Victoria Jelinek


XXIII: Blue Dog Day

Depression is melancholy minus its charms – the animation, the fits. Susan Sontag

depression long roadMy mind has been playing tricks on me all day. I almost convinced myself that my bad liver was a result of my candy intake. Seriously. For a moment, it seemed real. So real, that it almost justified my drinking at 9am. The rest of the day, I’ve been thinking that I’ll try to make it through fifteen more years. That’s the goal. Ten to see my son off to university, then five more years to have fun, do what I want, potentially decimate my body. Then, like a cat when its ready to die, I’ll quietly go off somewhere by myself. These morbid thoughts give me comfort. I think, “I can make it through today…” Then, “I can make it through the next year…” Then, “I can make it for ten more…I think…” “That’s all, that’s all…” But that “all” is everything.

It’s horrible to feel this way. It’s heavy and dark and bitter and mean and uncomfortable. I want to escape me. Barring that, I want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head and just pass time. The day, the year, the ten years, the fifteen. However, there are always people around me. My husband would interrupt this. Not because he would be concerned, but because it would annoy him that I was in bed ‘lolling about’ while he was taking care of our child, our house, and ‘business.’ Then, of course, there’s my son. My precocious, sweet, talkative boy who hums and sings to himself as he skips up the stairs, heads out the door, or plays by himself. He zones in on me like I’m a beacon whenever he’s home and demands I engage with him. Not in a pushy, aggressive manner, but because he likes me and wants to show me things, talk to me about what he has seen or done, and to hear what I have to say about it. He’s still cuddly, even as I can see the man that he will become, and he’s way too big for me to lift up. I try to engage with him. To pay attention to what he’s saying. I try to put a smile on my face. I try to pretend not to be me for him.

It’s entirely for him that I’m not drinking and inhaling to my heart’s desire. Or staying in bed all day. Or running away to somewhere else more suited to my real self. Somewhere dirty, large, and anonymous. He’s the reason I stay. He’s the reason I try at all. He’s the reason I will make myself go to the grocery store to get food, even as I absolutely dread the inevitable prospect of running into someone I know. He’s also the reason that we have any semblance of a social life. As an only child, or a “unique” as the French say, he wants playmates. As a naturally curious and social boy, he wants company and activity around him. As he’s still very young, he can’t arrange them or go by himself, and his father is unconcerned with having a social life, happy, instead, to be a homebody. So, I must arrange ‘play dates’ and social plans. Then, I must stay for a “hello,” and a “how are you?” and sometimes a cup or glass of something to be friendly. However, I find these interactions very hard. I feel as though I am perpetually masquerading as a ‘normal’ person, and consequently, am such a fraud. I don’t know how to have small talk when I’m sober, and I know people don’t want me to launch into “serious” talk, which is a “downer.” Having to interact with adults and children alike is painful and anxiety provoking for me. And now there’s no reprieve from the stress of it all.

Moreover, ‘the slings and arrows’ of children and their parents’ politics are very hard for me to observe, digest, and remain calm about. ‘Cookie cutter’ type kids and their parents are popular. They’re confident about asserting themselves. The kids spot the ‘Achilles heel’ of any child and exploit it cruelly. The other kids gravitate to these types. Prompting me to wonder if there isn’t some truth to the idea that people, in general, do like dictators – someone to tell them what to do and how to be. Tennessee Williams notes in “Night of the Iguana” that humans are the only creatures that won’t do anything to get out of a trap, such as bite off a foot or an arm. The kids ‘fisty cuffs’ are generally all forgotten relatively quickly, but it’s terrible to watch when you consider that these human propensities begin early. Ugh, and the little clusters of cliques, with those who are the ‘henchmen’ to the popular kids often being the meanest. Girls seem to be the worst. Or the best, depending on how you look at it. I think of the film “Mean Girls” frequently. Even among the hierarchies of adults. I hate observing these dynamics. It ‘winds me up.’ It makes me feel like I’m in grade school or high school all over again. I hated those years. I felt like a captive.

I keep looking for justice and signs of human thoughtfulness: to notice the person who picks up after himself when leaving the cinema. Or notice the car that uses only one parking space. Or notice the person who lets someone in front of them in the line at the grocery ‘cause they only have three items and the other person a trolley full of goods. Or see ‘the chancer’ get fired summarily. But it’s so hard to do when I feel so fucking bad. And, it often makes things worse ‘cause I don’t see these things everyday and then I’m angry. Then, like the masochist I am, I sling abuse at myself for being “so negative.” I tell myself that it’s MY fault that I see the ‘bad’ things about people in the world! I’m sending out that ‘energy’ and it’s causing a reverb by bringing negativity to me!” “If I could only change my perspective then it would all be fine. All would be different.” “It’s how I see things that’s the problem.” “It’s me. I suck. I’m horrible, beastly, angry, critical, and judgmental.” “I should relax and not think “too” much.” Problem is, the only way I don’t think too much is to ingest a mind-altering substance. If I’m to make it another fifteen years, I can’t. It’s already ‘dicey’ that I’ll make it that far with what I’ve already done to myself.

