the author, click here.

  1. We have the right to not be harassed or criticized for behavior that – though seemingly strange, absurd, or even obnoxious – isn’t harming anyone. When people bother others in this way, it is a form of discrimination.

Every HFA has them – a plethora of stories in which they were embarrassed, mildly or worse, in a social setting because they’ve behaved oddly (I discuss some of mine here). Feelings of rejection inevitably even drive a disproportionate number of HFAs toward suicidal thoughts, and one major step toward solving this problem is spreading tolerance toward atypical neurological behavior (my twin sister always hated the word “tolerance,” but it’s appropriate here).

Most of the stories I’ve heard of HFAs being embarrassed, ridiculed, or unduly criticized are over offenses that didn’t really harm anybody, so the standard should be this: If you see someone behaving abnormally, but they aren’t harming anyone, recognize that they probably are on a psychological spectrum (autistic or otherwise) and are simply making their way through life, just like you. If you’re unwilling to do that – if you feel the need to judge, mock, or harass the other person – then the social stigma should fall on you.

  1. We have the right to be taken seriously when we are forthright about our condition.

When you’re an HFA, you will regularly hear people express surprise or even doubt that you’re really on the spectrum. Some inevitably notice, of course, but those who don’t usually fall into two camps – they either flat-out disbelieve that you are autistic (usually with the implication that you’re trying to get away with something) or are impressed at how you don’t come across as having Asperger’s at all.

Both of these reactions are rooted in exaggerated misconceptions about how autism makes you behave, whether it’s the nerd caricatures on “Big Bang Theory” or Oscar-winning films like “Rain Man.” In fact, autism can manifest itself in a number of ways, and HFAs often receive years of therapy learning how to develop social and self-sufficiency skills so they can be functional.

  1. We are still accountable for our actions when they harm others.

Let’s face it: Being HFA doesn’t just make you particularly prone to be hurt, but also prone to hurt others. Very often it’s unintentional (although HFAs are certainly as capable of malice as anyone), but nevertheless HFAs are frequently perceived as arrogant, cold, or mean-spirited because of their insensitivity to other people’s emotional needs. As mentioned in Point #1, this shouldn’t be problematic so long as they aren’t offending, upsetting, or otherwise hurting anyone; that said, when those things happen, HFAs shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it simply because of our condition. We deserve the benefit of the doubt in terms of our intentions and the opportunity to explain ourselves – which, frankly, should be the case for everyone – but as long as we are informed of the situation in direct, unambiguous language, we should (and deserve the right to be) held responsible like anyone else.

In the documentary Aspie Seeks Love, the goal of David B. Matthews (the titular HFA) is, in his own words, to find “someone to converse with, someone with whom to share my life.” Although he meant this in terms of falling in love (which HFAs do just as romantically, and painfully, as the Neurologically Typical), his words speak to a broader truth as well. In the end, HFAs simply want to be able to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the rest of the world – from friends, family, and loved ones to casual strangers – as we see many (though by no means all) non-HFAs doing. Right now there are a lot of lonely HFAs out there because it is difficult for us to do that… and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Oliver Sacks’ brilliant & essential lesson: What the legendary science writer taught us about politics & the human mind

Published: Salon (August 31, 2015)

“We normals — aided, doubtless, by our wish to be fooled, were indeed well and truly fooled… And so cunningly was deceptive word-use combined with deceptive tone, that only the brain-damaged remained intact, undeceived.

So wrote neurologist Oliver Sacks at the conclusion of “The President’s Speech,” a chapter from “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” his classic book chronicling the fascinating stories he encountered throughout his work in neuroscience.

Sacks, who died yesterday at the age of 82, was renowned not only as a brilliant scholar of the human brain and nervous system, but also as a doctor of extraordinary compassion. Instead of simply viewing the mentally and neurologically ill as sick people in need of a cure, Sacks recognized that their unique perspective on reality often helped them arrive at valuable insights that eluded the “normals.”

