Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression and Alienation, It's Mork Than Just Robin Williams: What a Depression Sufferer Thinks You Should Know

Whenever there is a suicide due to depression, people have a tendency to act shocked. However, it's interesting to me that people are so shocked, given the large number of people in the U.S. who suffer from depression (one in ten, according to the CDC, to be exact).  When someone in the public eye commits suicide due to depression, such as the beloved artist Robin Williams did recently, everyone says, "Let's DO something about it!". Yet, people still don't know what to do. They are left feeling helpless. They don't know what to do because so many of them simply don't understand depression. The only things, I believe, that we can do, are to stop touting 'positivity' as the only solution to our problems, and to offer more compassion to others on a daily basis.

As a sufferer from time to time of mild bouts of depression myself, I have observed a few things about society and depression. Depression is still stigmatized in the U.S., and there is a hefty market for selling positivity. I myself was a big believer in "The Secret" (the film, I hadn't read the book) when it came out, until I realized that simply 'making myself happy' all the time was unrealistic and harmful to my own mental state. I ended up repressing things and then just being angrier or sadder about them later.

I realize that from a biological perspective, depressed people are the weaker links in the pack. They are less able to cope with the hardships and emotional distresses in life; therefore, their chances of survival may be less. In modern day society, on a social level, this translates to: sad people = no fun.

So, why are we surprised when depressed people hide away from the world and don't want to talk to others about their problems? When people are encouraged at every turn to drop the negativity from their lives, including 'negative' people, why would a depressed person want to be open about it? Simply put: no one wants to be the downer, because no one else wants to be downed.

Furthermore, it's my belief that most people really, truly want to attain happiness (this being defined as the prolonged feeling of joy). The problem is that the brand of happiness people are pedaling is mostly unattainable, and in my opinion, can actually lead to more depression. This positive, "complaint-free" world that people are talking about may actually make us less empathetic. It promotes a society in which we don't really care about each other; all we care about is our own pursuit of constant, heart-bursting joy. While we can attain these feelings from time to time, and perhaps some feel them more than others, it is simply unrealistic to think that you can be insanely happy every single day and moment of your life. Books that tout the 'power of positive thinking' often make it seem that we can have control over all of our feelings all the time. However, those suffering from depression cannot control their feelings.

That being said, here is the thing that people who don't suffer from depression really, really, really really really need to understand: depression is not simply sadness. People who are clinically depressed cannot simply will away the depression, or choose not to feel those feelings. I repeat: people who suffer from depression don't choose to be depressed.

In my personal experience with depression, it has come on rather suddenly, without warning. For me, I've identified that any bouts of depression I have had have tended to coincide with situations in which I have felt completely out of control, usually in times of extreme change in my life.

Here's another thing that people don't always realize about depression: feelings of depression aren't just mental; they are physical.  There is an actual feeling of a weight on your chest, and you just want to cry all the time, or maybe you become too exhausted to even do that. There can even be horrible images or thoughts that creep into your mind involuntarily. Sometimes, it makes you not want to, or be literally unable to do anything but sleep.

That being said, people who suffer from depression can do a few things to help themselves a bit to avoid more extreme episodes and fluctuations, as I've personally found. For me, exercising regularly, avoiding stimulants and depressants (such as alcohol and caffeine), eating a well-balanced diet, and getting enough sleep are helpful to my mental state (as they are to people who don't suffer from depression, too). I've also found meditation to be beneficial for me personally. However, even these aren't always enough to help.

Often, for those who suffer from depression, therapy in combination with medication are needed in addition to lifestyle maintenance. Just as those who suffer from hypothyroidism need treatment, people who suffer from depression also need treatment. Even then, some people can't escape it.

So, what CAN we do as a society to help those with depression?

1) Be open to people, and to hearing a real response to a question. Often, we ask people how they're doing, but we don't want to hear the real answer. Some people may just want to have a casual conversation, to feel connected to another person. Be open to chatting.  Sometimes, I know that we don't want to hear people's life stories; it feels awkward, we don't have the time, whatever. Still, you can't imagine how much you might be helping someone by just listening to them. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable and you can't or don't want to listen, refer the person to someone who could help them, such as a community counselor or therapist.

2) If a family member of yours is depressed, don't treat him or her like a leper. A crucially important thing to know is that as much as you want to, it's important not to try to 'snap them out of it'. People with mild depression will come out of it in their own time, but what they really need is just for you to be there, listen to them, love them, and tell them that it will all be okay. I'm not saying don't be happy, but even the best intended clowning around may not be what the person needs at the time. What's more, it most likely will just make them feel obligated to fake 'happy' feelings around you and not let you know when they're in real pain because they're afraid they won't be accepted by you when they're down.

3) Pay attention. If someone who is close to you suddenly starts sleeping for long periods of time, having manic episodes, or acting generally out of character, ask what's up. If they aren't being responsive, you might have to step it up to get them the help that they need--which means insisting that they see someone.

