Lately on the news we are hearing a great deal about the suicide death of Amanda Todd, a young girl in the United States who committed suicide last week following brutal acts of bullying. She was pressured to the point of depression and hopelessness so pervasive that she no longer wanted to be alive. On Facebook, the topic is all over the place. I have read several posts that strongly state that she made bad choices which she was responisble for, that she committed suicide and therefore made a choice. In other weords, people feel so terrible they are relegating our responsibilty for our own children and each other’s children away from themselves. Frankly, it is breaking my heart, although I realize that they are coming from a place of feeling fearful and out of control over something that clearly reflects our culture’s greatest failing – a lack of understanding how to love ourselves and each other.
Amanda Todd suffered from depression. Whether it was brought on by the horrendous experiences she endured, or whether the experiences were made worse due to a predisposition to the illness (which would of course affect her choices and decisions), is a chicken-and-egg question. The problem lies in how we are percieving and dealing with depression in our children and members of our culture.
Depression is not weakness. Depression does not demonstrate a lack of willpower or discipline, intelligence or capability. Depression can come because of something biochemical that happens in your brain which when coupled with life events that make you feel out of control, helpless and hopeless can make you think and do some pretty crazy things. If someone suffers from biochemical depression, when there is not enough serotonin, or mood balancing chemical, in the brain, or if that chemical isn’t doing what it is supposed to sometimes they are put on medication that normalizes the rate of the chemical they need to make their moods more “balanced and normal”.
I can relate strongly to Amanda’s story, both as a mother and as someone who has had to contend with bullies and depression – the second being the worse of the two. I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and hyper-manic rapid cycling bi-polar spectrum disorder (ueah…say that ten times fast ) – in my thirties. Basically it meant, as my best friend in university often said about me, that I would “emote at the speed of a strobe light”.
I was born like this, although if you would meet me in person today, you could not imagine me having these conditions in any form. I would seem vivacious maybe, but not manic. I would seem pensive and introspective, but not depressed. A person with combined disorder of both really can go from one end of the spectrum of feelings to the other in a day, several times. It is truly exhausting.
I think at some point, whether you ar young or old or have been diagnosed with these disorders, if you have enough shocks, or terrible sad painful gut wrenching things happen to you, the more your brain needs to put out serotonin to balance out the constant state of sadness you are feeling, and for some people eventually this machine gets overused and breaks down.
People become depressed when they suffer from guilt, anxiety, anger, resentment. They suffer when they feel out of control over their own lives, like Amanda Todd did. They become manic when the relief from long periods of feeling like you are covered in a 200 pound robe made of mud lifts gleefully from your shoulders and your mouth opens and you can;t stop singing with the sheer joy of it all. It’s the swing, and many bi polar people go off of their medications because they would rather have the opportunity to feel the happy swing of manic wash over their debilitating depression, than never feel it at all. Those drugs they put you on make you feel like everything is oatmeal. Food, sex, colours…you really don’t give a shit.
I didn’t write music or paint a painting or sing a song for 13 years. I was in the lost zone of complacency. It makes sense, the doctor explained it to me:
I went to see my GP and was having a particularly happy day after a long period of depression. I was really just happy until he said straight out:
“You’re manic”. he waited a second until my jaw dropped openm then leanned back his body language almost strangely smug. He waited for my response.
“Hunh?”, I asked blankly.
“You’re hyper, and so you’re manic”.
“What do you mean?” I ask dumbly…
He pulls his chair up to his old wooden desk and pull s his pen out of his shirt pocket to draw me a picture : Here’s where my fascination with the word NORMAL begins.
He draws a pair of parallel lines on a paper sitting adjacent to me on the corner of his old wooden desk. He is a year away from retirement.
“You see Josee, Most people live their lives within the boundaries of these two lines”, he stops and looks to see if he has my attention. I sit blinking.
“Most people go this high when they are happy energetically, and most people go only this low energetically”, he continues. I am still focused on the word Boundaries. I am born a fire horse after all and you know what they say…
His talking interrupts my thinking that looks more like this…
“…and so they prescribe specialized drugs to help you regulate your emotions and make you better able to function normally in life”. Normal. Normal. What is normal?
The next thing I knew I was whooshed off to a psychiatrist. He doesn’t really talk, he just wants to tell me what drugs I need to make me normal.
I almost have to fight with him in our weekly meetings to try to talk about the things I am now willing to be aware of and take responsibility for in my life. he wants to talk about his wine tasting trips to Switzerland. At the time I had been attempting recovery in a 12 step program and I found our talks particularly annoying. He suggest I see a good psychologist.
This was crazy. But it did give me the desire to start to look at myself. You can’t get to love and accept someone you don’t know, and frankly, if you don’t know yourself, you can’t really know anyone else. So if you think it’s your relationships hurting you or your friends or your boss, look again. The greatest source of pain that comes to us comes directly from how we think about ourselves. Having biochemical depression at first is a real blow to your perception, how you see, your life. But if you think about it, everything changes depending on how you see your self in your life. So, I began looking at who I was, from a more objective and honest point of view. Although these doctors may have been a little misguided, I believe it was so important for me to go through all of this and come out with self-awareness at the end of it. You see, the one thing I had going for me was that i was older and had had more experience which allowed me to begin to look at myself, my emotions and my life more objectively. But Amanda Todd, only two months older than my youngest daughter at 16, decided that she WAS how she felt, and I don’t know anyone who could have endured what she did. If you have ever considered suicide please understand that if you wait a little longer you will discover that self acceptance needed all of these experiences to emerge, but that when you get to the place where you understand who you really are and how amazing and unique and beautiful you are, you would never considered hurting YOU – or anyone else.
I read some comments on Amanda Todd’s YouTube after watching the video and bawling my eyes out, selfishly seeing my own 16-year-old in Amanda’s eyes. Some were honest and sad. Others were hateful – almost angry. Those are the kids I would worry about.
Don’t limit the love you give to your family. It is a waste of how much power you have. Extend that love outwards by making it your ABSOLUTE MISSION to teach your children how to love others properly. This is especially critical at this time in our history.
Can you imagine how incredible this world could be if we all suddenly stopped teaching our kids how to be selfish assholes and turned about-face and focused exclusively on teaching them and each other how to behave properly, respectfully and with acceptance towards each other and everyone we meet? Sound idyllic? I don’t think so. All it takes is a conscious decision on your part. Will it be easy? Nah…nothing worthwhile ever is though is it?
But remember: Depression is created by a person’s ability to be able to love and accept themselves. You cannot teach what you don’t do or understand yourself. So your first job as a parent and as a member of this-worldly community is to learn to love and accept yourself and leave all the bullshit aside. Face it – as a community and a culture we can do a MUCH BETTER JOB at promoting this all important philosophy. The first step is in recognizing this and taking responsibility for it individually and together.
Our kids are our future. Let’s stop making the mistake of teaching them that HAPPINESS is the goal. It is NOT the goal. Our goal as humans is to be able to learn to handle the crises that will come our way, as it does in every life, with a measure of serenity, deference and peace. And our ultimate challenge is to first learn it for ourselves and pass it on to our children.
My heart goes out to anyone who has every felt like this.
*P.449 AA Txt 3rd edi.
**Release: please note I am not a medical doctor and am in no way recommending any advice on prescription drugs in this article. This story is only based on my own opinions and understanding based only on my personal experience. I recognize that every experience is unique, as is every approach to healing.