In “The President’s Speech,” Sacks described the “roar of laughter” that emerged from a hospital ward that was housing patients with aphasia — a collection of language disorders generally characterized by a severe difficulty or downright inability to understand words — as they listened to a speech being delivered by Ronald Reagan. “Some looked bewildered, some looked outraged, one or two looked apprehensive, but most looked amused,” Sacks wrote.

Although the patients struggled to comprehend the verbal content of the president’s oratory, “natural speech,” as Sacks explained, “does not consist of words alone. It consists of utterance – an uttering-forth of one’s whole meaning with one’s whole being – the understanding of which involves infinitely more than mere word-recognition.” Because the aphasia patients weren’t distracted by the rhetoric and theatricality of Reagan’s address, the subtle nonverbal information that eluded most of his listeners was particularly pronounced among the aphasiacs. “Thus the feeling I sometimes have,” Sacks wrote, “that one cannot lie to an aphasiac. He cannot grasp your words, and so cannot be deceived by them; but what he grasps he grasps with infallible precision, namely the expression that goes with the words, that total, spontaneous, involuntary expressiveness which can never be simulated or faked, as words alone can, all too easily.”

In Reagan’s case, the patients were not impressed.

The most obvious lesson here is that, although democracies depend on the good judgment of voters in order to survive, the electorate is too easily duped by cheap parlor tricks. While Reagan happened to be a conservative, this is most likely true everywhere on the political spectrum. Thanks to the advent of mass media like radio, television, and the Internet, any politician who wants to win in a large-scale election needs to have charisma, gravitas, an intangible “it” quality — all of which have nothing to do with their policies and everything to do with the intuition of the voters who listen to them. Ideally, these gut reactions would be infallible; the reality, of course, is that we are easily misled by deft performances, mistaking the superficial show of leadership for the real thing.

On a deeper level, though, Sacks’ experience at the aphasia ward reminds us that the so-called psychologically “abnormal” have an important role to play in our political life. When we think of outsiders, our minds tend to wander toward business leaders, famous entertainers, and fringe political activists peddling non-mainstream ideologies. Yet in the truest sense of the term, none of these individuals are actual outsiders; by sheer virtue of the fact that they’re contributing to our public dialogue in a way that the vast majority of their fellow citizens can understand (even if they disagree), they are still “normal” enough to be able to play the game, however large or small their roles might be.

A real outsider, on the other hand, is someone who has been rendered incapable of fully participating in our civic life. Perhaps it’s a mentally disabled person who can’t comprehend the words coming from a politician’s mouth, or a homeless man or woman so beaten down by poverty that their attempts to communicate seem like gibberish to most passersby, or someone who isn’t sick at all but falls far enough beyond the spectrum of normative experience that their distinct perspective is reflexively dismissed. (See: the LGBT community’s critiques of heteronormativity, which a few generations ago lacked any kind of meaningful audience.) Regardless of the reason, the real outsiders aren’t the one who disagree with the status quo, but rather those who wouldn’t be able to participate in it even if they tried.

This, incidentally, is why I suspect the patients at the aphasia ward couldn’t stop laughing. Here was a president, twice elected by substantial majorities, who despite being widely lauded as The Great Communicator, was as transparent as a window to them. The aphasiacs may have been isolated from the rest of the world and dismissed as crazy, but they could see a stark truth that the “normals” could not… meaning that, on this one incredibly important occasion, they were the sane ones who could see what society itself was too crazy to recognize.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “I laugh because I must not cry. That is all. That is all.”

Josh Duggar’s hypocrisy is part of a much larger cultural problem

 

Published: The Daily Dot (August 21, 2015)

America’s most high-profile Christian conservatives often use their social media platforms and media prominence to extol the virtues of chastity—only to get caught up in sex scandals.

The most recent example comes by way of Josh Duggar, one of the oldest kids from the hit reality TV show 19 Kids and CountingComing on the heels of a revelation last month that Duggar molested five young girls (including his own sisters), Americans have now learned that the outspoken opponent of same-sex marriageabortion rights, and sex education was cheating on his wife with an account on the notorious dating site for cheaters, Ashley Madison. “I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,” Duggar proclaimed in a public statement. “While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the Internet and this became an addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife.”

