Another Soul, Another Controversy

20170807_004837This brooches the subject of outdated news by all traditional schools of thought, and very nearly all current schools of thought. Indeed, one of the lessons taught to prospective students in radio broadcast: if it happened more than a day ago, it’s dead news and time to move on. Our media engines move quickly and, as a result, we consume this information much more rapidly to keep up with the ever incessant onslaught of new stories or, sometimes, just a rehashing of something we’ve heard before.

My brain simply doesn’t move that quickly, especially on more sensitive topics. I’ll very likely never be able to compete with modern news sources on my own because it takes too long for me to rationalize what I’ve heard, then turn it over in my head some two dozen times and think it through. And while I certainly consider this to be an important process for me as a method of mitigating hasty (and, need I say, almost exclusively ignorant) opinions on matters, it means that when I finally have something to say about a topic, everyone has already moved on to the next thing.

And for some conversations, this is fine. Some topics will come and go and people will either learn from it or discard the information, as is their want. For other topics, though: this can be acidic to the nature of the ongoing conversation that we, as a peoples, need to have about certain issues that plague our society or world. Some pieces of information we learn needs to be remembered, or at least discussed more deeply than our fast-moving world will allow. And I’m not the first to say this; it has been said more eloquently by better minds or more learned people.

Without beating any further around the bush, this is another discussion about the ongoing crisis that is our Mental Health Awareness in North America, or at the very least Canada. And yes, much like many people, this point was, again, reinforced by another celebrity taking their life due to unsustainable depression. But this point was not a reminder for me; I live with depression on a daily basis. As a person diagnosed with Clinical Depression, I’ve yielded to the fact that this is something that I’ll be fighting with for the rest of my life.

There are countless others who are in similar situations, and most certainly a good majority have it far worse than I ever will. And much like everyone else (to my working knowledge) who lives with depression, or knows someone very close to them who is afflicted, the ongoing fight to keep a healthy mentality is never far from our minds. But, where I do differ from some of these people is my understanding of the natures of these issues.

20170308_225340_10272_972071Not terribly long ago now, the lead singer (and some would say, the very soul of) Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, terminated his life quite prematurely. There was a massive outpouring of sympathy and sadness from the music community and fans the world over. But what surprised me was a small voice that was buried in the crowd. It was anger. Not at the late Mr. Bennington or Linkin Park; it was anger at the world around them.

“How many more people need to kill themselves before everyone really begins to care?” These were, in essence, the messages these groups were shouting. “You only care about depression and suicide when someone famous dies! Why don’t you care all the time?!”

In all honesty, this is a point very near and dear to me. Again, as said earlier: I live with depression and battle it on a daily basis. Many of angry voices that demanded this were either in similar boats themselves, or very likely people who have lost loved ones to suicide. And while, at first, I was a little put off by their sentiments, as time wore on I started thinking about it more and more. I didn’t want to be angry at the anonymous masses who would forget about mental health in a few days; I am a strong believer that anger is a poor medium to enact constructive change.

I am also, deep down inside, an angry person myself. In general, anyway: I have a bit of a temper. #gingerproblems

But I also didn’t want to be frustrated, much like these many angry voices were. After all, everyone is more than willing to show their support for mental health awareness when someone famous dies, so why can’t they care about it all the time?

There are many, many, many reasons why, as I see it. For starters, it’s entirely hard for someone who has not had experience with depression to understand the depth of detriment it does to someone’s well being. And for many who do experience depression, it is something they either are cured of, or find methods to cope with so that it does not become exceedingly prominent in their life. With this in mind, it’s very easy to understand why many people have a hard time empathizing with this issue, or even sympathizing.

As well as the other issue mentioned at the very beginning of this blog: things move fast in our world now. News and media aside; everything about our lives are quite frantic and harried when you really think about it. The concept of ‘a long time’ has changed drastically through the generations and, even now, changed exponentially within the years. No longer is ‘a long time’ generally agreed upon by months or even years; now ‘a long time’ could be a few hours to a couple of days.

