Archive for February, 2010

What Andrew Koenig Can Teach Us About Depression

Posted in pop culture with tags , , on February 26, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

It’s sad news: Andrew Koenig, actor from the hit series “Growing Pains,” was found dead in a Vancouver park, a victim of suicide. Reading through the article, it kind of hurts me to see so many familiar quotes:

“He was obviously in a lot of pain” … “before you make that final decision, check it out again, and talk to someone” … “people who are depressed don’t realize there is help and they need help”

It’s the sort of thing that is said every time there is news of a young person who took their life, and it’s the sort of thing that, at any other time, seems like common sense, but in times of tragedy, is the most insightful advice anyone can give. But the thing that worries me the most about this sort of thing is just that: how something that is taken to heart in the first couple of days after a suicide is so quickly ignored afterward.

Depression runs in my family, and being someone who lives with depression, I know the feelings that come when I get into my “moods.” Musicians trying to raise awareness of depression can write all the songs they want to about staying strong, getting help, and not hurting yourself, but most of the time, it doesn’t even come close.

It’s a strange feeling when you wake up one morning and immediately know that, no matter what you do or how hard you try, the day is just going to suck. And when that feeling lasts for a week or more, and you constantly wonder why you even bothered getting out of bed, and you just feel like giving up and sleeping forever, it’s extremely draining. Sometimes the depression is simply just feeling melancholy, other times it’s violent, depending on the person. But the bottom line is, depression sucks, and it not only sucks for the depressed person, but the people around them, who see such a drastic change in character, but don’t know what to do about it.

I’m lucky to have the people around me that I do. I have a great girlfriend who hates it when I’m in a funk, but loves me all the same. I have wonderful friends who hate seeing me moping around, and make it a point to let me know that if there’s anything they can do, to call them, no matter what time it is.

But the quote from the article that tells it all comes from Walter Koenig, Anderw’s father:

If you’re one of those people who can’t handle it anymore, you know, if you can learn anything from this, there are people out there who really care…. You may not think so and ultimately it may not be enough, but there are people who really care.

This is probably the truest statement I’ve ever heard about suicide, and it’s the sort of statement that can only come from a grieving relative. I can feel it when I’m in my depressed moods: I know there’s help, but in my state, I just can’t reach out.

It’s a plea that comes not only from someone who lives with depression, but someone who lives in a world that has seen the consequences far too often: reach out. Even if they tell you that there is nothing you can do, reach out. Let them know that you’re there. And find that fine balance in persistence where they always know you care, but not too much that it becomes annoying. Initially, they may push you away, but by being active and being present, they’ll eventually open up.

And when they do open up, listen. I can’t stress this enough. Listen without interrupting. Listen without judging. Because the moment you interrupt or judge or offer advice they don’t even want, they will shut down and shut you out, and things like what happened to Andrew Koenig, and what happens to over one million people every year, may be the ultimate result.

For more information on depression, visit the Mayo Clinic website, or this article from HelpGuide.org.
For tips on how to help yourself or others with depression, visit this article from PsychologyInfo.com.
And when all else fails, make your presence known, and let them know that you care.

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Lenten Focus #1 — Who Are You?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

On Monday, 22 February, Dr. Lee Nelson gave the faculty chapel talk. He discussed the different attitudes people can have on their faith. I asked for a copy of his talk and his permission to use it in this blog, because it absolutely fascinated me, and I definitely wasn’t going to try and remember it.

In his talk, he discussed the different faith styles of Moses, Ruth, and Thomas. Moses, as we all know, led the Israelites out of Egypt, and Dr. Nelson described Moses as “a robust leader, a man of faith… full of talent, energy, and ambition.” No matter what sort of challenges were put in his way, Moses found a way to overcome them. When they were hungry, he found food. When they rebelled, Moses provided a voice of reason. Moses was everything a leader needed to be, because he knew that God was ever-present, and would guide him to their destination.

Ruth, on the other hand, was a woman of incredible faith. She stayed with Naomi, even though Naomi urged her to flee to a better life. She submitted herself fully to Naomi, vowing, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16b) And she did stay, and she took great care of Naomi. She wasn’t the great and powerful leader like Moses, but she remained faithful and subservient, completely selfless, and with no desire for recognition.

“Robust Moses… Faithful Ruth… Doubting Thomas…”

“Doubting Thomas” is a term that is commonly used in the English language, and it all stems back to Biblical times, when Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:25) Jesus, of course, appeared to Thomas, showed him his hands and his side, and Thomas, after seeing this, became the first person in the Bible to refer to Jesus as “God.”