And that’s when I want to spend my day in bed. It’s then that I see little point in venturing out into the world. It’s then that I return to the idea that I’ve had a good run and I’m eager to be done with it. I’m tired of watching imposters get ahead. I’m tired of bullies dominating society – both on a micro and macro level. Of mediocrity reigning. Of the rise of pride in ignorance and the consequent disdain of intellect. Of no one really giving a shit about anything. I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of me.

Advertisements


XXII: Radio Play

We are taught to consume. And that’s what we do. But if we realized that there really is no reason to consume, that it’s just a mind set, that it’s just an addiction, then we wouldn’t be out there stepping on people’s hands climbing the corporate ladder of success. River PhoenixLove in Recovery

In my opinion, the best humor has a tragic core. And, what better source for dark and amusing material than addiction? Think of Carrie Fisher with her book (then film) Postcards from the Edge. Or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mall Rats, or Get Him to the Greek.

Addiction forms the setting for Radio 4’s fantastic six-part series Love in Recovery. It’s such a funny and interesting radio play that after a friend sent me a link to one show, I plundered the BBC I Player back catalogue. I have both laughed and cried on occasion while listening. It’s sharp and fresh, even as the story of immoderation in alcohol is age-old.

There are lines throughout that I have pondered after each of the 15-minute vignettes, such as, “The hardest thing in the world is just getting through…” Or, “I waited to feel better…it never came.” Or, “There is no cure. You will never be fixed. It’s horrible. But it’s just the way it is.” These motifs speak to me. The illogical sense of complete failure, disappointment, and a life full of more regrets than triumphs are familiar. That unhappiness, insecurity, and the sense that I’m not what I might have been had I been someone else (if that makes any sense to a rational person) is the albatross I’ll carry forever. That drugs and alcohol blissfully stop my brain from thinking too much. The characters in Love in Recovery feel much the same way. It rings ‘true’ to me. And it should. The writer, Pete Jackson, has an interesting backstory, which provides the lynchpin for the radio play’s authenticity.

Amidst the distress and pain is much humor. There is the subtle (sic) nod to the great British ‘art’ of “grumbling,” as well as slang, dialects, and cultural references that contribute to a sense of the everyday and the ‘everyman.’ Like Andy, for example, the needy group leader, who’s constantly offering cookies (biscuits) to the participants with the enticement that, “They’re from M&S.” And, as is often the case in the best Brits, humor coexists with self-deprecation and sadness. For example, one episode finds Julie (Sue Johnston) giving an unwaveringly powerful portrait of a woman who attempted to find happiness at the bottom of a glass after her husband of 40 years left her: “He went off with the cleaner, who ironically turned out to be a dirty bitch.”

All the actors are stellar. And, the sentiment resonates. It’s fundamentally about how even though you feel alone, that you have the worst difficulties, that you are the worst of the worst, you’re not. That even as you have some slim understanding that this vicious voice telling you these horrible things is false, and the facts belie this ‘self-speech,’ there are others who also find life hard. However, by sharing our stories, our difficulties, our successes, our failures and our disappointments, we can help one another take one day at a time. This works for anything, really, whatever the issue. Addiction takes many forms – alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, fornicating, exercise, and work. Or all of the above. Perhaps, as is the case for me, it’s ‘simply’ the compulsion to excess at all times, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Both substances and through actions. Big happy. Big sad. Big success. Big flop. For me at least, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my current struggle for moderation. My own floundering objective to be ‘balanced’ also seems to reflect modern society’s own battle with itself, arguably making addiction a universal story. For me, listening to podcasts, reading books, watching films, and looking at paintings isn’t just for diversion. They provide insights into the human condition. And through this, greater understanding of the world we live in, as well as ourselves. It’s comforting to find a sense of propinquity in the world. And, one can find beauty in ugliness, just as there’s humor in the darkness.

 



XXI: Book Club

“My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.” Jane Austen

Geen-Tea-2I went to ‘Book Club’ this evening. Was loath to go after last night out at two bars with all the drinking, smoking and haphazard talk. Have been ‘twitchy’ and irritable all day as a result. My poor family. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d had one drink more than my ration. Which was already really hard, given that we were out for hours. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d been visibly irritated and uncomfortable with the drinking and smoking around me, and that’s not nice for those out to have a good time. Self-recrimination because I should know better than to put myself in the line of temptation. And yet. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been near-to-tears all day. And, well, ‘Book Club’ is normally a large group of women in what is essentially a ‘book swap,’* drinking a lot of wine and chattering.