And when things move this fast, especially in our connected world where the internet has allowed us to cultivate massive networks of people whose lives we closely follow: the information we receive is less news and more bombardment. And that’s not even including things that happen in our personal lives. If you really stopped and thought about it, a great deal happens to the average and not-so-average Canadian’s daily routine.

And of course, the biggest hurdle I see with everyone taking a zealous interest in conquering mental health issues is: energy. Because, for the worst case scenarios, depression isn’t something that’s really ever fixed. Unlike a cold, or a building project: there’s no real end in sight. And, as is contrary to the very progression-based mentalities that have become so centric to western societies, it’s very easy for someone living with depression to relapse due to factors outside of their control.

I can understand how it is frustrating for people who try to keep close relations to me when I suddenly go silent for months at a time because I’m locked in my own head. It takes a shocking about of energy to interact, on a consistent basis, someone who suffers from depression or similar. And energy is a very limited commodity we, as a human race, have. Energy to be spent on other pursuits: travel, work, family, friends, hobbies, interests, passive or active activities, stories, education and the list could go on for quite a long time.

And with all these things that we, as individuals, value and prioritize, I can very much understand why keeping close relations to anyone who requires a lot of time, patience and energy to interact with and care for, is a trying process. It is not for everyone, and that’s quite alright. It is stressful and draining, to say the least. I get that, I can sympathize with that.

When I see mass posting about people crying out for better mental health treatments or options when someone famous commits suicide, I don’t get upset at them. I will not deny that I would be more pleased to see them give the same attention to this issue all the time, but that is simply not reasonable nor realistic.

After all, there are many issues in our world that people champion and fight for that I, myself, have forgotten about as time wears on. As shocking as it is to hear: cancer has not greatly impacted my life as it has many others’. Cancer research and better treatments are, as a result, not something I often remember or take notice of. And that fact may shock you. After all, cancer is one of the leading killers in the western world, and is often referenced in the news or in general discussion.

It is not to say I do not care about cancer research though. To think that it is something I do not care about would be a grave misunderstanding of things. I would love, as much as the next person, to hear that there has been a cure for cancer and that no one needs to suffer that fate ever again. However, it is simply not the fight I have chosen to focus my efforts and energy into. And the same could be said for any other hundreds of issues that groups have dedicated themselves to.

I was toying around with the idea of making a small list here of other topics, but it was getting excessively long and a bit distracting: I wanted to keep researching more points to make the list even longer.

So when I see posting occasionally pop up about mental health awareness as a result of recent news, I will not become angry. I’d rather capitalize on the brief attention of these people and engage in discussion. Much like all great things, this is an ongoing effort that will take no shortage of time, understanding and compassion to conquer. And with every conversation we have on these matters, a greater understanding is achieved. And when society has a greater understanding of things, it is an inarguable victory, regardless of how small it is.

suicide prevention imageIn the meantime, I will continue to dedicate myself to this fight; so long as all the other battles are being fought by others as dedicated to theirs as I am to mine. If mental health awareness or treatment isn’t your particular battle, I will not think less of you for it. If it is not something you spend your energy upon often to learn more about, and the only time you think to involve yourself in the discussion is after tragedy, to you I promise:

I will always be willing to have a conversation with you about it.

Imperfect Recollection: the Proof

20170802_013032I’m sure you’re familiar with that age old saying: “Some things you’ll never forget”. Truly, some occurrences and instances are so fantastical, extraordinary or downright moving that an exact series of frames, or even complete video footage, very well might have been imprinted into your brain. And these memories are exceedingly personal, each one forming a small component of who you are and identify as.

This past Saturday, I experienced something that I had assumed would be just that: an event that would be so vivid in my mind I’d be able to draw upon it without much effort. I was involved in a fairly intense car collision, which (as you can see from the attached photo) did very little to improve the condition of my truck. My blog post today isn’t so much about that occurrence, rather a series of observations I have made recently about my own cognisance and memory.