Duggar is certainly a hypocrite, but it’s arguable whether or not he’s the biggest hypocrite of them all—because over the past few decades, plenty of other religious conservatives could give him a run for his money at that title.

A short list might include names such as Jason Dore, executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party, whose information also appeared in the Ashley Madison dump. It would also include Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House and 2012 Republican presidential candidate who cheated on two of his wives (including when he was calling for Bill Clinton’s impeachment over the scandal involving Monica Lewinsky). There’s also Evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, who despite his anti-gay rhetoric admitted to having an affair with another man. And former Sen. John Ensign of Nevada was revealed to have had an affair with the wife of a former staffer.

Duggar is certainly a hypocrite, but it’s arguable whether or not he’s the biggest hypocrite of them all.

The list goes on, and on, and on. During the same month that he voted against an anti-discrimination bill, North Dakota legislator Randy Boehning sent an unsolicited picture of his genitals to a 21-year-old on a gay dating site. Former Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina had his status as a conservative darling was destroyed when he vanished for several days to have an affair with an Argentinian woman.

Then-Alabama Attorney General Troy King attempted to outlaw sex toys and opposed gay rights, before being caught by his wife having sex with a male college student. Another Southern conservative, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, had a reputation for promoting “old-fashioned” values when news surfaced his frequent engagement with the D.C. Madam. And who could forget former Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, another anti-gay rights conservative, who was caught soliciting sex from a male undercover cop in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport bathroom.

Why does this keep happening?

When it comes to conservatives being caught up in sex scandals, the reason could be traced to what Sigmund Freud called the “reaction formation.” The concept, as Freud coined it, signifies a hostile fight against outward symbols of inward emotions that are being stifled—in other words, self-repression. As it relates to homophobic leaders cheating on their wives with other men, a study from a 2012 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology make shed some light.

There is a solidly established statistical correlation
between social conservatism and higher rates of abortion, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases.

The researchers discovered that individuals who identified as “highly straight” but had latent impulses for sex with other men were far more likely to favor anti-gay policies. In addition, those men were also more likely to call for stricter punishments against gay people who commit petty crimes. “Not all those who campaign against gay men and lesbians secretly feel same-sex attractions,” explained Dr. Richard M. Ryan to The New York Times. “But at least some who oppose homosexuality are likely to be individuals struggling against parts of themselves, having themselves been victims of oppression and lack of acceptance.”

The explanation is pretty similar when talking about heterosexual sex scandals, such as the one involving Duggar. One study found that residents of highly religious and politically conservative states spent more money on Internet pornography than their less religious and conservative counterparts. And the states which banned gay marriage had 11 percent more porn subscribers. There is a solidly-established statistical correlation between social conservatism and higher rates of abortion, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases—and nations that have more liberal views on sexuality generally have fewer sex-related health problems than countries that are more repressive.

All of this is because, as Dr. Christopher Ryan explained at Psychology Today:

If expression of sexuality is thwarted, the human psyche tends to grow twisted into grotesque, enraged perversions of desire. Unfortunately, the distorted rage resulting from sexual repression rarely takes the form of rebellion against the people and institutions behind the repression… Instead, the rage is generally directed at helpless victims who are sacrificed to the sick gods of guilt, shame, and ignorant pride.

It’s worth noting here that many of the right-wing objections to what they characterize as pathological sexuality are incredibly modern notions. Beliefs like the idea that there is a clear dichotomy between heterosexuality and homosexuality, or that the traits associated with womanhood are fixed, are relatively modern. They’re the simultaneous product of industrialization—which has created national and global cultures in place of purely local ones—and a reaction to the dizzyingly fast social and cultural changes that have been wrought over the past two centuries.

The danger comes when one’s individual sexual inclinations manifests in social policy, affecting others.