So I went late. And, I went only ‘cause it was a bonafide friend hosting it at her house and I wanted to support her. I brought a thermos of green tea and ginger to drink and in order to keep my hands busy and to keep me drinking SOMETHING while, ostensibly, everyone else drank copious amounts of wine. But it wasn’t like it usually is. For one thing, it was just our host, a dear friend of hers, another American who, while I may not agree with her politics, is an avid reader and I trust her judgment on books, as well as our host’s twelve-year-old daughter who is also a reader, and who makes short stop-action films. They were finishing dinner when I arrived, and the daughter had made a peach cobbler. They also weren’t drinking alcohol, just Perrier, and later, tea, so I didn’t feel tempted or preoccupied with others drinking. Best of all? The conversations were dynamic and interesting. We talked about films, and books we’d recently read, and television programs – both in French and English – and we talked about curricula – both French and American – and we talked about travel, and we talked about exercise ‘fads’ sweeping the globe. It was a good evening. Nothing was discussed in too much depth, as I would generally like to do, but, I am, arguably, too serious.  Ultimately, it was an entertaining evening.

What a happy surprise! There’s a moral here I’m sure. Perhaps it’s that I need to only hang out with people who enjoy talking about subjects I also enjoy talking about? Even if that means I am not as social as I generally like to be. There are several people in the valley whose company I find engaging. Perhaps it’s that I can’t be in bars? I suppose it’s like a junkie going to a shooting gallery. Certainly, I can’t be in them for too long. In my previous homes – Portland, New York, Los Angeles, London – I would have discussed the subjects we discussed this eve, such as literature, film, culture, education (and, ideally, some politics!) every time I met up with friends. However, perhaps in those cities it’s more obvious to find more people and situations in which to do so. I mean, my coterie of friends in each of the aforementioned places were filmmakers, writers, painters, musicians, artists, and conversational skill is highly valued as a source of creativity and collaboration. Moreover, these types of people are generally more expressive. Whereas where I live now, people are outdoorsmen. Mountain people. They like to climb, hike, ski, and maintain their fitness in the outdoors, preferably at altitude. That’s their passion and their focus. Not ‘wrong,’ just not me. While I appreciate the mountains, I am claustrophobic in them, preferring the sea always (“Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer”). As a result of both the environment and the community’s subsequent interests in general, I’m often self-conscious, frustrated, and isolated here.

More so now that I’m trying to substantially reduce my drinking, smoking, and drug-taking after 33 years of ‘caning’ it. Additionally, the social life I’ve primarily known here is centered on boozy lunches, afternoons, and dinners…at restaurants and bars…with those that flock to and spend a lot of time in them. However, for whatever reason, tonight I made the happy discovery that while the people and opportunities like this evening might be few-and-far between, there ARE, indeed, situations like tonight. I’ve experienced them here before. Evenings in which I will not spend the entire time ‘clock watching,’ leaning on, or ‘clucking’ for my ‘crutches,’ and can, instead, enjoy what I perceive to be good company. Is this a new direction? It could be. It should be. Is it evidence of a whole new me? Perhaps not. But, perhaps, it is a peek at what the future could be like here, for the remaining years I am here, and that’s a relief from the bleak perspective I’ve been viscerally feeling for the last couple of weeks.

*We don’t read the same book and then talk about it like a traditional “Book Club” does. It’s for Anglophone women to have a supply of reading material without having to buy books, which is a great idea in theory.



XVIII Logos, Pathos, Ethos

Snoopy thinking

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts. Abraham Lincoln

An (English) friend from Geneva dropped by my house yesterday with her new (English) beau and he’s a raging Brexiter and Trumpster. I’ve actually never had one in my home.

I remained calm (throughout) when he brought up politics and declared “Trump is getting things done” and repeated slogans as point-of-fact. I asked what Trump has specifically done? He replied that Trump has “drained the swamp,” and is “doing something about illegals,” and,  justifying his support, declared “Trump hasn’t done anything worse than Obama or Hilary Clinton did…that Hilary Clinton was on her way to jail when she was running for office” (“Lock her up!”). I tried to ask questions based on fact to prompt specific responses about each of these subjects from him. For example, when he said, “Drain the swamp!” I asked him how he defines the “swamp,” ‘cause the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was involved with 28k home foreclosures in 2008, in which his company Goldman Sachs and he made a handsome profit; ‘cause the Education Secretary (Betsy Devos) is a billionaire with no experience educating but who is a large GOP donor; ‘cause Andrew Wheeler, the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is an ex-coal lobbyist. To which he replied, “You get your information from your sources, and I get mine from my sources.” I said, “This doesn’t have to do with media or social media sources…these are matters of public record.” To which he repeated, “You have your sources, and I have mine.”

