News Addiction

If you are depressed stop wallowing in the outrage culture. Think happy thoughts, you’ll feel better.

That was the gist of the suggestion offered to a friend who posted the image featured in yesterday’s article Depression. As if depression is something you can turn off, like a switch. It isn’t like that.

I do follow the news closely these days, as does my friend. I was a news hound for decades before Meniere’s took my joie de vivre. I was active in the Travis County Libertarian Party, taking a hands-on role in as much local politics as I could handle while still holding down a full-time architecture job. I listened to news and radio talk shows constantly while working on whatever architecture project was in front of me that day so as to keep informed of whatever the current trends were. It was crucial to know what was happening if you wanted to have a hand in changing it. I switched to podcasts for my news well before most other people even knew that podcasts existed. I read newspapers and news sites. I immersed myself in the political realities of Austin, of Texas, of the United States, and did my best to be the positive change that I thought the world needed. Just as every good citizen of the world should do.

But then I got sick, and I didn’t get better. I didn’t have a livelihood any longer and I couldn’t look forward to finding one again, probably ever. The constant stream of information about what was going on in the world became a distraction from what it was that I needed to deal with. The barrage of things that I couldn’t change externally just drove home how helpless I was to even be able to alter what was happening in my own body.

That was what was important. Figuring out what was wrong with me. Finding ways to cope with the new reality of my disabilities. I didn’t have time to spend on informing myself about things that weren’t directly impacting my health until I found a way to stabilize my own internal situation.

So I quit the news

I quit listening in 2006-ish. I just quit, cold turkey. I’m not saying that I didn’t know what was happening in the world, I simply quit seeking out that information. There is no way to stay completely uninformed (a perfect idiot) so long as there are people who tell you things they think you want to hear. But I put science, medical and skeptical podcasts at the top of my queue starting at about that time and stopped even listening to news feeds that didn’t include other information that I might personally find useful.

I only started back listening to the news directly, for news content, when all the hatred for Barack Obama made me decide to find out what all the fuss was about. That was when I realized that the news culture had split into two camps that couldn’t even agree on basic facts. While I hadn’t been paying attention, FOX had lead conservatives and Republicans down a dark alley that lead to a thousand foot cliff and then expected all those lemmings following them to walk off the cliff in blind subservience.

In determining what the facts were I came to realize just how poor my understanding of the world was prior to that point, and just how poorly the average American, the average human, understands anything that isn’t forced into their stream of consciousness. I stopped seeing Rachel Maddow as someone who brought up questionable narratives about accepted truths and instead saw her as the accomplished storyteller that the current crop of news consumers clearly see her as today.

However, It’s going to take an American version of the Extinction Rebellion protests that have been taking place in London and New York to also take place in everytown, USA to wake the average FOX news watcher up to the requirement that we do something about climate change. I’m not even certain that anything short of re-education will make them understand just how scandalous their behavior and the behavior of their leaders are.

The Extinction Rebellion Returns | Jonathan Pie | 9 October 2019

But I remain hopeful, for the time being.

After all, the Wife was telling me “they won’t impeach Trump” just two weeks ago. Now Rachel Maddow has said it is a foregone conclusion that they will impeach him. I have to agree with Rachel. I don’t see any way for them to not impeach him given the crimes he has committed that we know of, to say nothing of the crimes we suspect him of but still don’t have the proof to convict him of. The sticking point remains the Senate and Trump’s co-conspirator, Moscow Mitch McConnell.

I’m reserving judgement until after the power hand-off that should occur in 2020-2021, impeachment or no impeachment. We’ll see just how bad things really are at that point. To draw this circular argument to a close and tie it in with the title, I quit listening to the news precisely because I felt that my health was suffering from spending so much time obsessing about what was going on in the world and what the proper solution to the problems were. I’m glad I stopped paying attention then. The solutions that I would have embraced back then are completely different than the ones I would embrace today. 180 degrees different.

https://ranthonysteele.com/2015/03/a-big-bowl-of-crow/

So I improved my health by breaking the news addiction. I’ll break it again if I feel that following the news is negatively impacting my health. So long as the authoritarians that back the Orange Hate-Monkey lose power, I’m pretty sanguine with whatever else happens along with it. Which means, my depression isn’t based on my news consumption. But I do appreciate the suggestion.

Wildly expanded from Facebook comments.

Depression

Being depressed is the natural side effect of having a bystander to my own existence perspective on life. How can you take an active interest in something that you are merely a witness to? If that something is your own life? I don’t even know how to describe depression, as I experience it. It is a kind of a funk that clouds up every decision, making even basic self-care hard to achieve.

TEDxMet | October 2013 – Andrew Solomon – Depression, the secret we share

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.”

Andrew Solomon

As Andrew Solomon points out at about the halfway mark in the TED talk above, depression isn’t something that one easily admits to having, even to the people you are closest to. It is perceived as weakness, and one never wants to be seen as weak by others.

But depression isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a signal of despair. A loss of hope. An individual’s response to external or internal conditions that are beyond the control of the individual. Depression is not the fault of the sufferer, but ending depression does require action on the part of the sufferer.

One thing about depression is that it makes it really difficult to access the parts of your life that are genuinely good. For some people, this takes the form of anhedonia–losing pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy. Not necessarily completely or all of the things, but sometimes completely and all of the things. For some people, this can mean that watching their favorite show or playing their favorite game is suddenly not fun anymore. For some, it can mean that trying to socialize with their good friends feels like reading a really boring story and not being able to actually interact with the story in any way. For others, it can mean not perceiving food as tasty anymore.

brutereason

Losing my interest in almost everything I ever cared about seems to be a huge part of depression for me. The problem is that most of what I was interested in is now different in experience on the one hand (music is muffled or tinny because of hearing loss) or causes stress, bringing on vertigo (just thinking about CAD or Architecture) and so should be avoided. Even my love of creative writing is subject to this intermittent destroyer of hope. This article, for example. I started it five years ago and then abandoned it for no good reason. Why? I don’t want to talk about my depression, also something that Andrew Solomon points out.

For many people, depression causes a pervasive sense of disconnection from the world and from other people. When I’m having a depressive episode, I feel like I’m not part of anything, like I’m just one person and I don’t matter, like I could disappear and nothing would even change, etc. I feel like there’s a glass wall between me and everyone else. I feel like I can’t do “normal” things like laugh at a sitcom or make someone happy or fall in love. I feel like an alien sent here to try to learn how to act like a human being only I’m completely failing.

brutereason

I have always been disconnected from the world. I have always held myself apart from the crowd. I never wanted to fit in. I never wanted to join a group or a movement. I was like Greta Thunberg as a teenager, just not as motivated as she is. Had I been born in the last decade, with all this information at my fingertips, I’d like to think that I would have acted as she has. But I don’t know. I’d like to think I’d accept the findings of science on climate change, from the perspective that I now occupy, that of a skeptical rationalist and freethinker. But I could just as easily have been hoodwinked by the fakirs who ply the edges of society today looking to preserve their fossil fuel profits. Once you start shutting out legitimate sources of information, it is a short trip to fantasyland from there.

But because I never tried to fit in, never identified with a larger group aside from the work that I did for a living, being alone in the universe wasn’t something I was frightened of. Wasn’t something I could feel depression from perceiving. Being alone in the universe was the nature of existence for me. I am an alien sent here to try to fit in. Failure was a given, on many fronts.

When the Wife started to become disabled, though, that was a different story. I started to see how people (normal people) build up bulwarks of social interaction that kept them engaged with others. How losing the ability to interact with people on a daily basis was in itself enough to cause depression for some (most) people. I don’t pretend to understand this necessity of social bonding that most people feel. I just know that it is crucial for them, and that losing it is tantamount to becoming irrelevant to the world.

I’m truly am happy, generally, just sitting alone in my office typing away. I’m creating something. Hopefully someone will find it interesting enough to keep reading it. Perhaps that is my point of connection with the rest of humanity, through the written word. That makes sense. Reading has always made me feel more alive than anything else has through my long life. To create narratives for others to read? That is contributing to the social interactions that keep this crazy bus of human existence on the road. Writing is bigger than any one person, by its very nature.

So for me, the most helpful thing that someone can do is to help bring me back into connection with others. This is why I find venting mostly useless. When I’m venting, I’m still only talking about my depression, and while the person I’m venting to may be very kind and a very good listener, this isn’t something we can connect over, you know? It’s not the same as a two-sided conversation about difficulties we’ve dealt with in our lives. It’s totally one-sided. It’s just me, talking about the exact thing I need to learn how to stop ruminating over.

brutereason

Both the Wife and I seem to dig deeper holes these days, when the depression is talking. When two depressives argue.  When we met, I was Mister Sunshine. I had been depressed for most of my teenage years, the results of abuse and neglect, and a complete inability of existing social structures to deal with someone with my unique set of challenges. When I got out on my own, I had a plan of action. I knew what I was going to be doing with my life. I was going to be drawing architecture, creating a sense of permanence for other people through structures that were well designed and well documented. I was convinced that I could change the world, not be the sad person I had been when I was younger. I had a plan and I was going to make it happen.

