Robin Williams, And Why We Need To Talk About Depression

When I started writing this, I was going to focus on the death of Robin Williams. But looking over all the coverage in the last 48 hours, I’ve realized that such an article would just be repeating the same stories already out there. I could talk about watching Mork & Mindy reruns on Nick at Nite as a kid, or how I saw Aladdin, Jumanji, and Mrs. Doubtfire enough times to memorize every line. I could talk about how legitimately creepy I found him in One Hour Photo and Law and Order SVU. I could talk about how the phrase, “It’s not your fault” still makes me tear up. But you’ve read – and likely experienced – all of that already. It’s amazing how one man can bring together millions of strangers with a common experience of laughter. I wish I had a better story to tell you, that I was trapped in an elevator with him for an hour, or that he held a door open for me one time. But I don’t. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 30 years, but I never met him.

And now I never will.

If there’s anything positive that can come out of this tragedy, it’s that more people are talking about depression and suicide. It needs to be discussed. Our culture has many proverbial elephants in the room, but depression is one of the biggest and deadliest. Psychology has developed leaps and bounds over the last century, but there’s still so much we don’t know. Lobotomies aren’t a form of treatment anymore, though all the medications and their innumerable side effects aren’t much better. Most folks haven’t bothered to learn anything about depression; if something’s uncomfortable, it’s much easier to sweep it under the rug. There’s an unspoken stigma – especially for men – about mental health. Oh sure, we all know it’s there, but who wants to think about that? It’s so much easier going about your daily life, catching a movie, playing a video game…whatever it takes to keep you distracted from the darker, lesser-known aspects of our existence. Because there’s no way anything like that could happen to you, right?

I know better.

I know what it’s like having that little twinge of doubt consuming your every action and decision. It builds with each passing day, filling and weighing your down like molten lead. I know the burn of stigma and shame, that sense of worthlessness and isolation. That no one could possibly understand. That you’re different, broken, maybe a lost cause. That you shouldn’t bother asking for help, because it’s nothing, it’s all your fault, and no one would want to help you anyway. That you have to pretend and put on a smile, and how exhausting it is. That you can’t fall asleep sometimes, because your brain is spinning like a tire stuck in mud. That you occasionally dread getting up in the morning because it’s yet another day bereft of meaning. That every aspect of your life is conspiring to make you more miserable. That things are so bad now, and the future is a terrifying prospect.

Look, I know you’re out there. You’re sitting in front a screen somewhere, and you’re feeling trapped and alone. I don’t know you, your background, age, sex, gender, ethnicity, circumstances, none of the above. I’m not going to pretend that I get everything about what you’re going through, but I know enough. Depression isn’t just a habit you can kick; it’s there, and it’s a serious, potentially deadly problem. It doesn’t make you a bad or weak person. But leaving it untreated is like putting a rock in your shoe and running a marathon. So, let me ask (and you don’t have to answer, but just think about it): What’s stopping you from getting help? Is it fear of rejection? Insurance coverage costs? Guilt? Whatever it is, are there ways around it? Also, let’s make one thing clear:

There is nothing, nothing wrong with asking for help.

I’m not going to romanticize therapy, either; it’s difficult in ways you’d never expect. It makes you take a long, hard look at yourself, and there’s no instant cure. For some, a couple of pills a day isn’t going to solve your problems. But if you’re going to do anything, then at least talk about it. If you can get therapy, go for it. If not, talk to your trusted family and friends. If not them, support groups and hotlines. Possibly all of the above. If you need to call someone, there are plenty waiting to listen. People can and will help you, but they’re never going to know unless you tell them. And for those of you who know someone in need, be there for them. It’s not about politics, taboos, or whatever else; someone you care about needs your help. I don’t think you’re going to leave them hanging. If you want to learn more about depression and suicide, there are several resources online. Try starting with the entries on WebMD, Wikipedia, and TV Tropes.

I don’t know if this post is going to make any difference. If it helps someone struggling out there, then I’d consider it a success. I’m typically reserved and quiet, so all of this preaching about seeking help from others and whatnot might sound hypocritical. Despite that, I am living proof of my argument; I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I’m not an optimist, but I’d rather fill an empty life than throw it away. Look, I’m not idealistic enough to think that we can change everything about depression overnight; despite all our advancements, we’re barely scratching the surface. But the first step is talking about it. Too many people have lost their lives in the silence already.

I’ve been on the soapbox long enough. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on a Robin Williams movie binge.