I then asked him what else Trump is doing? He said he’s “doing something about illegals!” I asked, “You mean those camps in which a private company, the Corley facility, owned by the GEO Group, which is the nation’s largest private prison company, who are profiting from running detention centers under government contracts that cost the US taxpayer $44 million dollars a year, and who donate large amounts to the GOP party and Trump’s re election campaign? He said, “It’s nothing Obama and Hilary didn’t do.” (I’m not sure what HILARY Clinton has to do with any of this, really, and the argument that “they do it too!” is so infantile, but I digress). I said, “But there are international laws in places that protect those seeking refuge while due process of law is followed.” He said, again, “You have your information sources, I have mine.” I asked, “Is your source Fox News?” He said defensively, “What if it is?” I said, “Well, it’s a right-wing propaganda machine that was set up by Rupert Murdoch to meet his own agenda, which is to make colossal profits and maintain the status quo of white, male empowerment.” To which he sneered that I “probably” watch CNN and read “The Guardian” newspaper. I replied, “I don’t watch CNN, but I do read “The Guardian,” among other global newspapers, and “The Guardian” is sponsored by its audience rather than corporate advertisers and private investors.

At one point he said that the CIA and the FBI are run by “the Left” who are out to “get Trump,” and that climate change is a “theory.” To this I replied quietly, “It was a theory, but now it’s scientific fact.”

But I left it at that, and when they said, a short while, later, “Oh, we really should get going…” which is normally the cue for the host to say, “Oh! Have one more drink or something more to eat!” I stood up immediately and said, “Yes.” And quickly spirited them both to the door, shook their hands, and closed it behind them. I’m aghast that I had a person so uncritical and uninformed in my home. And I’m perplexed as to why my friend is dating this person. (She’s an educator!). But this morning I couldn’t sleep in the wee morning hours thinking about this man’s ‘arguments’ and how this blurring of what is fact and belief has become so commonplace. That people are increasingly becoming so unreflective and undiscerning in their general thinking. That we’re seeing a lack of debating tools in arguments. I would claim that in political ‘debate,’ we’re seeing a complete breakdown of sane discussion. My heart is heavy today. In my early morning mind, before the sun rose, I thought of all the things I would have liked to have said to this man in the form of questions and facts based on public record, but which I didn’t do out of respect for my friend. Also, perhaps, because I’m not sure that a person like this is motivated to listen to anything that confronts his constructs of reality. I sensed that this one wouldn’t listen to counter information because his manner and his words denoted a belligerence that borders on aggressive hostility to certain groups (women, the wealthy, intellectuals, the French, despite living in France). However, so that I can expunge it from my head, I must write up all the things I would have LIKED to have mentioned to this man yesterday evening.

I would start with some basics: What is the definition of ‘fact’? (A thing that is known or proved to be true). What is “true”? (Something that can be proved and seen repeatedly over time in the same way each time). What is the definition of ‘belief’? (An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof). Do you believe in the Law of Gravity? (When you throw a ball in the air, it will come down. Gravity keeps things on earth from spinning off into space). Is the earth round or flat? (It’s round and spins on an axis that rotates around the sun). How do you know these things? (Through exhaustive quantitative study). What is a ‘public record’? (Public records in the USA come from agencies such as The Department for Motor Vehicles, the Department of Labor and Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service, etc.). I am not referring to any media or social media sources when I address the boyfriend’s points, below.

