Thursday, October 2, 2008

Life matters

I fought depression for several years of my life. Until you change the fundamental way you life--depression is the natural state of life.

My depression started when I was about 12. Actually, it was probably the worst at 12 years old. Before that, I probably could've been classified as having some social disorder. When other kids would play at recess, I would go to the corner of the playground, sit between two trees, and stare out at all the other children playing.

I wasn't much like them. They cared more for games and fun--and I cared more for understanding and observation. By the time fourth grade rolled around, I was already tinkering with the ideas of General Relativity and time dilation. I had a rudimentary understanding of the roll that gravity played in altering the flow of time, and I kept coming up with theories (I was 8 years old, thank you) regarding time travel. I never resolved what I'd do if I ever did have that ability, interestingly enough.

Anyway, the depression hit me hardest when I was twelve and went into Junior High School. I really only had one or two friends in elementary school, and my best friend had moved across the country about two months before Junior High started. I remember the first day getting to the cafeteria and looking around for a familiar face, or for a place that a lone-person could sit with others like himself. I found nothing but a small end of a table with empty seats. I sat there, and spent 45 minutes just staring around the room.

I guess nothing really had changed--except now the children seemed to "play" by talking to each other. On that day--I decided that I wanted to play with the other children. I made it a point to sit next to or with a different group of people each day for nearly a month. I meant some very interesting people--including one friend that I still stay in contact with on a regular basis.

I never really fit in, though. What I wanted to talk about was a little more than beyond the interests of my peers. I found some who would listen--but not intently--and even fewer who would respond. Not surprisingly, I learned to talk about what interested them--rather than myself.

It didn't take long before I felt like I had a very good grasp of my peers. I knew what they feared, what they loved, what they avoided, idolized, believed, and thought--but I never felt like anyone cared about any of that for me. That's probably why I was so depressed. Within a month, I knew hundreds of people, but only two or three even knew my name.

In my neighborhood, things weren't much different. I had learned--as a boy--that my greatest hope for friendship was in the adult population. Many of my friends, as a teenager, were fathers. They would talk with me on my level, and there were many who were kind enough to not talk down to me and to listen to what I had to say. I still had many childish quirks and beliefs, and they helped me with that--but when you're a child, it rarely occurs to you that friendship goes beyond who you talk to in the hallways.

To add to this--I was not a particularly large or strong person--I still am nothing above average. Without a group of people to associate with, or spend time with, and with a naturally quiet disposition, I became a target for teenage malice. This was a cause of great sorrow to me. I think what hurt most was knowing exactly why they were hitting me, and why they wanted to see me break. Some came from broken homes with uncaring parents--and a smaller kid at school was the only release they had for their frustrations at home. Some wanted to prove that they were better than me, mostly so they could feel secure that they were getting more attention than me. Most, however, merely did it because others were, and they didn't want to risk being singled out.

Whatever their reasons, it made me sad. Not that I was the target, necessarily, but the reason for me being targeted. I didn't know as much then as I did now--and that was one question I couldn't get my mind around--why me? The universal answer to that question is: It's not about you, it's about what's doing it to you.

Here's how do answer that question in practice: Why did this earthquake destroy my home? Answer: It's not about you, it's about helping other people get over this tragedy. It's about understanding the damage, the loss, and the pain, and fixing each one in turn.

I didn't really get that until about half way through the school. My first approach to applying this answer was only marginally successful. I saw the bullies and the pain that they caused as the problem. The solution--keep them from causing pain, or stop them all together. You'd be surprised how many people will back down from a fight--even if they're taller and stronger than you. Almost all of it is about intimidation--and I showed them that I didn't care if I got hurt--so long as they shut-up.

I rather quickly took on the roll of a defender for many people. I realized that there were other people who suffered under these bullies. I would stand up for them--I would silence their mockery, or redirect it to myself. This brought me some relief from my depression. In honesty, though, had it not been for the many months of me being mocked, I doubt many of those kids would've known my name--many of them didn't.

I caused myself a lot more pain than I realize. I had become so accustomed to no one taking an interest in me--that I simply assumed that was the way the world was. Interestingly enough--a young woman did take an interest in me. From my understanding, she developed a bit of a crush towards me. In my state of mind, I was completely oblivious to it. It wasn't until one of her immature friends told me about it--with her standing right next to me--that I even considered it to be a possibility. About two or three weeks after that occurred, I finally realized that it was possible that someone could show any measure of interest in me--but still couldn't convince myself that it happened.

People do care about you. Strangers care about you--even if they never know your name. Sometimes, simply giving a smile to a complete stranger is enough to change the course of someone's life. I know relationships that started that way. I have both heard of people, and been the person, who realized that life was worth living because of one kind word. You are loved. You are needed. I may not know you--but you have my love, and my interest.

There is, within us, a divine spark. All of us are born with it. This is the spark that makes us silently pray that we will never have to witness a violent death. This is the spark that makes our hearts fall when we hear the sorrows of others. Most of us have nourished this spark until it has become a small flame that warms our souls. You don't want to see someone brutalized, because somewhere within you at some level, you love them. You say high to a stranger because you have that spark and hope that you'll get a friend out of that contact.

Most of our entertainment today seeks to quell that spark. This is natural--after all, a flame can be very dangerous. We're afraid of being hurt. It's part of the kindling of this flame--not wanting to be hurt ourselves, but some people focus so much on the fear that it incapacitates them. So many people have such a fear of this flame that they seek to extinguish it at the first sign. This is often as unreasonable as never driving a car because of the fire inside the engine.

The real answer to this problem is as follows: we need to channel our desire to love. Unchanneled love leads to heart ache. Once you learn to accept all love given to you with gratitude and graciousness--then you have the capacity to handle any heart break. Periodically renewing that gratitude is the key to it. As for the love you give--make sure it is always in a non-threatening expression. Sexual interaction is most often considered threatening--unless you're married, of course. Start every relationship as if it'll be a life-long friendship, but recognize that you may only see them for a few more minutes. Be happy and grateful for the few minutes you had with them--and never focus on the time you didn't have together.

I worked in a call-center environment quite a few years ago, and I had contact with a man named Mike Pell. Mike Pell had been through hell. He was alone. He was in constant physical pain. He needed some relief, and medication was useless to him at this point. I stood up to my supervisor in order to stay on the line with him and hear him out. I've been lonely, I know what its like to go for months without a single person looking at you, and I know that we all need a listening ear at times.

These are the first few real answers to depression. Your natural state is to talk about your problems, rather than listen to others. You quench your flame when you do that. Most people want to think about themselves, and how to solve their problems. While pondering over solutions to issues you face is a healthy exercise, you should budget the time spent doing so. Focusing on problems keeps us from seeing the other things in our lives.

Lastly, and this is the most practical advise I could offer to anyone suffering from depression, watch the media you expose yourself to. Some of the most heralded and popular songs of our day focus on loss, pain, and misery. Here's an example: I love Lord of the Rings. I think it's well written, imaginative, and entertaining. J.R. Tolkien, however, wrote much of it after being a soldier in World War 1. He will seek to teach you that things can never be as they once were, before the conflict, and that you'll always be scarred from the difficult experiences you were called to go through. This is untrue, and if you don't believe that--then you might as well concede that exposure to that doctrine is not conducive to a happy lifestyle. Listen to the lyrics in songs, pay attention to movies and what they're trying to teach you. Consciously reject what doesn't teach you to be happy, and accept those things that do.

Well, it's 2AM, and I'm starting to get tired. Good night everyone, and feel free to ask me anything you want to.

Why I'm (still) a Mormon

I don't expect much more to ever be posted on this blog, and I'm largely just posting this to share it with some particular friends....