Then I couldn’t do that anymore, and the guy with the plan suddenly didn’t have any plans anymore and also had no idea how to dig himself out of the hole that Meniere’s had put him in. Which is still the hole I’m in now.

The Wife might argue that the Mr. Sunshine image of myself that I painted above is bullshit, and she probably will argue about it (I predict that she will also have a valid point) But in our relationship I could at least pretend to be the Mr. Sunshine to her Little Rain Cloud, at least when she was in her depressive phase. A favor she would reciprocate for me when I would go depressive as well. We both had our cycles (as does everyone. Even you, dear reader) and I always had a plan to fall back on. Until I didn’t. Now we’re both depressed for large segments of time together, and that is a recipe for disaster. Disaster that we both have to actively work to avoid on a regular basis.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

LA Times, Ring Theory

Abuse

Children these days don’t know what child abuse is.

That’s what she said. After having child protective services show up at her house because her child called them after a spanking. After attempting to send the child away with child protective services for their temerity at attempting to tell her how to raise her children. After the door of the narrative was closed in the face of intervention by others in her desire to raise her own children the way she wanted, she said “children these days don’t know what child abuse is.”

I wish that were true. I want that to be true.

I was beaten every day as a child. Through almost two years of school, I received daily licks for refusing to participate in class with the other children. Autism or dysgraphia, take your pick. My father used a belt on us at least weekly if not more often. My stepfather, offended at something or other I said, or perhaps outraged at my attempts to deflect his anger at my mother away from her, knocked me to the floor and kicked me in the stomach.

I know what child abuse is.

There is a quiet, calculating place in my mind. I know it well. It is where I go when I feel that the pressure outside myself is more than I can handle. I hide there while the tumult goes on around me. I go there when people talk about punishing children, talk as if children deserve punishment just for being children. When they talk about how guns aren’t a manifestation of physical violence solidified (they are) I went there while I was being beaten as a child. While I was on the living room floor being kicked in the stomach. While I was on the laundry room floor of my apartment building after being punched in the face by a neighbor. It is my hiding place.

In that place I contemplate revenge. I contemplate what justice would look like, if there were a thing called justice in the world. Would the children be given permission to beat their parents? Could you make neighbors who assault their wives and other people around them disappear, without having to face justice for your actions in making them disappear?

Gun owners statistically face justice for owning physical manifestations of violence since a significant portion of them will end up taking their own lives with their treasured possessions. But what about the victims who never know the peace of a wrong made right? Where is justice for them?

I tried never to exact corporal punishment on my children. I have tried never to physically lash out at anyone all my life. I cannot trust myself. There is too much rage in there for me to ever be capable of measured violence. My children begged for spankings, because a spanking would be easy and that would get the punishment over with in their minds. They had to come up with the punishment for their own transgressions. Frequently the punishments they devised were harsher than what the wife and I had agreed on as a proper punishment for whatever it was they did.

That is what children are, just like most people are. Harder on themselves than any outside observer has the right to believe based on the behavior in question. Only sociopaths and psychopaths (and other extremely mentally challenged types) lack those self-monitoring default behaviors. Adult supervision just means watching the children. It doesn’t mean you have to punish them.

Postscript

I’ve written a lot more on this subject since:

Suffice it to say that the well of pain is dark, swift and deep. Treacherous waters.

Hope?

Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can “solve the climate crisis.” But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change. And why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts in the school system when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society. Some people say that Sweden is just a small country, and that it doesn’t matter what we do, but I think that if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not coming to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could all do together if you wanted to.

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg|TEDxStockholm – The disarming case to act right now on climate change

Some people mock me for my diagnosis. But Asperger is not a disease, it’s a gift. People also say that since I have Asperger I couldn’t possibly have put myself in this position. But that’s exactly why I did this. Because if I would have been ”normal” and social I would have organized myself in an organisation, or started an organisation by myself. But since I am not that good at socializing I did this instead. I was so frustrated that nothing was being done about the climate crisis and I felt like I had to do something, anything. And sometimes NOT doing things – like just sitting down outside the parliament – speaks much louder than doing things. Just like a whisper sometimes is louder than shouting.

Greta Thunberg

StitcherPlayer.fm Today, Explained – Person of the Year – 12/26/2019

Accessible?