Then the question was asked:

Who are you?  Are you a robust Moses, a person of talent, courage, vision and confidence? … Or are you [Ruth,] a bearer of other’s burdens, faithful, loving and well-doing? …  Or perhaps you are a Thomas, not quite sure who God is or what this cross means.  Maybe you wrestle with God like Jacob or test God like the Israelites or betray God like Peter – all of which would put you in the company with Thomas.

Personally, I can see myself in all of these roles. My faith life tends to have varying degrees of strength on any given day. This summer I felt like a Moses. I felt like I was called to do something important, and I started to plan a great excursion, hitchhiking across the country, spreading the Word of God, being fully dependant on God and doing everything in my power to fully rely on him.

While I was working at camp, and even occasionally today, I was more of a Ruth. I keep to myself, working on developing and strengthening my faith. At night, I read the Bible on my BlackBerry, never in any particular order, but just reading, learning more about this Jesus guy. Sometimes, I do my reflecting by just thinking about God. I was challenged one summer to try and find God in something throughout my day, be it the scraper I use to get ice off my windshield, a squirrel running across campus, or even the clouds my breath makes in the cold.

But mostly, I feel like I’m Thomas. I’m relavitely new to making my faith my own. I grew up in a household that went to church, but I never really felt connected to it, because I felt like I was asking too many questions and not getting enough answers to be a “Good Christian.” Even today, as I’m working and building my faith, I’m asking so many questions. Sometimes I question if my faith is the “right one.” Sometimes I question why there are such terrible representatives of my faith.

Mostly, though, I question if I’m on par with what God wants, which is really a stupid question to ask. Of course I’m on par with what God wants, because what God wants is for me to question, to seek answers, and to develop and strengthen my faith. And as long as I’m doing that, I’ll never be off course.

The question I pose today is: Who are you? Are you Moses, Ruth, Thomas, or something in between?

Politics as Usual

Posted in politics with tags , , , , , , on February 22, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

I’m always excited whenever I watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It’s the biting commentary, the no-holds-barred look at the news media and politics. But I’m most excited when Stewart catches politicians in their own lies. When he compares Republicans’ defiance to decisions that President Obama makes to Republicans’ praise for similar decisions that President Bush made. When he catches Democrats praising Obama for ideas that they didn’t like when Bush proposed them. When politicians blatantly make up lies about legislation simply because the other party thought it was a good idea.

But even though this type of “gotcha!” comedy is great, it’s also disheartening, that we’re letting political identification get in the way of progress and a better standard of living. Democrats pushing for health care reform are blocked by Republicans who probably also want it, but don’t want to admit it because they need to stay “true to their party.” Democrats tearing down Republicans for wanting tougher border control, even though they probably want it, but can’t admit it because it doesn’t jive with their party platform.

And even though I try to keep an open mind about my friends’ political values, every once in a while I’ll catch myself. “My best friend in the world is a Conservative? I better find a new best friend.”

It’s odd to think that way, and I’m constantly amazed at how politicians can always do this. It really hit me my freshman year of college, when I was taking a class on the 2008 election. Before class one day, one of my classmates came up to me and said, “Did you hear?”

“About what?” I asked. I was expecting something important, as there was much urgency in her voice.

“Kayla* voted for McCain.” She was honestly offended by such a move. She couldn’t believe it. And for a moment, I couldn’t believe it, either. Here she was, a music major like myself, probably one of the most liberal of all majors on campus, and she voted Republican.

It was a strange feeling to realize that I had judged wrongly on political identification. But I’ve also noticed that this sort of thing happens with religious identification, too.

One of my professors out right told the class last term that he was an atheist. At first, a chill ran down my spine: how can I trust that someone who doesn’t believe in God is teaching me the right things?

And then, as I thought about it, his religious identification had nothing to do with the class topic (political terrorism) or his personality (a “BAMF,” as the kids say).

It seems silly to me that different political, religious, etc. identification can impact someone’s view of other people. It’s crazy, and if people would think for just a moment and realize how crazy it actually is, they might stop.

But it won’t stop. As long as political extremists like Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, and others like them keep pushing an irrelevant and useless political agenda that no one can conclusively agree on to build up or tear down decisions that other parties make, nothing will get done. It’s why America is where it is today: we are children, and we make fun of and don’t trust people who are different from us.

It’s a plea that often falls on deaf ears, but it’s a plea that is crucial and important: can’t we all just work together? Can’t we all just get along?

*Name changed

Enough About Tiger

Posted in current events with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Today, Tiger Woods held a press conference to discuss his accident, his affair, and his future. Tiger apologized to his fans, his family, and his sponsors. He said that he would return to golf in the future, but didn’t know when. Probably after more rehab. He’s deeply sorry for everything he’s done, and hopes that one day we can believe in him again.

Okay, are we done now?