“Drain the Swamp!” It’s a slogan. What is a “slogan?” A slogan is a short, striking, memorable phrase used in advertising. What is the purpose of advertising? To sell you something. If its purpose is to sell you something, should you be wary of its “truth”? Accordingly, using public record only, let us examine Trump’s declaration that he has “drained the swamp!” starting with Trump. What is the experience he has that prepares him for the office of USA president? Unlike Obama, he has no formal or professional training in law, activism, history, geography, and politics. He has changed his political affiliation three times (Democrat, Independent, Republican). Personally, he inherited $413 million dollars from his father. He built Trump Taj Mahal hotel and casino for $1.2 billion dollars, declared bankruptcy on it (and consequently did not pay the workers who built the 2010-room hotel and casino), and then sold it for $50 million dollars. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is a nebulous advisor in the White House, is a clothing manufacturer (with no manufacturing done in the USA) and her husband, a de-facto advisor, is formerly a real estate developer who is millions of dollars in debt to Deutsche Bank. When he was inaugurated into the White House, Trump settled a court case brought against Trump University for fraud to the tune of $25 million dollars. Trump’s election campaign manager, Paul Manafort, the man responsible for Trump’s “win,” has recently been jailed for fraud. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, often described by Trump, himself, as his “fixer,” has also been jailed for fraud. Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, has a net worth of $300 million dollars from investment banking. He left a job at Goldman Sachs to run the treasury department of the USA. Betsy Devos, the current Education Secretary, who has no experience educating and whose family has a net worth of $5.8 billion dollars (from Amway), has the experience of being a large donor to the Republican Party. Andrew Wheeler, the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a former coal industry lobbyist (which is a person who takes part in an organized attempt to influence legislators. And “Legislators” are people who make the laws of the land).

I could go on-and-on about a conflict of interest and lack of ethics in this current administration, all based on public record rather than any news source, but I don’t have the inclination to do so here. I DID, however, mention a little of this to the boyfriend, and he said, “Everyone does it. Hilary Clinton was doing ‘pay-to-play’ for years and on her way to jail when she was running for office.” I asked him, “Then why isn’t she in jail now?” to which he replied that she has paid off the FBI and CIA to keep her out of prison and has “powerful backers.” (If she’s so powerful, why isn’t she in the White House? She did win the popular vote). Again, not sure why what she does matters, and this argument is akin to an child’s, but I did say to the boyfriend, “It doesn’t matter who else does it. The office of President or Prime Minister is the highest in the land and that person should be held to higher standards than the rest.”

The boyfriend then stated that once that “traitor” Mueller’s report is in “ashes,” then Trump will be “cleared” of the allegations mounted by “the Left.” I didn’t mention that Mueller is a Republican and a decorated war hero, unlike Trump who was a draft dodger (as was his father – all matter of public record). I asked the boyfriend why Trump hasn’t made his tax returns public in order to show that there is not a conflict of interests entering office, such as banking or Russian oligarch’s campaign donations as “the Left” asserts? The boyfriend said “Lots of presidents haven’t declared their taxes!” and “There’s no law!” I said, “Name one president who didn’t declare their taxes and/or personal income and expenditures.” Again, his response was that he has his “sources” and I have mine. Actually, there’s an obscure 1924 law about revealing one’s finances in the bid for US presidency, and the only president in US history NOT to declare their personal income and expenditures was Nixon. Once again, I refer one to public record.

Let us move on to another statement, “He’s doing something about illegals!” What, exactly, IS he doing? “Nothing Obama and Clinton didn’t do!” Yes, Obama deported a large amount of illegal immigrants. However, Obama respected the UN treaty on Human Rights Law, which is an agreement that member States are bound to respect. By becoming parties to international treaties, States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect, and to fulfill human rights (their safety, security, right to dignity). Under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, the Department of Justice began to criminally prosecute all suspected illegal border-crossers for illegal entry, even those who crossed for the first time. Families now undergo separations when parents or adult relatives are charged with unlawful entry. Obama did not do this and he did not oversee detention centers in which basic medical and sanitary services were not being met. Seven children have died in US custody in 2019, compared with NONE in the ten years prior. Again, a matter of public record. More than 11,000 children are now being held by the US govt. on any given day, up from an average of 1,000 in the previous ten years. This administration has also cancelled recreational activities for the ‘inmates,’ which violates US law for any prisoner or detainee. (I did mention a little of this to the boyfriend who said, again, that I have my sources, and he his, but added that Hilary Clinton was involved with “human trafficking.” I assume he was referring to the claim that she had been running a child trafficking business from the basement of a pizza parlor? I chose not to entertain this allegation by him).

Additionally, Trump’s own father and mother were immigrants who sought refuge – like these people currently at the border with Mexico – upon arrival to the USA, but were not housed in detention facilities. Melania, Trump’s current wife, worked illegally when she first arrived in the USA, and later, lied about her formal education on her application for a Green Card. I would also refer this boyfriend and any other ill-informed person, to research history books and historical public records about the origin of the slogan “America First” in the 1930’s, as well as the birth of the “Southern Strategy” in the 1950’s in order to more fully understand the context for this current administration’s directives.

