Audio Blog #2: No More Facebook Debates (for me)

In this, my second audio blog, I explain why I intend no longer to get involved in discussions of consequential topics on Facebook, not because I don’t think such discussions are valuable, but because of how I react to them.  I also talk about audio versus writing a bit more, and grammar, and various other random thoughts.

 

“And I am of the universe, and you know what it’s worth”

I wanted to write today, but I had no specific subject in mind, so I figured I’d just start typing and see what came out.  Of course, I write nearly every day, no matter what.  Every work morning, I get up a few hours earlier than I need to, and I use the extra time to write…always at least a page, though usually more.  Most days, I write fiction, but though fiction cannot help but be an expression of its author’s character, it’s not quite the same as more directly sharing one’s thoughts.

One of the main uses to which I put this blog, “Iterations of Zero”, is precisely that:  to share my thoughts on various issues—scientific, psychological, personal, social, whatever.  Often, these thoughts are triggered by current events, and perhaps even more specifically, by people’s reactions to those events on social media, such as Facebook.

Facebook has been getting more and more depressing to me over time, though.  I mean, when I first got on it, it was mainly a way to reconnect with people I’d known back when I was alive, and it’s still good for that.  It has been good for that, anyway.  Unfortunately, it seems to distill the world’s stupidity in ways that are so overwhelmingly depressing that it’s all but impossible to bear.  Maybe it doesn’t cause this phenomenon, maybe it just brings it to the fore, allowing people to say in the hearing of the billion or so Facebook users what they would only ordinarily have said when drunk at a bar.

Modern technology makes it all too easy to create a Facebook “meme” and/or web-based “article” about almost any subject one might wish to undertake, including photos—which can easily be manipulated and adjusted to suit the needs of any would-be commenter—without having to go to the trouble of gathering evidence or making cogent arguments, and to share links and memes that other people—people who had seemed reasonably intelligent—will “like” and “share” in turn.

The quality of popular entertainment on television and in other media has always been hit or miss, but with the rise of for-profit news stations and reality TV, and then of social media, the actual level of intellectual discourse seems to have sought out, and located, the lowest common denominator.  Maybe it’s always been this way, and I just didn’t notice it until I’d lived long enough.  Maybe it really is getting worse.

So, I’ve been getting on Facebook less and less often.  I probably will never abandon it completely, since it’s the main venue through which I communicate with my daughter, and I don’t want to lose that.  But even such communication has its poignancy, its own bittersweet flavor.  I only connect with my daughter through Facebook (and my son, not at all); I only connect or pseudo-connect with anyone through social media, now.  But in all honesty, except for my daughter, there is no deep connection.  My social awkwardness is such that even interacting on Facebook, via direct messages or comments, makes me uncomfortable.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know why I care, and I don’t know why that caring makes it so much harder for me to do.  I just know that I feel utterly disconnected from the world on anything but the most superficial level.  I’ve no common ground with anyone at work.  I’ve no connection with any of my old friends; our lives are utterly separate and disparate.  There’s no one to whom I feel I can actually talk, though I’ve become quite good, as a matter of habit, at pretending to be in a good mood when speaking to family and the few others with whom I interact.

I’m at a loss.  I mean, I am writing my fiction and all.  I finished the first draft of Unanimity, a really long novel, at the end of January.  I wrote the first draft of a short story right after, and I’m now working on what was a random, walk-in short story that will likely become a novella.  But I doubt the world would be measurably poorer if neither these, nor any of my other works, were ever read by anyone again for all eternity.

I’m not even sure if I should post what I’ve written here.  It is, fundamentally, just an expression of depression and loneliness, and I think I’ve done enough of that, both here and on Facebook, without any sign of useful results.  Maybe I’m just too cryptic.  I’ve never been very good at traditional “cries for help”.  The one time I called a “suicide prevention” hotline, I got picked up by Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies, who handcuffed me—injuring a nerve in my wrist—and brought me to a shit-hole of a mental health emergency place, from which I was released just a day or so later.  And while I was in jail I got put in a “suicide watch” cell with no mattress, no blankets, just a metal cot-frame (with sharp corners, ironically enough) and a thin, flimsy paper gown that fell apart within an hour or so.  These aren’t experiences I long to repeat.

Anyway, everyone to whom I might reach out is busy with their own lives; they have enough problems.  I have neither right nor merit to infringe upon their limited supplies of time and energy.  Maybe writing this blog is the best answer available to me, frail and limited though its use may be.

I considered titling this post with a line from a Beatles song: “And now my life has changed in oh so many ways.”  But the next line of that song is “My independence seems to vanish in the haze,” whereas mine is, if anything, more complete than ever before, and I’m leery of trying to remedy that.  I used to be able really to talk with my ex-wife (before she was “ex”) about nearly anything, but that didn’t turn out so well in the end.  I think that I’ve posted on Facebook and Twitter my fundamental disagreement with the poetic claim that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.  I know how I felt when I had never loved at all, and I know how it feels to have loved and lost.  I prefer the former.

That’s not saying very much, though.  I’d rather receive a hundred lashes than two hundred, but I’d prefer not to have either, thank you very much.  The people I’ve most loved in my life have uniformly found me unpleasant to be around (probably the people I don’t love would concur) and that’s a pain I could stand to avoid.  I frankly don’t even like to be around myself…quite the contrary.

I do wish I didn’t feel so depressed so much of the time (I also wish for world peace, and to eat all the junk food I want without getting fat, while I’m at it).  I’ve been treated medically and psychologically for depression in the past, but never with very satisfying results.  I even reached out to a former therapist of mine not long ago for a recommendation of someone to see near me.  The recommendation was given, but I never contacted the person recommended.  The prospect of trying to open up to someone new is too depressing in and of itself.

Also, I have very limited spare time, and I want to use what I have on writing, mainly my fiction.  My fiction is better than my non-fiction, though even it tends to be pretty dark.  Reading my work isn’t something that can readily be predicted to uplift anyone; I apologize for that.  I am who I am, and I write what I must, and I cannot be anyone else or write anything else.

Maybe I’m just tired.  I’ve been trudging along for ages through barren terrain, and I’ve been doing it by myself for nearly the last third of the journey.  I have no Fellowship, no band of companion gunslingers to accompany me on my trek to the Dark Tower.  Maybe no one ever does.  In a certain sense, we are all alone in our thoughts and minds.  But in another sense, humans really do have a sense of empathy and connection, we have mirror neurons and “theory of mind”, among other things, which make our relations with our fellow tribespeople visceral and profound, as real and biologically salient as the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.  Some of us, though, appear—by nature, by choice, by circumstance, whatever—to belong to tribes of one.  I don’t know how many such uni-tribes there are, but if one cannot even find people with whom one feels kinship even on the over-a-billion-people venue of Facebook, it’s hard to see where one is going to find them.

Maybe we need to wait for AI’s or extraterrestrials to arrive.  Or perhaps that’s too grandiose and self-congratulatory, as are my own frequent thoughts—bolstered by some science—that people with depression are fundamentally poor at being able to fool themselves about the nature of reality in order to make themselves feel better.  This is “humbloid” speech, really; we say we are poor at fooling ourselves as though we are being self-critical, when actually it’s a kind of bragging.

Then again, I would dearly like to be able to maintain a positive attitude—not at the expense of fooling myself about reality, but simply by not letting it bother me; perhaps by embracing despair and depression and coming out the other side.  I don’t know if that’s possible.  If it is possible, I don’t know if I have the skill or endurance to achieve it.  It’s hard to be optimistic.

Honestly, what I sometimes wish most of all is that I were not saddled by nature with the irritating survival drive that gets in the way of any possible rest, or at least of oblivion.  But that stupid, stubborn, mindless urge is fundamental, as nature has required it to be, for good, sound biological reasons.  This machine was built to survive.

What a stupid idea.

I think after all I’ll title this blog entry with a line from a different Beatles song, one that much more clearly expresses my sensibilities than “Help” does.  John wrote this one a few years later in his career.  He never did live to be as old as I am now.  I, on the other hand, am ancient—subjectively at least—and that agedness has effects on me similar to what it had on Vermithrax Pejorative in Dragonslayer.

Whataya gonna do?

What a wonderful world?