As I had said, I entirely suspected that I’d remember every detail leading up to as well as the crash itself. I even remember remarking to my dad shortly afterwards that the crash was useful to me: now I could write about the force of impact, the sounds, the smells and all other sensory stimulants in much greater detail. And it is true, even now, certain events I can easily call upon.

It hadn’t even been an hour, however, and the memories were beginning to muddle in my mind. For starters, I had it in my head that the other vehicle in the crash was white. Spoiler alert: not even close. This was surprising to me at the time, as the other vehicle was just around the corner from where I sat. Then came the realization that I was misremembering what my dad had said mere seconds before the crash.

For those curious: “Fuck, this is going to hurt.”

These inconsistencies were mounting rapidly as minutes passed by, and in the days following, I can’t say for certain if I misremember particular details, or if I’ve outright fabricated them myself. A day later, an off-hand comment had revealed that the back-end of the truck had lifted off the ground upon impact. I had no memory of that at the time, but now, I can visualize the sensation of the back end lifting. Did that actually happen, and was I actually remembering it? Did my mind just fill in a blank with the information presented?

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Surprisingly, the only damage sustained was a somewhat nasty bruise on my nose

It’s been a long standing reality of most psychological fields that memory is less than perfect. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if Socrates himself even said “Damn, I don’t remember last night happening THAT way.” Disclaimer: I know Socrates wasn’t a psychologist, but I hope you get what I’m getting at with this analogy. This is, as far as we understand, a result of the fragmented way our brains store what we refer to as memories.

I’ll not delve much further into the specifics of how the concept we rationalize as memory is compartmentalized and stored within our brains, if for no other reason than I’m still not entirely sure I understand it myself. After all, I am not a psychologist (yet). But what I can speak of with confidence is the newfound understanding of how I can understand my own memory processes. And while it’s not indicative of how the average person (whatever those are) remembers things, it may serve as a launching point for further inquiries and discussions.

For the time being, however, I can confidently say I’ve thoroughly shaken my own appreciation for how unreliable my memory is. I used to think it was prone to deception after 24 hours, and I’ve now been served a clarification.

It’ll lie to me after fifteen minutes.

Please Unfriend Me Now!

It’s 2am in the morning Tuesday. I’ve been lying in bed for about an hour and a half just thinking. It’s usually at times like this I flip and flop over and over until I either fall asleep or out of bed (then asleep. I am not a complicated creature). But this night was a little different. There was a series of thoughts and concepts mulling around that I simply couldn’t shake.

Of course, I had to get up and figure out exactly what it was that was bothering me this time. I flipped through a couple of random Facebook pages until I came across that old, familiar meme that, while always being a little different, typically carries the same punchline: “If you disagree with me, unfriend me now.”

It was about that time all the thoughts came together and I understood what had crawled under my skin and was driving me a little batty. Between all the marvelous spreading of news, misinformation and badly cited sources, I had reached a so-called critical mass of exhaustion of that old “unfriend me now” thing.

unfriend post            While I’m certainly not going to beat the drum of “Fake News is BAD” that you can find just about anywhere, what I really need to discuss is why I find this “unfriend me now” sentiment is not only counter-intuitive, but ultimately destructive of a globalization overall.

Note to self: I need to find a nicer short-hand for the “unfriend me now” statement. I feel like its unnecessarily padding out my word count. Going forward, I shall call it the “Fred”, nicely wrapped in quotation marks. That works.

As a primer, I feel the need to convey a couple of personal beliefs I hold to make the transition from speculation to discussion a little more smooth. Primarily: I am pro-globalization and largely believe that our international societies are dependent on globalization to function at their current capacity; I do frequently use social media myself and, regrettably, it too is a source of news for me (which I am endeavoring to change, but it’ll be a slow process); and finally I am pro-discussion, even the unpleasant ones.

In fact, let’s zone in on that last point first. Discussions, debates and arguments are an important way for us to grow, not only as individuals, but as a society. And this is doubly true for the really unpleasant topics, and I’m sure you can come up with a short list in your head without too much prompting from myself. But, fact of the matter is that these unpleasant discussions are the ones we’re most likely to not have (shockingly enough).

When we don’t have these conversations, we don’t challenge our beliefs. And a belief that has not been thoroughly challenged should be re-evaluated. It harkens me back to a discussion I had with a classmate last year: the class had been discussing GMOs and the like, an inevitably the conversation turned towards how GMOs aren’t actually bad in the slightest(if you like lemons, you like GMOs. Because lemons are not naturally occurring fruit. Boom; mic drop). Invariably, I got into an argument with a classmate of mine who believed that we shouldn’t be using medicine to treat hereditary diseases.the_evil_lemon_by_i_love_transformers-d32vn17

I’ll be honest, I still don’t really understand the mindset, but I discussed it anyway. I was curious as to what were the ends that not treating these diseases was ethically acceptable to this person, and where the limits on that were. About eight minutes later, she demanded I walk away from her because she was very frustrated that I was questioning her beliefs. She never spoke to me again after that (and I’d like to think I wasn’t being obnoxious during the discussion).

I found out later from a mutual friend that no one had questioned her beliefs about that topic before, which explained why she was so sensitive to my in-depth questioning. I cannot speak for my ex-friend, but I know that I learned a little from the discussion and grew a bit.

But, where it can be difficult to just shut a person up IRL, it’s much easier over an online forum. And sometimes, that’s a good thing: if someone is spewing toxic sludge over a gaming session, hitting mute can be just the medicine the doctor ordered. However, more often than not, we use the mute button as a lazy solution to thinking critically or challenging ourselves to think differently.

I spent about an hour reading a couple of scientific pages and papers about the “Echo Chamber” phenomenon that’s been occurring on social media networks, and while that’s certainly not enough time to glean any hard facts from, there is a trend that I picked up on that is worth noting.

Most importantly, people who segregate themselves into groups based on ideologies (religious, social, illuminati) are much less likely to have varied opinions or beliefs on matters than even groups based on geographic locations. And when these segregated groups are all fed the same information (correct or otherwise), they tend to become very charged and rigid in their beliefs. This is where we hit that wonderful little psychological problem of “Confirmation Bias”, and to a smaller but no less note-worthy degree “In-group Bias”.

Paraphrased, Confirmation and In-group biases are the mental shortcuts of processing information quickly to reach conclusions based on news that already confirms our beliefs, or from sources that are more likely to share our values. In hindsight, basically exactly what the names imply. Probably could have saved ourselves some time with an external link…

Now, let’s bring this back to our friend “Fred”. When we insist that people who don’t readily share our views “Fred” us, we eliminate the chance to have a meaningful discussion about what our beliefs and values are. In small scale, this could be trivial things like why hamburgers are better as square shapes or why white sports cars don’t look as cool as red sports cars (spoiler alert: white sports cars are way better). But in larger scales, this could mean the difference in understanding foreign cultures or ideologies. These different ways of thinking could hold pieces of the answers to many of the issues and problems that plague our society on the whole.

And I know it’s exhausting and hard to have these kinds of arguments all the time. Gods don’t I know it; I have friends on my facebook account (who are also mutual friends) who frequently get into scraps with one another about their fundamental beliefs of homosexuality and gender identity. That’s a huge thing to discuss, and while there are no signs of those two agreeing any time soon, it’s vital that the conversation is at least happening.

When we stop learning from one another, we recede into our little echo chambers and allow fear and hate to colour our opinions of each other. To this day, I never cut someone out of my life because they disagree with my views and opinions (if they steal fries from my tray though, there will be blood). When I see a “Fred” post, I argue against it. Don’t close the doors to discussion. Keep them open.

We all know how stagnant the air gets in these echo chambers.