Finally, this boyfriend stated that Fox News is “no worse a propaganda machine” than “The Guardian.” While I will concede that “The Guardian” does have a leftist bias, it is funded entirely by its audience, the people. Meanwhile, Fox News is founded by Rupert Murdoch and fed by advertising dollars of corporations and the likes of major GOP donors, such as Bob and Rebecca Mercer and the Koch Brothers. The boyfriend had no idea who these people are. (I did not inform the boyfriend that it was, in fact, President Clinton who made it possible for the birth of the right-wing media in the USA by eliminating the law that stated all public media outlets must state BOTH sides of an argument – a tragic lack of foresight). Meanwhile, it’s illogical that there is a “liberal media” pumping out propaganda to the “the Left.” Lamentably, corporations and excessively rich men who rely on advertisers and tax cuts own most media outlets in the USA. Which is why one must look at a variety of information sources in a discerning fashion – local newspapers where a story originates, a variety of global news outlets, radio, podcasts, public record, and one must also have some knowledge of history in order to form one’s political opinion. Simply ‘puppeting’ slogans such as “Drain the Swamp!” and “Lock her up!” and “Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers!” without anything specifics and facts to base one’s case on, is why we’re seeing the (cyclical) catastrophic rise of right-wing nationalism and distrust in public institutions (which begs the question – who might want the general public to distrust the public institutions designed to protect its citizens?).

I didn’t explain the Electoral College to the boyfriend when he said that Hilary supporters are just “bitter” about her loss. And, I won’t even broach the subject of this boyfriend’s claim that “climate change is a theory,” “a hoax,” because it’s so inane and I want another cup of coffee this morning. Coffee – something I’ll miss immeasurably when, and if, idiots like this man, and the fossil fuel and agricultural industries don’t finally realize that it’s their sorry selves on the line, too, with global warming. By the way, these aforementioned industrials do know climate change is real, but they pay millions of dollars each year to lobbyists in order to keep governments ‘in line’ with business-as-usual, which supports their personal profit-seeking, and people like the boyfriend believing climate change is a ‘hoax,’ in order to keep operating. And no, unlike what the boyfriend stated cynically at one point that “all” corporations and “rich people” evade taxes and avoid laws, and, furthermore, that “taxes aren’t important,” none of these statements are true. All rich people don’t avoid taxes. These actions are not normal, usual, and it is not consequently acceptable to evade taxes. Taxes ARE important for the functioning of a society, or we wouldn’t have public health, housing, education, roads, welfare, police and fire services, for example. But, once again, I refer one to the public record of a standard dictionary of language, and the definition of “collective” versus “individualistic,” and ask the question, who might benefit from limiting taxes paid to governments? From there, I refer one to a local library to read a bit about economic philosophy and the theory of “trickle down economics.” From there, incidents in history when this economic model has been used and how well that has worked out for a given land and its people.

However, as this piece focuses on American politics, I must say that I do NOT think that the Democratic Party is much better than the Republican Party, at least historically. In this, I can agree with the motivation behind many of those who chose to vote for Trump in order to disrupt the status quo of governance. The Democrats set the stage for the current USA order by becoming too Centrist. By not paying attention to their constituent’s values and desires that they fight for policies that are farther left than center. Arguably, however, this is due to the campaign ‘machine’ that requires large ‘war chests’ of money, and money generally comes from large corporations and more of the same type who are supporting and protecting the Trump administration. Therefore, Democratic politicians make deals and compromise values in order to do SOMETHING democratic…certainly, the Democrats have been an opposing force to all that Trump might have done, but, once again, they’re in-fighting for power in the run up to the nomination, and the DNC will likely support the most Centrist as the Democratic nominee, thereby showing that no lessons have been learned. But, this is not the subject of this essay. I say it in closing to acknowledge a rotten system to be sure, the specifics to support my argument will have to come in another diatribe I write in my head one pre-dawn morning.

(Gods I hope that getting this out of me this morning works as a catharsis and that my first thought tomorrow morning is NOT the end of the world as I see it – which is the decline of critical thinking).

 

 



December 21, 2018 – Cheerful Thoughts

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.” Elizabeth Wurtzel

lions breathing through a cageI love Christmas because it seems to bring out the humane in people. The individualism of the world is dismissed for a moment as people look outside of themselves to be kind and helpful to others. For most of us, it’s a time of loved ones and good food…ceremonies and lights. For many others, however, it’s a time of year when we feel we must pretend to be happy when we’re not. How does one begin to explain depression to a person who doesn’t know it first hand? How does one explain it even to oneself? As I consider how to describe it, a barrage of words come to mind: fatigue, panic, sadness, anger, confusion, suspicion, hesitation, reticence, loneliness, regret, fear, isolation, hopelessness, self-hatred, and an interminable longing to simply have it stop. It’s bleak.

I’ve suffered depression since I was an adolescent. Now, however, I somewhat understand the ways-and-means to avoid a rough bout of it – defined by me as the inability or wish to do anything but to be left alone to sleep, and when that’s not possible, the desire to achieve an altered state through substances in order to dull my senses and make things tolerable. To avoid these terrible times, I know to do a few things when I can feel it’s becoming hazardous, usually indicated by my having excessively destructive ‘self speak.’ I take a walk outside each day. I write each day. I watch comedies rather than dramas, and read novels that won’t delve into any existential battle or dystopian reality. I sleep more and drink more water. I also avoid certain types of people when possible. For me, I find it too challenging to spend time with people who exacerbate my sense of failure. People who seem happy and say positive things in an upbeat manner all the time. Privately, I find myself feeling that something is even more terrible about me that I’m miserable whereas obviously it’s possible that such contented people exist. At the same time, I have  disdain for these types of people, thinking they’re simple-minded or, worse, they’re false. This depresses me more.

Often, there is an internal struggle as I imagine a choice to either avoid depression or succumb to it. Part of me does not want to make it ‘better’ for myself, to do the things I know will help, but, rather, wants to delve into the monstrous abyss of it because I feel I deserve it and I’m too exhausted to fight. Another part of me thinks it’s utterly foolish to imagine I can escape it anyway. Sometimes I pretend for others that I’m not feeling as I do in the hope that it will go away if I simply ignore it. I know others prefer this. It never works. I went through a period of AA decades ago. One of the things that the group talked about is how those who suffer depression attempt to diminish their feelings through excessive drinking and/or the taking of drugs. Not only does this not lessen it, they asserted, the feelings of unhappiness become addictive (as do AA meetings!). I still consider this, but I don’t agree entirely. Indeed, I agree that unhappiness is a richly complex feeling that becomes habitual. I also think there’s credence to the idea that your brain creates ‘pathways,’ if you will, to well-used ‘roads’ of thinking when in doubt. Certainly a degree of self-absorption plays a role. However, happiness is also a rich and complex concept, with a plethora of words to describe subtleties of the feeling, so by rights, isn’t it equally addictive? The societal pursuit of it seems to be. Ultimately, I think that imagining depression is a choice, one that is created and perpetuated by the depressive person, means the onus is on them for how badly they feel. This type of thinking exacerbates the suffering that the depressive is already experiencing. It also doesn’t seem fair when it’s likely a matter of wonky chemistry and predisposition. Believing it’s ‘simply’ a choice is akin to the archaic and ignorant idea that depression is a ‘luxury.’

Luxury is too fun for it to be likened to depression. While I think there are elements of choice in the sense that the depressive can work to inhibit a full onslaught of depression, moving it from the caliber of ‘high fidelity’ to ‘low fidelity,’ I think it’s a disease that people don’t like to think about despite its prevalence. If one had cancer (other than lung cancer) then people would not blame the one who has it. Despite the progress made to understand and consequently reduce the stigma of depression, there’s still a stigma attached to it. I think it’s because people want those around them to reflect their illusion that life  has meaning and is ‘good.’ One only has to turn to Instagram or Facebook to see that the appearance of a perfect and happy life is a common objective. Ultimately, however, these are idle ruminations because once the curtain of depression descends, logic and reason do not enter. For me, depression is akin to a bad acid trip: one side of me recognizes that the perceptions and feelings are not ‘real’ and that I must simply wait for it to pass. The other side of me feels that my bleak perception of myself and the world, and the ‘inevitable’ outcomes for my emotions, are very real. It’s tortuous.

If you love someone that struggles with depression and you would like to support them, I suggest the following: keep a wide berth. Not really. In fact, try to let the depressive know (without being oppressively cloying) through verbal and non verbal actions, that they’re not completely alone and they do matter to someone. But don’t use platitudes, that’s horrible. Try to be honest. When in doubt, humor always helps.



The Baby Diaries 21

Depression is melancholy minus its charms…Susan Sontag

Depression picHaving a baby triggers a heap of emotions both good and bad – pleasure, joy, enthusiasm, apprehension, anxiety, and, often, depression. Yes, that’s right. I’m daring to talk about the elephant in the room. The one that Brits don’t generally like to talk about and Americans talk too much about. When Brits talk about depression, their views often reflect their ignorance and outdated myths (or repression): it’s a sign of “weakness,” it’s self-indulgent, and one needs to keep their “chin up,” be positive, and all that. One thoughtless English ‘friend’ recently said to me, “Oh, I simply don’t have the luxury of depression!”