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The New Old School

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about school. Specifically, how and what would you change if you could design its entire curriculum. Now, this is my kind of prompt. If you’ve read some of my other entries, you know that education is really important to me. I know it sounds kind of corny, but it’s pretty serious once you start thinking about it. Even without going into all the stuff like terrible salaries and the Common Core debacle – messes I will most decidedly avoid – it’s a great, hard question that every society has had to tackle in one way or another. So, let’s just assume this prompt allows us to have an unlimited budget and focus on the bigger picture. What do you pass on to the next generation? What knowledge is essential to not only the making of a good citizen, but a person in general?

I’d draw my inspiration from history. Ever hear of a classical education? Students were taught the fundamentals of grammar, logic, rhetoric, and pretty much every facet of human activity as they understood it. Once the basics were covered, they’d switch over to stuff like arithmetic, geometry, history, and the sciences. Sound familiar? Even over a thousand years ago amidst the ruins of the Roman Empire, people understood the necessity of a well-rounded education…Except that literacy was pretty much reserved for the uppermost social classes. And technology and the sciences were limited and slow to advance because, you know, it was the Middle Ages.

It was a work in progress.

These days, we’ve got the opposite problem. We’ve progressed so far in technology, there’s literally too much for one curriculum to handle. It’s like trying to find a legit, in-depth scientific article via Google search. You’ve got to dig through pages of junk before finding anything useful. Now, just imagine doing that when you’re trying to create a multi-year plan. You can’t just throw out the essentials like reading, writing, and mathematics. You need those to understand everything else, and all of them need to be emphasized just as much as the others. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could communicate in the adult world on just tweets and texts. I wouldn’t settle for teaching popular works; I’d go with the most influential. Not just Shakespeare, either; Homer’s epics, Aristotle, Thoreau, Austen, Orwell, Marquez, Borges, Doyle, Poe…the potential list is mind-boggling. As for mathematics, the basics would remain unchanged, but pacing and fully understanding the process would be important. I know the consequences firsthand; going into my freshman college year, I tested high enough to be placed in Calculus…but I’d never taken a day of trigonometry before.

Yeah, you can imagine how that turned out.

Once the basics are out of the way, the courses would expand to history, languages, humanities, sports, economics, music, communications, technologies, and the sciences. Well-stocked laboratories, networking with other facilities, and a robust athletic program would be expected. If you want to learn a new language or two, you could use the blackboard computer interface to contact with the corresponding teacher on the other side of the world. After spending a couple of years doing an overview of various fields, students would be allowed to choose what courses they’d like to take as electives. I’d try to avoid any of the watered-down “correct” stuff; kids need to have a greater understanding of the world around them. Mankind’s history is a fascinating, grisly tale of survival and discovery that still impacts us today. Hey, fellow Americans, remember the Declaration of Independence? The freedom we so stereotypically cherish? It’s based on the philosophies of the Enlightenment. You know, that major European cultural movement? The one that helped revolutionize the scientific method? The thing responsible for the evolution of Western society as we know it?

Understanding history and other cultures is kind of important.

Even if every course is somehow perfected and made available, it still only solves part of the problem. It’s not just about the classes, but how the students perceive them. It’s not just because they’re lazy or distracted; it’s because we as adults aren’t encouraging them enough. Anti-intellectualism is still a huge problem in our society; we can’t expect to thrive as a culture if our descendants aren’t as knowledgeable as we are. Then there’s the whole segregation of interests based upon things like gender or sexuality. There’s a reason you hear about women’s lacking education and career presence in the news all the time. And yeah, you’d better believe I’d encourage girls to pursue whatever academic interests they have. However, I wouldn’t do it just for female students. Male students deserve just as much attention, yet their interests are increasingly brushed aside under the assumption that they’re just acting out or can do whatever they want. It’s ridiculously biased and loaded with unfortunate implications; people should succeed based upon their own abilities, not out of adherence to political correctness or underlying prejudice. Wish I had that help when I was clawing my way to the top of the class. Look, I don’t care what you have in your pants; everyone needs help to reach their full potential.

Sigh.

You know, it’s a good thing I’m not actually an educator. If I can get this ticked off by just writing a blog post about education, I’d probably have a heart attack trying to implement it in real life. So, I’ll just stop now and leave you with this quote from Metal Gear Solid 2:

Solid Snake: Life isn’t just about passing on your genes. We can leave behind much more than just DNA. Through speech, music, literature and movies…what we’ve seen, heard, felt…anger, joy and sorrow…these are the things I will pass on. That’s what I live for. We need to pass the torch, and let our children read our messy and sad history by its light.We have all the magic of the digital age to do that with. The human race will probably come to an end some time, and new species may rule over this planet. Earth may not be forever, but we still have the responsibility to leave what traces of life we can. Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.

Think about it.