Tag Archives: tragedy

Battle Fatigue

In rehab it’s possible that Robin Williams’ doctors treated him as a dual diagnosis patient. A dual diagnosis indicates that a patient suffers from some form of mental illness along with substance abuse. Depression, for example, might lead to alcohol abuse, or abusing alcohol might make depression worse.

I look at it more like a DUEL diagnosis. Every day you wake up staring down your opponent, preparing to fight. It’s like those old-time Westerns, with all the drama and the palpable threat of death.

But in this duel, as you approach your adversary, a wall appears and smacks you in the face. It’s a mirror you’ve been staring down—it’s you you’re after, fighting for your life against your life itself.

Robin Williams knew the feeling. He fought hard to stay on his feet. As I continue my battle with depression, I’m distraught today over the realization that a talented man and caring soul couldn’t stop beating himself up.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Life

Breaking News

An event, especially a painful experience, feels most intense to the person or people directly involved in it. Hearing about something that happened to someone else can be troubling, but pales in comparison to the discomfort the sufferer endures.

Say I break my leg. As news of my accident spreads to people in my immediate circle, the impact of the event carries weight, but its magnitude decreases as the story passes through the grapevine and filters out away from me. I matter to a small group of family and friends, but beyond them my suffering means little, save for the doctors and nurses who treat my injury.

But what happens when Harrison Ford breaks his leg, as he did earlier this month on the set of the new Star Wars film? The media pick up the story, turning coverage of the event into an event in itself. First it’s reported he broke his ankle; it matters not that a few days later we learn it’s his leg. As word spreads, the truth of Ford’s experience undergoes profound shifts. Our attention quickly turns to questions like: How does this affect filming? Will this delay the film’s release? What scene was he shooting? What more might I learn about this blockbuster-in-waiting?

I break news of my mishap on Twitter and Facebook or look for sympathy on my blog. I post a video of me falling, the snapping of the bone ready at the click of “play.” The personal is public. A lot less people care about my misfortunes than Ford’s fans do about his, but strangers whom I’ll never meet find out that I’m in pain thanks to the gospel of gossip: social media.

As information accelerates—as we share and overshare detail after detail—the lived experience of individual events gets discounted, forgotten, displaced. My truth, as it passes from person to person—and Ford’s truth, as it cycles from news outlet to news outlet—gathers false details and suffers from serious omissions, such that appearances trump the Real. But nobody cares about the truth; we simply need to know everything all the time without considering sources or fussing over facts.

It’s like saying “orange” over and over in a short span to the point of exhaustion. The tongue turns “orange” inside out, perverting its sound, stretching it into nonsense. The media repeat (reproduce) stories many times over, draining them of substance, erasing all traces of human suffering. Lost in the business of its global display, tragedy becomes spectacle. Remember: we’re only considering a famous actor’s broken leg; what might we say about America’s recent reentry into Iraq or the VA scandal that resulted in the deaths of veterans waiting for medical care?

Every accident becomes spectacle. Pain becomes mundane. When everything’s covered, when no moment escapes the watchful eye of real-time “expert analysis,” the spectacle itself is breaking news.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Critical Theory

I find myself attracted to art that might be labeled “depressing.” Sometimes I fear I’m simply indulging my illness, looking for verification of the thought: “Life sucks and then you die.” In my sadness, the theory goes, I long for the sadness of others. Perhaps I’d be better off listening to Joel Osteen or binge-watching Little House on the Prairie.

At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy modernist, I believe that art can change the world. This doesn’t mean paint puppies, rainbows and butterflies. Authentic art depicts things as they are, exposes them as being socially constructed rather than natural, and suggests alternative paths to freedom.

A big part of my depression involves my tendency to be self-critical. I’m always looking to improve, sometimes to the point of exhausting myself in the mythical pursuit of Perfection. My internal critique extends outward, into social and political spheres. I’m not content with accepting things at face value. I ask questions and search for inconsistencies between what people claim to believe and how they act.

I’m attracted to “depressing” art not because I’m looking for an alibi for my sadness, but instead because I’m unhappy with the status quo and want to uproot entrenched cultural assumptions. It goes beyond my depression or the somber nature of contemporary art.

It’s life that’s tragic. It’s life that’s unkind.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Life, Philosophy, Politics

In Defense Of Sadness

What would the world look like if each of us admitted the truth that deep down we’re all a little sad? Would confessing that at our very core things just aren’t right help us make our lives better?

I’ve been wondering such heavy things (in some form) for a long time now, probably since the third or fourth grade. It amazes me how stuff that happened to me years ago manages to re-surface today, buoyant emotional debris clogging up my thought-streams.

But I often keep hidden my sadness about unfortunate moments I’ve had to endure. Repression provided strong shelter during difficult times, but it prevented me from venturing back outside once the storms had passed.

Today I realize that sadness is an important part of my experience. It allows me to mourn for what and whom I’ve lost. Sadness reminds me I’m human and that everyone I encounter is suffering too.

If anything, when I’m sad I’m more aware of how I don’t want others to hurt. Compassion stems from the realization that none of us is immune from pain and hardship. In helping others acknowledge that life is often tragic and disheartening, I hope that the small circle of people I know can stray from the “I’m doing fine” act and feel less alone.

And in feeling less alone, perhaps we’ll all self-medicate less, and avoid trying to compensate for our sadness in ways that simply increase our pain and make everyone around us miserable.

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy