Days when we’re so gloomy…

How are you feeling today? Are you into the “pursuit of happiness”? Or are you maybe feeling miserable?gloomy-placid

Porfirio Barba Jacob, a Colombian poet who died in 1942, comes to mind. In his “Song of the Profound Life” he talks about how variable the human psyche is. Some days we’re full of joy, some other times we’re really mournful. And in any give day our mood could go from mournful to placid after just a few minutes of listening to children play and laugh. Minutia can also and, I’d say, inexplicably, spoil a whole day.

Here are some verses of Barba Jacob’s poem:

“… there are days when we’re so placid, so placid…
— Childhood at sunset, sapphire lagoons! —
That a verse, a trill, a hill, a passing bird,
And even one’s own sorrows make us smile.”

But…

“…there are days when we’re so gloomy, so gloomy,
Like in a gloomy night the crying of a pine grove.
The soul moans then with the pain of the world:
Perchance not even God himself can give us solace.”

Maybe our changing moods are just the expression of normal responses to life, to what we see, to what we eat, to what we breath, to what we hear, to a misunderstanding. Life is delightfully variable. Our variability could probably be explained as the reflection and result of the cycles that take place inside our bodies and might involve hormones and neurotransmitters. But – the egg of the chicken? – the release of our hormones and neurotransmitters are on turn prompted by mood and experience!

In a world with a pervasive “medical mentality” it looks like there will come a time where we will be all diagnosed with a mental illness. Gloomy easily becomes “depression” under the eyes of the psychiatrist and “placid” or even joyful might become “manic” under the eyes of the same physician who witnessed your sadness a few weeks before.

The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) released this year, has relaxed the criteria used to diagnose certain conditions. The consequences?

As a rationale for the changes we hear the concern that many people are not properly or timely diagnosed and go on suffering for a long time without proper diagnosis and/or treatment. However, the of this “relaxed” criteria most often lead to abuse in the prescription of medications for symptoms that if not interfering with daily life functioning could be treated without invasive procedures.

Statistics tell us that Bipolar disorder affects every year approximately 5.7 million adults in the United States (about 2.6% of the population age 18 and older). Also, almost 15 million of adults are diagnosed with Major depressive disorder, with a higher prevalence among women older than 32. To this numbers add 3.3 million of people suffering from Dysthymic disorder (chronic, mild depression). And 40 million people suffering from anxiety.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys shows that  “Antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages in 2005–2008 and the most frequently used by persons aged 18–44 years. From 1988–1994 through 2005–2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400%…. About one in 10 Americans aged 12 and over takes antidepressant medication.”

Are we trying to standardize a “normal” mood? Should all human beings behave the same, feel the same, deal with life in the same fashion? I wonder why aren’t we more focused on providing children with undivided attention, meaningful experiences, skills to face challenges, challenges to develop those skills… so that they grow up resilient and accepting of the variability of life.

We need not be concerned about gloomy days or despair if we don’t have placid ones. Life is variable!

The third person is essential for emotional health

A dad is trying to playfully connect with his 9 year old at a restaurant. The boy is standing to Imagehis left side and the father has his arm around him. Both seem a little uncomfortable. The dad starts throwing what feels like a math quiz at the child.

What’s the 40% of 50? the dad asks and the boy can’t easily find the answer.

The dad gives him clues, takes him to “what’s the 40% of a hundred?” to which the boy easily replies 40 and then the dad insists with the former question.

Even though this time the boy easily says 20, he is frustrated and concludes, “I’m not smart, dad.”

This simple anecdote of an interaction between father and son makes me think of a hundred things.

For one, how difficult it is to respond sometimes to the emotional needs of another person!

The father’s intention seems to be to communicate with his son, to play with him, to stimulate the child’s brain. However, he doesn’t seem to realize he’s making the child feel incompetent and stupid. Not a good foundation for a parent-child relationship, but unfortunately this interaction is not uncommon between adult and young males.

There was an implicit “leave me alone” plead from the boy that the father never got. I am pretty sure the child will remember this one as a humiliating moment where he perceived his father was more intelligent. He will probably also feel that his father sees him as a failure and therefore won’t feel proud of him. Not unlikely, the father-son memory will be recorded with some resentment that will mark even the son’s choice of career (not good for math, I will choose art).

The saddest thing though is not only that the father didn’t pay attention to the child’s discomfort (the father kept insisting) but that the dad’s good intention was not recognized either.

I believe in these cases a third person is essential. Was this a divorced father sharing weekend time with his child? The mother was not there. Would she have stopped the father from going on with the quiz to protect the child? Would she have interpreted and explained to the child what his father’s intention was?

I’ve seen how important it is for single parents to have a third person reinforce their authority, share responsibilities, explain their intentions to the child.

I’ve also seen how important it is for a child who is verbally mistreated in public to have a third person intervene and stop the abuse. It takes the blame out of him/her (“It is not something I did what explains my parent’s behavior”).

I am certain that in many occasions our perception of the world is tinted and biased because we lack the third person in our lives who can explain and interpret the facts for us. For example, a grandfather who provides a different perspective; the stranger who defends the child; the wife who explains the father’s intention; the therapist who allows for a space where emotions are acknowledged and things can be seen from a new perspective.

Let’s look for opportunities where our children can see the two sides of a coin. That will help them integrate lightness and darkness and grow emotionally healthy.