The following is a parody of the song “What a Wonderful World,” most famously performed by Louis Armstrong, written by George Weiss and Robert Thiele

 

I see fields of brown and skies of grey

The cold, bitter night and the dark, rainy day

 

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world?”

 

I see trash on the ground and trash in the sea,

Trash that’s been thrown there by you and me.

 

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world?”

 

The odors of the planet are so putrid all around,

There’s poison in the air and there’s poison in the ground.

I see strangers who shrug.  They say, “What can you do?”

They’re really saying, “I hate you.”

 

I feel pain in my back, in my legs, arms, and head.

I find myself thinking, “I can’t wait to be dead.”

 

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world?”

And I stink to myself.

What a wonderful world.

Screams and disconnections

I started reading the two bestsellers by Johann Hari (Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections, about the war on drugs and about the modern epidemic of depression, respectively) after hearing him on Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast.  They’re powerful and well-written books, though reading them can be quite upsetting, as they both deal with issues that have profoundly affected my life.

As may be obvious to anyone who’s read this blog much, I’ve had a lifelong struggle with depression, which is often quite severe.  I say lifelong; it really began in my early teens, and I think in my case it may be more endogenous than reactive.  Thus, I might be a slight outlier in Hari’s thesis on the illness (but I haven’t finished the books yet, so I may be wrong in this).  Nevertheless, Hari’s point about missing connections and support is one that resonates with me. Continue reading “Screams and disconnections”

A Bare Bodkin

When exploring certain website discussions relating to depression and suicidal ideation (let’s say I did this for academic reasons), I came across a statement—not isolated in its character—that basically told readers that their life was a gift, and they shouldn’t throw it away.  The stupidity and arrogance of such nonsensical points is typical of such sites, such discussions, such forums and quorums, and it’s so terribly irritating because it makes me think that the people out there who are nominally trying to help people with depression—a worthy enough cause, and a positive enough intention—know next to nothing, perhaps worse than nothing, about the subject and at least about some of the people they’re presumably trying to help.

A depressed person who is seriously thinking about suicide doesn’t experience life as a gift, and it’s terribly pointless to assert to them that it is.  Even from an objective point of view, it’s ridiculous to say that life is a gift, just as it’s nonsense to say that life is a curse (though the arguments for the latter often seem more convincing).  Life just is; it’s something that happens, and the quality of each individual life varies, even from moment to moment within a given life.  The overall measure of a life—the integral of its happiness, the area under the well-being curve—also must vary across some Gaussian distribution, which means that there will be people who fall both well above and well below the mean, through no fault or credit of their own.  To tell a person two standard deviations or more below the happiness mean—perhaps just through an accident of neurology—that his or her life is a gift is frankly insulting.  It seems calculated to make such a person feel even more guilty than they often do already; it points to the objective facts of their subjective experience and tells them they’re not correct to feel the way they do.  Such a  person must either believe the statement and hate themselves more for being unable to appreciate a “gift” they have been given, or to spurn the point of view of the one making the statement as at best ignorant, at worst frankly malicious.

A similar problem occurs when help websites and crisis sources say things like, “Talk to your friends and families.”  If a person felt able to talk to friends or families about the problems they are having, they probably wouldn’t have quite the problems they have.  A person who has such resources—and, crucially, who feels justified in using them, in subjecting those who potentially love them to the burden of their irrational, depressed, depressing, event horizon thoughts, which may lead to further, perhaps complete, alienation—seems less than likely to reach a crisis where they’re looking for information or thoughts about suicide prevention…or about suicide methods.  Bringing up such things often serves simply to highlight to the seeker that they’re in an abysmal situation, one they probably feel that they deserve.  The message seems to be that most people who come to this resource—whatever it might be—have friends and family they can readily seek out for help, who know what to do, who don’t have problems of their own to deal with, and have the time, expertise, and patience to help a person who is already the scum of the earth.  Someone in crisis is going to feel that they must really be much worse (as a value judgment) than most of the others who seek this source of help, and that he or she is probably is not the target audience for this—or possibly for any—help source.

