Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Forget Sometimes

It looks like a lot of you stopped by to watch that polar bear video last week, which is great. What did you think of it? 

So many of you who read this blog come here because you've either had an experience yourselves that makes something in my story resonate with you, or you know someone who has and reading about what I'm going through sheds light on what your loved one might be experiencing.

Does Peter Levine's trauma theory and the PTSD perpetual motion machine jibe with what you see (or feel) in your daily life?

Perhaps more interestingly, have you heard of any other theories that resonate?

I admit, this one clicked with me and I stopped looking. I got a physiological, neurological context that explained the emotional impact, and I was sold.

Well. I wouldn't say "stopped looking." I looked. But all of the other things I saw talked about how to work on current behavior and thought patterns, and not about causes.

For example, there are a lot of motivational speakers and others out there who talk about the way to combat PTSD: mindfulness; meditation; cognitive behavior therapy to challenge and correct negative thought patterns; art therapy to revive your creativity and connection with your emotions; connecting with others as a way to keep yourself centered in the world and prevent yourself from retreating into oblivion.

All of those things are true, by the way.

But all of them are methods for how. None of them explain why.

For me, the hows don't work without the whys.

There is something so comforting in feeling, at my core, like nothing more than a primal, instinctive mammal who was just following a biological imperative.

There's no value judgement in that, you know?

It's such an efficient, effective way to destigmatize the reaction.

I want that for people. A destigmatized view of the ways their brains and bodies respond to cope with danger. 

And a destigmatized view of the way other people's brains and bodies respond to cope with danger.

Robin Williams committed suicide this week.

It was a terrible thing to hear, even though I never knew Robin Williams as a person. I had a few close brushes-- he lived locally, was a friend-of-a-friend a few times over. I saw him once or twice at local shows.  I enjoyed hearing the "real" stories about him-- that he rode his bike around the City, that he dropped in at the SF library occasionally and performed impromptu storytime readings for the kids there, that he showed up at open mics in tiny clubs to try out material, that he was just a nice, regular guy.

I believe that. I like that.

But I have to say, the biggest shock for me, this week, was not that he killed himself, as awful as it was.

It was that so many people, the world over, seemed to think of him as such a happy, joyful guy.

I don't know who they were watching all those years, but it wasn't the guy I was watching.

I found his fast-riffing comedy excruciating, mainly because he seemed so uncomfortable; so pained; so terribly desperate to distract from himself. To me, he always seemed like a guy about to scream.

I loved him, though, in his straight roles. He had a depth to him that was so affecting when he allowed it to show.

And in his one-one-one interviews, whether he was talking about a film or about addiction or depression or talking about meeting Koko the gorilla (my personal lifelong dream**), I loved his calm, and the quiet kindness in his eyes.

The conversations about depression the Robin's death has raised are important and necessary, but they are also frustrating and frightening for those of us who have been in the game for a while. People don't know enough about mental illness. And many of them are quick to cast judgement upon those who suffer, which makes it that much harder for information to spread and for sufferers to get the help they need.

Anyway. You're here. You know how I feel about this stuff. This week was just an uncomfortable reminder of how very far we are from the goal.

Depression is, like, entry-level stuff, as far as mental illness goes. I don't mean to make light of depression in any way by saying that. The condition itself is nothing to make light of. As you know, I suffer from it myself. 

What I mean is: it's the most prevalent, the most easily-identified and treated. It's everywhere. As far as outsider exposure to mental illness, this is the one they're most likely to encounter. 

And yet it's still so far from understood, and so far from accepted.

I forget sometimes.

I'm over here trying to figure out how to bring more exposure and acceptance to PTSD-- something that's a few rungs up the ladder if people don't even understand depression in their fellow citizens-- or in themselves-- yet.

I guess I can only hope that by writing this blog, I am doing my part to bring down the walls around mental illness and shine a light on it so that more people can understand what it is, how it can happen, and what it's like for people who struggle with it every day.

We've got a lot of work to do.


**Meeting Koko the Gorilla is, in fact, a lifelong dream of mine. I grew up idolizing Jane Goodall and wanting to teach chimpanzees to communicate in sign. I once applied for a job writing science journal articles at The Gorilla Foundation, the compound in Woodside, CA, where Koko lives. The job, like all jobs at the Gorilla Foundation, would have included several hours per week of "gorilla-sitting." OMG.

I had a freshly-minted Master's degree in writing. My cover letter made my proofreader cry. I was so ready, you guys.

I did not get the job. Not even a "thanks, but no thanks." Moreover, Koko did not personally respond to me in sign, via video, telling me how disappointed she was at the poor choices of the bureaucracy that surrounded her.

Whatever. The commute would have sucked anyway.

1 comment:

  1. I can't stop thinking about the huge deep cleansing breaths that the bear takes after the convulsing. You're right... that must be the freshest air of all time.