These problems, then, may very well have a root cause. While sexually repressed lifestyles may not be psychologically healthy for individuals, there is nothing morally wrong or dangerous about deciding to follow an abstinent (or an otherwise sexually-conservative) set of values. The danger comes when one’s individual sexual inclinations manifests in social policy, affecting others.

Although social conservatives claim to promote “old-fashioned” sexual values, it is necessary to understand that there are deeper psychological drives behind much of the political rhetoric. The personal intersects with the political, often with dire consequences for innocent men and women who want nothing more than to live according to their own inclinations—and to do so free from persecution.

They have every right to do this—and we, as a society, have a moral responsibility to protect them from hypocrites like Josh Duggar.

Looking Through ‘Depressing’ Tweets

Published: Good Men Project (August 8, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa explores the latest Twitter trend, #TheWorstPartOfDepressionIs.


For the most part I’m not a big fan of Twitter. Any medium that attempts to condense the human experience into 140 characters is, in my opinion, more likely to water down meaningful self-expression than encourage it. Although my career makes Twitter use something of a necessity, I can’t deny that I view it with the same moderate disdain with which I hold so many other Internet manifestations of our sound byte culture (e.g., memes).

Every so often, however, Twitter winds up producing some unintentionally moving art.

Such was the case with #TheWorstPartOfDepressionIs yesterday.

Those three quotes, produced by individuals who (to the best of my knowledge) have no association with each other outside of their contribution to this latest hashtag, fit together almost unsettlingly well. Anyone who has had depression will tell you that it becomes an overwhelmingly painful experience – physically as well as psychologically – but that, whereas you can remove the conditions that cause certain types of bodily and emotional pain, it is literally impossible to simply “end” the anguish caused by depression. Even if you wanted to make that choice, your mind won’t let you – but, as Annika astutely observed, the familiarity you’ve developed with feeling miserable can often create an additional disincentive.

feeling guilty for not “appreciating” how good you have it compared to those who “really suffer”.

– Rev Daniel

people assuming you’re ungrateful and spiritually weak.”
“if you are tweeting about and you do not suffer from depression, you are a problem”
And now we’ve reached the obligatory part of this essay where we discuss shaming. Again, this is a common theme in any depressive’s experience – i.e., being told that if you’re depressed, it’s somehow your fault because you’re ungrateful for your various privileges or are too weak to stand up to the same pains that “everyone goes through.” Even one of the advocates trying to cultivate sympathy with sufferers of depression wound up using a shaming technique; how else to argue that people who wish to comment on depression but lack a clinical diagnosis are “a problem”? When it comes to the subject of depression, it seems impossible to have any lengthy discourse without elements of shaming and guilt-tripping getting dragged into it.
being unable to stop thinking things you know are false, being trapped with the enemy that is your own mind.”
it truly never goes away, the thoughts and feelings stay even when you’re at your happiest”
– “ feeling okay or maybe even happy but waiting until it turns dark and foggy again.”
Finally, we reach the most important part of any thorough examination of depression: Here we find explorations of futility. When you’re depressed, there are no good moments that can entirely erase the pain of your moment-by-moment existence. Sure, the pain will wax and wane – some days are worse than others, and when you’re having a particularly good time those positive experiences can eclipse the potency of your depression – but that sense of darkness never dissipates entirely. Living with depression is, quite literally, the ordeal of spending every waking second with an emotion that leaves you feeling “very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way” (to crib from Merriam-Webster’s). The best possible outcome is that you’re able to eke through something resembling a satisfying life despite this debilitating ailment; more often than not, success and failure are a crapshoot.
Okay, one last tweet:
when abusers in your life seize upon your most depressive/vulnerable times to abuse/try to manipulate you.”
Personally, I think this is the worst part of depression. I’ve been lucky to have had a lot of love in my life – from significant others and family members to friends and professional colleagues – and I can safely say that the Number One factor which exacerbates my depression is when one of these loved ones hurts me. Unfortunately, the girlfriends/friends/relatives/co-workers who have felt most comfortable doing this (it doesn’t matter what their exact role was, they were all the same here) have been the ones who suffered from some kind of terrible pain in their own lives (often due to mental illness) and believed that, because of their own suffering, it would be okay for them to hurt others.
In other words, very often the men and women most directly responsible for worsening other people’s depression are the ones who suffer from it themselves. If there is one lesson we can hopefully learn from this trending hashtag about depression, it is that there are enough fellow sufferers out there that we should at least conscientious of their feelings too.