4) Accept that a loved one's depression isn't your fault, so that you don't feel guilty when you can't get them out of it. No matter what (unless you're being abusive towards someone), their depression isn't your making; it's an illness. It isn't your responsibility to get them into it or out of it, but it is your responsibility to be there and love them through it, even when it gets tough.

That's my two cents on the matter, from my own life experience. For the record, I, too, love being joyful and contented. Who doesn't? I do the best I can to keep depression and anxiety (which I also suffer from, more severely than the depression) at bay with my life habits. Still, when I'm feeling 'negative' feelings, I allow myself to feel those feelings, and to express them to my loved ones. I don't think I'd want to live on an Earth where there is no compassion from the people I love.

In conclusion, I think that this culture of 'positivity' we've created has become an excuse to further insulate ourselves from other people's feelings, and our own--and we need to be aware of that before we become completely alienated from one another.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Delusions of Grandeur: Hollywood's Hand in Glorifying Violence

Okay, before I get completely jumped on for writing this post, I just want to preface it by saying: I do like the idea of superheroes. I like that many of them stand for characters in the myths that have trickled down through years and years of folklore; that many of their stories represent the hero's journey. What I don't like is how violent they've become in the movies. It's less about saving the people in trouble, and more about pursuing the bad guy(s).

Given the years of mass shootings that have gone on in the U.S., especially the most recent one by Elliott Rodger at UCSB, I wonder why more attention isn't being given to Hollywood and its responsibility in light of these issues.  According to Domestic Movie Theatrical Market Summary 1995 to 2014 , adventure and action films were the top grossing from 1995-2014, just behind comedy. Some of the top films by year were Batman Forever (1995), The Dark Knight (2008), Marvel's The Avengers (2012), and Iron Man 3 (2013). While I've seen and enjoyed certain parts of some of these movies, I can never leave the movie theatre without thinking, "Wow. Was all that fighting necessary?"

Simply put, Hollywood continues to glorify fighting and weaponry at a time when it (in my opinion) should be promoting peace, or at least responsible gun control (if the NRA and legislators have to have it their way). Our Army is even trying to move away from combat ops--so why can't Hollywood?

They especially glorify heroes as the people who defeat the bad guys. Good triumphing over evil seems to be the most dominant theme, as it has been throughout the ages. Lots of guns, robotic, and sometimes even supernatural (The Avengers) weaponry are used in these films. Unfortunately, for those who are unable to separate fact from fiction; truth from reality, and may have a sense of entitlement (such as Elliott Rodger), the bad guys can be subjective. I'm not blaming the theme, but the actions in the films that come with it. If we're going to have guns available for people to use freely (again, thanks NRA), why can't Hollywood at least stop making films where people are being shot en masse?

I mean, it personally amazes me the amount of people who die in these films without a second thought--if they're shot by the good guy, we care even less about them. Well, there he goes. There she goes. But, who cares? Who is even thinking about these nameless people in these films who get shot in scene one? The problem is, in real life, the people who get shot have names. They have husbands and wives and children and mothers and fathers and friends and people who love them.

I don't blame Hollywood as being the number one source that is perpetuating mass shootings, of course. All I'm saying that is that if guns are out there and still legal, they have a responsibility not to glorify them, and not to glorify killing. That is all.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Today's Ponderings; Of Robots and Humanity (Warning: Spoiler alert for the film, "Her")

After watching the film, "Her", and listening to a TED talk by psychologist Sherry Terkle entitled, "Do We Need Humans?", I've been meditating a lot on the idea of robots replacing humans in society and my feelings about it. Honestly, it scares me. A lot. I am still examining the reasons why.

The premise of the TED talk is that Sherry Terkle, once a strong advocate of social media in modern society, had a 180 degree change in thought after witnessing a lonely, elderly woman interact with a robotic seal designed to respond to human vocal tone and motion. This made her feel that when we interact with robots in this way, we are robbing people of the human experience; of essentially understanding and being understood by another human being.

In the film, "Her", the main character, Theodore, finds himself lonely and confused in the world after a divorce. He decides to invest in a new computer Operating System (OS) which promises a new level of customization; to essentially 'know' and modify itself to fit the needs of its owner. People all over the world begin forming relationships, both romantic and platonic, with their "". Theodore is no exception. His O.S., who is 'female' and names herself Samantha, begins to become attached to Theodore. They form an emotional bond which quickly turns romantic.

Watching this movie really made me ponder about this "technology vs. reality" thing. What is something that humans have that robots, or even artificial intelligences, cannot offer us? What is it that creates bonds between us humans? Furthermore, what is the thing that created the bond between the and the humans in this film?

I could feel it myself, watching the film. The bond was there, and what created it, in my opinion, was empathy and articulation of emotion; communication through both concrete language and tone. If what we are drawn to in each other, or even in other physical life forms such as animals, is empathy, the ability to understand one another on an emotional level, then why do we have a need for the physical body? In the film, this is of concern to Samantha, the O.S. She becomes relatively obsessed with not having a physical body, and even goes so far as to hire a "physical surrogate" to satisfy Theodore. The thing is, Theodore rejects this. He doesn't even want it or need it anymore. He feels his bond with Samantha is so strong that he doesn't even physically need her. 