Of course there are crisis hotlines and related centers available, where one can talk to well-meaning strangers.  These tend to be volunteer-staffed, and those volunteers should be cheered and thanked far more than they surely ever are, but unfortunately, one can have bad experiences with such resources (quite apart from the fact that many depressed people find it difficult to open up to anyone, let alone to strangers).  Such a bad experience happened to a  person I know who called such a center during a terrible personal crisis.  Precisely because that person was in such a severe crisis, the Palm Beach Country Sheriff’s Department was summoned by the help line, and that person in crisis was handcuffed and taken away to a shit-hole mental health facility, the handcuffs doing nerve damage to that person’s hand and wrist that lasted for over a year.  Someone who’s been through something like that is far less likely to try to use crisis lines again, even when in extremis, especially since nowadays it’s so easy to track a caller’s location.  How sure can a caller be that they are anonymous and “a-situ-ous” and won’t suddenly look up to see green-clad thugs from the barrel-bottom-scraping local constabulary come to take them away to a place that makes jail seem (reputedly) preferable by comparison.*

Of course, there are mental health resources available in the form of psychotherapy.  These are of varying quality, but most of them can at times be useful, and the practitioners tend to be well-meaning, sincere, and professional.  However, if one doesn’t have very good insurance—and I mean truly exceptional—let alone if one doesn’t have insurance at all, one tends to have to pay for such things out of pocket.  It’s not cheap.  It can also feel rather demeaning, in a subtle, strange way.  After all, if paying for sex would be potentially embarrassing, then how much more humiliating is it to need to pay to have someone just listen to one’s troubled thoughts…especially when one finds one’s own thoughts hard enough to bear when they’re not even spoken aloud?

This post is obviously more of a rant than it is a call to action or a suggestion of answers.  I don’t know that there are any good answers, and the people I’m criticizing probably deserve better.  But that’s kind of the point.  The world is neither just nor fair nor kind, and we are given no guarantees that there will be solutions—not just ideal solutions, but any solutions at all—to given problems.  Some functions are just non-computable.  Reality, via the unassailable mathematics of the second law of thermodynamics, makes only one promise in this life, and that is that it will come to an end.  There are times when this promise doesn’t have the character of a threat, but is actually the most reassuring, soothing offer of relief.

Is that thought a symptom of illness?  Is it a mark of enlightenment?  Or is it just another highly stochastic, directionless outcome of natural forces acting on very large, very diverse populations of nervous systems which exist in environments quite different from those in which their ancestors survived and evolved?

What is one to do when one is more well-aware of the processes that lead to depression than many of those one could seek for help?  What is one to do when one has heard and considered the arguments and points of, for instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and is well aware of all the mental pitfalls it is designed to circumvent, and finds it less than useful against the nihilism and pro-mortalism of one’s (provisional) philosophical conclusions?  What is one to do when one understands—as well as it can be understood so far, anyway—the function of SSRI’s and related substances, and has experienced their effects, and finds that the detriments outweigh the expected benefits, at least in one’s own case?  What is one to do when one understands, at an intellectual level, that one’s thought processes are maladaptive, but one still cannot thereby correct them, and one knows—at a professional, expert level—that we simply do not have adequate resources to correct them in any reliable, durable way (other than that final “correction” that is the bare bodkin)?  And what if these problems are further complicated by chronic, daily pain, and the parallel loss of essentially everything one had held dear?

I don’t expect to receive any useful, surprising, answers to such questions.  One tends to encounter trite nonsense such as the “life is a gift,” and “there are people who care about you,” tropes when one puts such inquiries out into the world.  The latter point might even be true, but it’s beside the point.  Is an individual ethically obliged to endure long-term and short-term net suffering because a modest group of people, with whom one has occasional, superficial contact on social media, will be transiently saddened if something happens to that individual, before the others all just get on with their lives as before (which is what they should do)?

I’m obviously not the first person to ask such questions.  I’m quite certain that I won’t be the last.  I expect no benefit to come from having asked them.  To be honest, I expect no net benefits from the world at all.  This is Iterations of Zero, after all…and the net outcome of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and to know the place for the first time…which is to know nothing.


*I’ve been in both, and to be honest, jail is worse, if only because, when they think you’re a danger to yourself in jail, they lock you in a very cold, small room by yourself, with only a flimsy paper gown to wear, no mattress, no pillow, and a hard metal bunk frame (with sharp corners, weirdly enough).