The other epidemic

This post was written 3 years ago.
Thu, 03 Jun 2021
Starting this post, I am wondering to what extent this is going to be personal, and whether the title is fitting. It is a personal topic, but if I have learned anything in the past few years, it is how widespread this dis-ease is. I am talking here about a range of complaints, with a common denominator, a maladjustment to the circumstances you live in, the difficulty to adapt to them and — this is the crux — the recurring deep unease, discomfort and often profound suffering this brings.

Eleven years ago, Brené Brown gave one of the most-viewed TED talks of all times, The power of vulnerability. It was eye-opening and made a huge impression on me. There is one particular statement that I have often come back to: "We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history." If this is true for the U.S., the rest of the Western world won't be far behind. Think about it for a moment. How did we get there? What does it mean? What degree of unhappiness and imbalance lies behind this statement? It was just as valid ten years later, and in the midst of the Covid crisis it became clear that this state of things did not help at all. Very likely, and further fueled by the intentional fear-mongering of the government, it contributed to turning a managable problem into an ongoing, seemingly never-ending, perceived emergency.

There is a few things to distinguish here. Mental health issues per se, which will always show up, in any population. But then, how much are they brought on by the environment, and also, how are they being dealt with? What Brené Brown described are the results of coping strategies. I am sure there is a big part of the population that is doing just fine, not everybody is unhappy, not everybody is struggling to adapt. In fact, what keeps astounding me in this crisis is how able and willing people are to adjust to all kinds of measures that to me seem absurd and really restrictive and intrusive — with some outright damaging. Then there is a part that is struggling, but numbing themselves. And then there's the part that is on a constant roller coaster.

I am one of the fairground junkies, and this morning, soon after waking up, I had excessive levels of cortisol running through my veins, and I plunged into despair. Then I cried, and then I started talking to my husband for absolutely ages, about all that was bothering me. I cannot always do that, I cannot always pinpoint what is wrong. This time, it was a whole barrage of things, and the ongoing outrageous pushing through of lies, half-truths and completely inappropriate measures (looking at vaccination of children here in particular) on part of our government played its part in it. It was not all though. There are the things that had been there before the crisis, sometimes managable, but cropping up again and again. Most notably, the lack of confidence and the belief that I was just not able to make proper progress with things, especially my programming skills, but really anything, and therefore being of limited use to people.

What was astounding this morning was just how much the talking helped. It was serendipitous, just the right balance of talking, the right kind of listening and interjections by my husband. I guess good therapists create circumstances where conversations like this become likely. In any case, I believe the response from somebody close, or sometimes even not so close, combined with taking the right care of yourself, is so important in a crisis like this.

I have to acknowledge that I am in an extremely fortunate position, I don't have to work at the moment, this week the whole family is on holiday in fact (but staying at home), I am not lacking in anything. The bouts of depression come from inside, from my conditioning and from an unproductive, frustrating railing against the current societal situation, feelings of helplesness and a seeming inability to change anything.

I am interested in learning to challenge and overcome this, and then to help others do it too. I am re-reading the book I found most helpful in this, "Undoing Depression" by Richard O'Connor.

As always, there is so much more to write, and on so many more topics. But for now, good night.