Support groups for the disabled are frequently a lifesaver for people who have limited access to humans with sympathy/empathy for what they are going through. I participate in several online support groups for Meniere’s, the invisible disability that I am cursed with. The image above/right was posted in one of the private groups I’m part of; and when I went looking for the image I discovered it was all over the web in various forms, many of them heartlessly defaced by trolls who think that all the disabled people should get out and get a job, you lazy bums!

In the Meniere’s group where the image was posted one of the commenters asked why the third guy from the right is leaning on an upside down dildo. He made me laugh with his question, and we riffed on that back and forth for awhile. But the question got me thinking, which is why I went online looking for the origin of the image and stumbled across all the troll variations of it and the casual cruelty of the unafflicted that comes with that territory.

International symbology is one of those things that, having once been an architect, I have an inside track on understanding. Here’s what the symbology means, officially:

  • Arm missing
  • Blind (universal symbol for services for the blind)
  • Crutches (injured get preferential access. Hospital signage)
  • Wheelchair (universal symbol of accessibility)
  • Walker (Accessibility, limited walking capability)
  • Elderly (Not a disability, dammit!)
  • Leg missing
  • Invisible Disability (You’re disabled? You look normal)

I had a hand in documenting signage for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport back in the day. I know the symbology; or rather, I know where to go looking for the official definitions for the symbols. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has over 6k images in their online database now. Here is a link to the symbol for priority access for elderly people. The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) has a list of fifty symbols commonly used in transit hubs, the kinds of places where symbolic communication is essential since communication in a common language may not be possible.

Most of the symbols in the invisible disability image are not standard, but crafted in the helvetica style adopted by international symbology. There is no ISO symbol for missing limbs because that disability is too specific to a particular person not a generalizable disability requiring recognizable symbols that give directions. Well, maybe at the Veterans Administration where they have amputees waiting for years to get care. They probably have queue signage and queues that go on for blocks.

However, the illustrator that created the invisible disability image left off one of the most common disability symbols, the symbol for services for the deaf. It doesn’t fit the theme, but deafness is a pretty common disability and just leaving them out of the image sells their disability short. This is something I’m sensitive to since I’ll probably be deaf one day myself.

While looking for the origins of the illustration, I stumbled across the dildo dude, who can be seen in this Shutterstock image, as well as a couple of the other symbols. I also discovered a movement afoot to update the accessibility symbol with something that looks like it was designed this century, instead of last century, Accessibleicon.org. I can’t say I’m promoting their defacement of standard signage because I have an uncontrollable twitch when it comes to graffiti, an urge to reach out and snap off the arm of the person defacing public property. But I do like the updated symbology. I was never very fond of the old symbol in the first place.

The World Will Not be Better Without You

Kent Online

I ran across this article on one of the support groups I’m part of. I have a canned response that I give to medical professionals on this subject. When I go in for the frequent checkups that my chronic illness requires, there is always a mental health assessment form among the many other pages of questions to be answered. Mental health assessment forms that doctor’s offices hand out in a vain attempt to stem the numbers of suicides that occur among their patients. While I’m handing the paperwork in, I hold that page back and get their attention. Then I say,

“I can answer yes to all of these transparently worded suicide prevention questions that you ask, and yet I’m not inclined to take my own life right now.”

One of my doctors has heard the disclaimer so often that he heads me off with the comment “Yes, I know this doesn’t apply to you.” Regulations, you know. I can answer yes to all those prying questions about self-destructive behavior because experiencing chronic illness destroys the well-being of the person afflicted. It can and does destroy your feelings of self-worth to the point where suicide is something that you can contemplate dispassionately on virtually any clear-headed day.

“At least these fucking ears would stop ringing.”

But knowing this fact, that you are depressed due to health problems beyond your ability to control, and that you really don’t want to die right now, it’s just an option to contemplate in the unknown and unknowable future; this depth of self-knowledge removes the probability of taking your own life at the moment the questions are asked. The probability is removed because,

“Yeah this sucks but it ain’t the worst I’ve seen.”

It’s those moments when it is the worst that remain problematic. I know my worst moments. I’ve talked about them enough in the past. It’s those moments that I don’t think about how easy it would be to end it all. I try to think about something, anything else. In those moments I cling to those around me for dear life, because I know that they are the only things keeping me there in those moments.

May all of my fellow Menierians and all my brothers and sisters who suffer from chronic, invisible illnesses find comfort in those times of need. May all of us avoid his fate, if we can. Contact the lifeline if today is your worst day and you have nowhere else to turn. Don’t snuff the candle out and think the world is better without you. It isn’t.

Walk a Mile In My Shoes

If I could be you, if you could be me for just one hour.
If we could find a way to get inside each other’s mind.
If you could see you through my eyes instead of your ego.
I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’ve been blind.