Regarding depression following the birth of a baby, rest assured it’s a complication of birth, not narcissism or an inadequacy on the part of the mother. It can happen a week or two after giving birth, it can happen a year after giving birth, or it can happen after nursing stops. Experts no longer regard depression’s cause as being purely physical, circumstantial, or emotional, but, rather, a combination of reasons. Physically speaking, after a woman gives birth, there’s a dramatic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone), and other hormones produced by the thyroid also drop sharply. There are changes in blood volume and pressure. Changes to the metabolism and the immune system. The mother’s lifestyle and emotional circumstances also can prompt depression. Perhaps the baby is demanding. Maybe there are other siblings. Perhaps she has difficulty breast-feeding. Or there’s a lack of personal and practical support. Her body changes, she feels less attractive. She struggles with her sense of identity as she feels a loss of control and independence.

The most common form of depression is called “the baby blues.” This lasts for a week or two, and causes the new mom to be moody, anxious, irritable, tearful, and unable to concentrate (though what new mother doesn’t feel this?). The second type is called “postpartum depression.” Symptoms include a loss of appetite, insomnia, intense irritability and anger. Overwhelming fatigue. No interest in sex. No sense of joy in life. Feelings of shame, guilt, and inadequacy. Severe mood swings. Withdrawal from friends and family. Thoughts of harming oneself or one’s baby. Difficulty bonding with the baby. The third type, and the most severe type of postpartum depression, is called “Postpartum Psychosis.” Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and serious consideration about harming yourself or your baby.

As mentioned, there has historically been a stigma to speaking about depression, so one is understandably reluctant and embarrassed to talk about it. But it is important for your own health, as well as your baby’s health, to talk to your doctor (in the first instance) about any combination of the aforementioned symptoms you may feel. Left untreated, each of these depressions can become more severe in nature and can lead to a chronic depressive disorder. Even when they’re treated, there’s an increase in a woman’s risk for future episodes of severe depression. Also, left untreated, the depression will affect your child negatively: studies show that the children of mothers with untreated postpartum depression have an increased likelihood of developing behavioral problems, such as sleeping and eating disorders, hyperactivity, temper tantrums, delays in learning development, language, and socialization skills.

The good news? It’s not your fault if you’re feeling depressed. And, contrary to the US, where doctors are so used to people asking for help with depression that there is an inadvertent “business as usual” approach, and contrary to the UK, where the whole “keep calm and carry on” myths prevail (it’s ironic to me that this British slogan was first used during WWII, and Winston Churchill was depressive and quite open about this fact), and one must beg for help with depression, the French are incredibly sympathetic, and they believe in a comprehensive approach. One that incorporates modern medicine, such as anti-depressants and sleeping pills, as well as holistic care such as acupuncture, meditation, vitamins, and yoga. So, if you’re feeling bad, and you suspect that you may be depressed, go talk to your local French doctor and read up on the maladie. Discover what it entails and how common it really is – you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel afterward, if only by learning that you are not unique in your feelings after all.



The Pregnancy Diaries – 18

‘One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is that things are what they are and will be what they will be.’ Oscar Wilde

This week doesn’t have much to do with being pregnant other than the fact that I’ve heard this funny story from a friend while I’m pregnant that gave me a chuckle, which I hope it does with you…this is Steve’s story:

Steve had a fight with his wife while they were living in Los Angeles. He wanted to die. He goes to South Central (a potentially violent area of town). He goes to a disco there. He’s the only white guy in the club. He gets drunk. He wants to be beaten up. The folks in there feel sorry for him. He finds himself in the parking lot of the club at 3am and thinks “Well, I guess I’ll go home.” Driving home, he sees a Dunkin Donuts and thinks an apple fritter sounds good. He gets one. He’s driving through an intersection, trying to eat his fritter at the same time, and he grinds his gears. A cop pulls him over. He’s got an out of state license and he’s drunk. The cop takes him to jail. He’s put in a cell with about thirty guys. They are mostly Mexican and black. The only other white guys are an old man who looks absolutely crazy and a midget. Really. It’s not politically correct in there. Every time a new black guy is put in the cell and sees the midget, he exclaims, ‘Whawt tha fuuuck?!’ The toilet in the cell has an industrial strength flush. You have to practically hold onto something to keep from going in. The guys in the cell take a toilet roll and put the paper end bit in the toilet and throw the roll around the cell, then flush the toilet and watch the roll fly around the cell and get swallowed by the toilet, then they all chuckle and do it again. Steve got arrested on a Friday and had to wait for court to open after the weekend. On Monday, they’re all shackled together and the guard is doing roll call and keeps calling a guy’s name. It’s the midget. The midget is jumping up raising his hand and finally the guard sees him and says, ‘Ah, no wonder I missed you,’ and all the guys in the chain laugh.

That’s the end of Steve’s story. I’ll talk about my pregnancy again next week. Till then, things are ticking along and I’m getting bigger by the week.