Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thought for the Day

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back ... The moment one definitely commits, then Providence comes too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred ... Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."
- Goethe

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Home Remedies" for Depression

Sometimes it doesn't matter where an idea comes from, only whether it has value. Intellectual vanity should not be a factor. Good ideas must not wither in the dark.
From time to time, I come up with a clever pun or joke and feel pretty pleased with myself - until someone "steals" it (i.e., comes up with the same idea independently). There goes my unique invention! I am not amused (anymore).
I am a little less annoyed, ironically enough, when one of my theories about this or that is similarly poached by the collective unconscious, so to speak. Having labored in virtual solitude about so many things, I find it gratifying - not to mention a bit flattering - when someone with an academic post or another kind of visibility has the same idea as mine. Whereas many of my thoughts may have almost no chance of being heard (outside of this blog), other people's work may find a much bigger audience. Almost nowhere is this more important than in the realm of public health.
Case in point this morning was an article in the Guardian. Dr. Steve Ilardi, a psychologist at the University of Kansas, has just written a book called The Depression Cure. He argues that medication to beat the blues is largely ineffective. What works, in his opinion (and mine), are lifestyle changes - that conform with our evolutionary past.
"Our standard of living is better now than ever before, but technological progress comes with a dark underbelly. Human beings were not designed for this poorly nourished, sedentary, indoor, sleep-deprived, socially isolated, frenzied pace of life. So depression continues its relentless march."
 Although I have never suffered from clinical depression - that slough of despond into which no one wants to fall - I have been melancholic, low, blue, and even in despair many, many times. I have always resisted medication, primarily because I knew from my teens that if bad feelings can be triggered by certain environmental factors (darkness, isolation, stress), then they can be similarly alleviated by others. Ilardi is saying basically the same thing. Strangely enough, he cites the very things I have been using myself, and counselling others to use: a good diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids (for the nerve cells, especially in the brain itself); sufficient sleep; the company of good people; satisfying activities for "flow" and just plain distraction from bad thoughts; and outdoor activity (sunshine, exercise).
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Alas, modern life precludes almost all of it! Processed foods are nutritional deserts. Long work days leave little time for fulfilling hobbies or time with people we love - or want to get to know. And city life removes us from nature: the animal spirits and soothing bath of green we evolved to have around us.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Community" Garden

Just this week, I heard something I had been dreading: more evidence that the community garden where I have my little patch of Eden (left) will be erased to make room for condos - large numbers of sterile, green-hating condos.
I have to get my hands on the documents (or the ones allowed into the public eye - I doubt everything will be available, she mutters cynically) before I can do anything, such as draft a protest letter, citing environmental impact, etc. But I am already discouraged by talk (with fellow gardeners) of the strict and blind adherence to ye olde Bottom Line exhibited by the city council. In order to attract more wealthy tax payers to the area, they will wipe out a large area of useful green space (not a vacant lot), and take with it the place where people like me find solace and a bit of actual sustenance, and where many young people congregate to play baseball in the nearby field. That will all be gone next year or the year after. I asked my informant whether there is any chance of swaying the council with an angry protest from the lot of us, and she said that the gardeners and local neighbors (who benefit from green space, and would suffer from increased traffic) are generally resigned to the fact that the council only thinks of money and will not engage in democratic discourse. Defeated before we begin.
Everyone - whether truly busy (see "Insidious Busyness" below) or gifted with ample time, such as many retirees - has been conditioned by big business to be an individual first, and later (if ever) part of a community.
The system is self-perpetuating, even without veering into illegal or unethical behavior. 
What do we do about it?
Stay tuned. I ain't finished with these self-serving, life-negating, community-blind fascists with dollar signs for eyes just yet.