The Proverbial Freeze Out: Why Do We Hold Grudges?

Published: Good Men Project (July 9, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa discusses the millennial generation’s habit of freezing people out… and whether the practice of holding grudges offers any benefits.

“No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full.”

I’ve always been fascinated by this quote, which was allegedly the personal mantra of the Roman dictator Sulla.  From a purely pragmatic standpoint, it’s a great rule-of-thumb to use in fiercely competitive job fields (such as politics), where being feared is often perceived as vital to being taken seriously. If you want people to be loyal to you, it’s important to return all of the favors that they have done (the fact that it keeps you out of anyone’s debt doesn’t hurt). Similarly, if you want to make sure those who might wish you harm are reluctant to cross you, it’s certainly effective to set an example at the expense of someone who you decide deserves it.

Having acknowledged all of this: Why would you want to live your life that way?

I’m not implying that victims of traumas, crimes, and atrocities should forgive the people who wronged them. This isn’t an article about the importance of forgiveness, or if overcoming the scars left by serious emotional injuries in your past. Instead I’m talking about the petty grudges that all of us nurse (myself included), the ones we hold against former significant others and family members and friends. From what I’ve observed, people who harbor those feelings usually do one of two things:

1. They develop an ongoing hostile relationship with the other party, what could almost be called a hate affair, or

2. They impose a “freeze out,” meaning they completely ignore the other person until they “get the message.”

Neither of these alternatives are positive, although the latter is a necessary evil at times. When you remain in constant touch with someone whose main function is to provide you with stress and a human punching bag, you’re only injecting unnecessary misery into both your own life and someone else’s. Freezing people out, on the hand, can be useful, particularly with people who can’t seem to control their behavior, choose to continue harming you despite being given opportunities to stop, or are genuinely dangerous. At the same time, one of the most common complaints I hear from my fellow millennials is how this or that person “froze me out” (a grievance that I fully share) instead of simply communicating about whatever was upsetting them. Although the freeze out can be a helpful social tool, it’s also easily abused, particularly by individuals who find working through conflict to be particularly unpleasant.

Regardless of how you handle your grudge, though, one thing is for certain – it’s terrible for your body.

“Holding a grudge is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to be hurt by it,” says Mark Goulston, M.D. (author of Just Listen) in an interview with Men’s Health. The emotions associated with holding a grudge increase production of the hormone cortisol, which ages you, raised your blood pressure, and lowers your immunity. Although these symptoms can be relieved if the grudge goes away, that can only happen if either (a) each party is able to forgive the other one or (b) the person with the grudge makes the choice to get rid of it on his or her own.

And that, in the end, is what I find so fascinating about Sulla’s quote. While we can’t control whether or not others choose to harm us, we can decide to suppress the emotions that can build into a grudge. We can examine our own behavior with an open mind and find areas to concede where we were wrong; we can accept apologies when they’re offered to us, even if a little voice inside our head insists the other person isn’t sincere or shouldn’t be allowed to “get off the hook”; we can simply decide to “be the bigger person” by recognizing that, in the grand scheme of things, there are very few offenses so terrible that destroying your relationships and physical health for their sake is actually worth it. Sure, a Roman dictator like Sulla was able to find his own method for resolving his grudges… but the vast majority of us aren’t autocrats who can dispense our own sense of justice with impunity. We need to live in a world that is full of imperfect people, including ourselves. Considering all of this, why would anyone choose to fight instead of move on or freeze someone out instead of letting things thaw out?

Just a thought.