Joe South
Youtube – Walk a Mile in My Shoes – Joe South
Thautism poster – The original
Afterword

The Meniere’s Resources posted meme that inspired me to go looking for this image is at this link. The photoshopped quality of the image was so poor that I was inspired to go looking for the original image and see if I could get a better quality of it to post. What I discovered was the kind of photo plagiarism that would be pretty shocking if it had been done in a previous age, but is all too common today. So instead of posting something else, I just posted the original image with credit to the original authors, including the author of the song. The originals are both more touching just from the fact that they are original works. I am now linking this in my Facebook timeline post.

Look Ma, I Can Write Again!

…at least briefly. I’m starting a entry on what happened and why after I finish typing this up, but I can finally use the right hand without pain again. Two weeks of forced TV viewing has finally come to an end. I thought I was going to lose my mind. At least I still had my podcasts to keep the mind busy in between binge watching all of Better Call Saul, Altered Carbon, Man in the High Castle and finally finishing the HBO series The Pacific. I’ll probably have time to at least start Electric Dreams before I’m fully recovered.

Two of the greatest scientific achievements of my lifetime made the news during the weeks I was recuperating.

Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them.

Jules Verne, the SGU quote of the week.

I think that is appropriate given this episode. I mean we have a picture of a black hole, what’s more awesome than that?

…Except maybe fossils from the day the dinosaurs died.

Steven Novella

So I’m pretty happy to still be here to ponder which of those two achievements is the more important one.

Unnütze Esser

(lit. “useless eaters” or “useless mouths”) Similar to life unworthy of life, a designation for Jews unable to work, people with serious medical problems or disabilities, and other Untermenschen not deemed to be useful to Germany.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

On March 28th, 2019, we learned that the proposed Trump budget was going to defund the Special Olympics, as well as strip the paltry millions away from special needs children across the United States. Betsy Devos defunding Special Olympics? They are useless eaters after all. The Orange Hate-Monkey, coward that he is (luckily for targets that he selects) backpedaled as fast as his bone spur disability would let him. At least, when it comes to visible programs like the Special Olympics he is backpedaling. But when it comes to the more invisible cuts? What happens to them? Are they rescinded?

Whether he says they are or not, whether congress overrides his ridiculous budget and drafts a new one from whole cloth, the question still remains, why? Why target these programs in the first place? Because they enable the useless eaters in our midst, that’s why.

That is also why he wants to change disability insurance and defund social security and kill Obamacare. All of those programs allow people to survive without working, and you can’t keep paying people not to work. If you are a Nazi a fascist or a stormtrumper, that is what you believe. If you believe this, like a stormtrumper does, then you want people like me to die. I have some bad news for you. I’m not planning on checking out anytime soon.

The Human Barometer on Father’s Day

I woke up this morning spinning and decided to go for a walk anyway. Second day in a row greeted with vertigo, a vertigo spell that began at about 3am while I was asleep, two nights ago. I had plans for yesterday that had to be canceled. That is par for the course. Today is Father’s day and I have plans for today as well. We’ll see if they happen or not after I get cleaned up from the walk.

I don’t know what has caused this three-day struggle with vertigo. It could just be the weather causing it. It’s Texas, the weather is always changing. If you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes, except in August when you wish it would change but it just stays hot for weeks on end. The Wife frequently refers to me as her human barometer. Every time a front moves through, I’m sure to notice first, sometimes even before the cloud cover changes.

I’ve been going to physical therapy for about a year now. The exercises have strengthened some muscles and reduced some physical pain. They have helped me regain some balance, but nothing has an effect on rotational vertigo once it starts aside from single-minded determination or medication. I can sometimes force active vertigo to stop if I can afford to lay still and stare at a fixed point in space for about an hour; but I’m left with a sense of disconnection, of mild dizziness, even if I manage to get the rotation to stop. As I managed to get it to stop this morning.

A lack of sleep can trigger something akin to the vertigo I experience with Meniere’s. It isn’t quite the same, and I know the difference even if the average observer or sufferer can’t tell the difference. I’ve been sleeping fine, so it isn’t a lack of sleep.

Every one of the simple things I do each day takes longer to do and requires more effort just because of the conflicting signals I get from broken and erratically firing balance mechanisms. Just writing these few simple sentences taxes my abilities to do… anything.

But I am determined. I will get back up out of this chair and take my shower. I will go to a movie today if I have to go medicated. Going to sit and at least pretend to listen to family and friends because that’s what I want to do. Catch ya’ll on the other side.

Facebook status backdated to the blog.