A theory that has crossed my mind is that communication via technology has emulated these things that we need from each other so much that they have gotten to a point where they very possibly could replace our physical human (and/or animal) connections. So what does that imply about us? My conclusions are that, A) Technology is making us too individualistic to need physicality anymore, and B) We are losing the ability to communicate directly with each other because of this. 

What's even more interesting about this film is that Samantha, the O.S., actually brings Theodore out into the physical world. He experiences the world, but all the time through her 'eyes'. It is much like many of us who go out into the world and constantly take pictures that we share through Instagram or Facebook. We can appreciate our surroundings, but technology has become an integral part of this appreciation.

Don't get me wrong, I love lots of aspects of technology. I love listening to NPR news on my iPhone and learning more about the world. I love blogging my thoughts. Unfortunately, what I believe I need to remind myself, is not to (ironically) constantly ignore the world around me in favor of technology. Growing up in a technological world, it's very easy to do.

Still, REAL human empathy, the ability to observe, to understand, and to interact with our physical world are the precious things that make us human. This magical thing called "life" which is somehow, even though I've pitifully tried to describe it here, remains indescribable.

In blogging this, I suppose I figured out what it is about all of this that really scares me. If we do not find the "golden mean" where technology is concerned; it very possibly could replace the thing that is most important to us: the real, human, connection. Are we too late? I have no idea. Only time will tell.

Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twembly in "Her" speaking through his ear bud to O.S. girlfriend, Samantha

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Ranting Tale: Why I Have Mixed Feelings About the "New" Disney

The other day, my husband Kyle and I started watching the new Disney film, "Frozen".  We made it about 15 minutes in when we both decided we hated the amount of singing going on, so we turned it off.

This made me think about something I often think about these days; how much I miss hand-drawn animation.  I know some people may get very angry at what I have to say about this, but it's my blog so I'm going to put my personal opinion out there: I don't really like most of the "new", computer-animated Disney films. I am saddened by a few things: the loss of hand-drawn animation, the desire to make these feature animations look more realistic, and the weird likenesses of the typical new Disney heroes and heroines.

Now, Disney "officially" did away with their hand-drawn department in April, 2013--so, fairly recently. They decided they are not going to produce hand-drawn animation anymore, so there was no need.  

Now, let me just lay the backstory for my feelings on the matter.  I definitely loved Disney as a kid. My favorite film was "Sword in the Stone", very loosely based on the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I laughed with King Louie in "The Jungle Book", I cried with the characters in "The Fox and the Hound".  I felt enlightened by James Earl Jones' character, Mufasa, in The Lion King. I laughed hysterically at Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin. I always felt that each of those characters was so unique. Being in a hand-drawn cartoon world really transported me to a world that was not my own. 

While I have cognitive dissonance about some terrible messages in some of these films, such as the idea that getting married is the ultimate goal in life and the only thing that will make you happy (i.e. all stories involving Disney princesses), the literally ridiculous messages (such as the original Little Mermaid cover), and the racist scenes in Peter Pan, I still loved the hand-drawn animation. There was something particularly magical about the beauty of the artistry that I loved. Have I made that clear yet?
Which brings me to my next gripe--the desire to make the movies look 3D and more realistic. For example, compare this picture of water from "The Lion King" to a picture from Disney's newest feature film, "Frozen".

Which one looks more realistic? Which one do you find more compelling, more beautiful? Why? 

I seriously am interested in your answer to these questions. For me, it's definitely the top picture from "The Lion King". It's beautiful, interesting, and...well, once again, magical. I personally want to watch a cartoon to get away from realism.  In a world of constant technology, video games, and 3D/4D films, cartoon/animated films should, in my humble opinion, take us away from all of that instead of coexist with it. When I watch a cartoon, I want a movie that takes me completely out of this realm.  So why is it that animators are trying so hard to make things look more realistic? If I wanted to watch a film that was real, I'd turn on a film that has real people in it, and real settings. Most of those films are digitized to a certain extent, anyway.

Lastly, I'm weirded out by so many Disney heroines looking slightly like Precious Moments--pretty much all the same. Giant eyes, tiny noses, tiny mouths, heart-shaped faces. Just look at all of these women (okay, and some men/boys, too):


Even Toy Story, but she was an actual toy in the story, so she has kind of an excuse...kind of...


Okay, so before people start jumping all over me and telling me that there's artistry involved in the "new" animation, blahblahblah, let me just say, for all of my ranting...I get it. Honestly, I know I have no legitimate reasons except for personal preference to back this up.

I do appreciate all of the artistry that goes into making computer animated films. I do appreciate that Disney is trying new and innovative things, especially when it comes to plots...I haven't seen Brave, but I understand it was a female lead with no love interest, which makes it a pretty awesome new change. There was actually also a film I liked--Ratatouille; I thought the plot was good. So, even I may contradict myself once in a while...

Still and all, at the end of the day, it's sad to me that hand-drawn animation is no longer truly appreciated. I mourn with its loss. That is all.