Ever since Tiger’s accident in November, the media has been covering the “incident” non-stop. Reporting everything under the sun that turned out to just not be true, Tiger Woods has been the go-to story for all media outlets: magazines, newspapers, CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, CBS, ESPN, ESPN2, blogs, radio, smoke signals, Pony Express, everyone had something to say.

And now that he’s made his public apology and has told everyone exactly what is going on, we can finally leave him alone.

Except that ESPN was analyzing every crucial detail of the press conference, from his stilted delivery of the speech he wrote himself, to the fact that the single camera went out at around the 9-minute mark of his 13-minute, 32-second speech. Was it sincere? When will he return to golf? What will Elin, his wife, do in response to this press conference?

But here’s a question that no one is asking: Who cares?

The only reason that his has been such big news for the last three months is that Tiger Woods is a “squeaky clean athlete,” known for his positive demeanor and his superhuman golf skills. His marriage is “perfect,” his life is “perfect.” Everything about him is perfect and unblemished.

And then he gets into an accident, and we’re all worried about what happened to our fantastic golf star, the most successful Black golfer the world has ever seen. How is his condition? Will he survive? Was drugs or alcohol a factor in the crash? Will he ever be able to walk again?

And then we learn that he was having an affair, cheating on his beautiful wife, and we’re concerned about what else he is hiding. Is this a one-time thing? If not, how many times and with how many partners has he done it? Is he using performance-enhancing drugs? Is he using any drugs at all? Is he in a cult?

There is so much going on with Tiger Woods that isn’t important and has nothing to do with the bigger picture of life itself. Here’s all that we need to know about the incident: Tiger Woods cheated on his wife. His wife found out, and confronted him about it. He panicked and sped away from his house. He got into an accident. And he’s really sorry about all of it.

Ta-da. The end. Case closed. End of discussion.

Except the media, in trying to get as much ratings as possible, will continue to speculate about every little thing about his actions, where he’s getting treatment, and his return to golf. This is something that happens with every public figure, every celebrity, and every athlete. It’s not news, it’s a daily occurance. It’s disheartening, but true. But because it’s Tiger Woods, this discussion will never end, and will never go away.

One of the correspondents for ESPN, in analyzing the speech, mentioned that where he was watching it (in the lobby of a hotel), people were crowded around the TV, silent for all 13 minutes and 32 seconds of the speech. He said, “It was almost like one of those ‘Where were you when…’ sort of moments.”

“Where were you when Tiger Woods issued a formal apology about his affair.” It’s a memory for the ages, just like, “Where were you when the World Trade Towers fell?” Or “Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?” Or “Where were you when the Challenger exploded?”

Comparing Tiger Woods to topics of national, and in some cases international, concern makes one look like a fool. Tiger Woods’ private life is none of our concern, and never has been of our concern. That’s why it’s a private life.

This whole ordeal reminds me of the South Park episode with Britney Spears, and how we learn that Britney “has do die for the harvest.” Celebrity human sacrifice through the papparazzi. It was a genius episode, and it was on the other night, which makes this whole Tiger Woods thing even more eerie.

The media won’t let up about Tiger Woods. It makes me wonder if he is the next human sacrifice for the upcoming harvest. I mean, we’ve followed the formula: we’ve built him up and practically worshipped him, and he’s on top of the world. And then we scrutinize and judge, all in an attempt to bring him down to the ground again, so we can completely ruin him. It’ll all end with his suicide and a bountiful harvest.

In the paraphrased words of Chris Crocker: Leave Tiger alone. Leave his wife alone. Leave his kids alone. Leave his family alone. Leave his personal life alone. Move on to bigger, better, and more important things.

Ash Wednesday

Posted in religion with tags , , on February 17, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

I hesitate to write this entry, because there is so much else that is going on in the world, but I feel it must be written, as, in essence, this is part of the world.

There are anywhere between 1.5 and 2.2 billion Christians in the world of all denominations, and today marked the beginning of the season of Lent, a period of 40 days (not including Sundays) where we prepare for the Passion of the Christ, his trail, torture, death, and Resurrection. Most people use this time to either give up something that tempts them, such as chocolate, Facebook, soda, etc, and others take the time to add a faith practice, whether it be attending church, doing a devotional, or reading the Bible.

Lent is one of my favorite liturgical seasons, as it allows me to challenge myself. Since I started giving up things for Lent, I’ve given up non-scholarly Internet access twice, I’ve given up soda a couple of times, and a variety of other things that escape me at the moment. But through all of these practices, I’ve seen a vast improvement in my life. Giving up soda and sweets has made me feel healthier and has given me more energy, and giving up non-scholarly Internet allowed me to focus more on my studies, raising my grades and improving my GPA.

This year, I’ve decided to participate in both sides of the the season. I’ve given up several things that tempt me every day, with kissing and swearing being the two major things. The first came at the delight of my girlfriend, who suggested it after she noticed for a period of several months that we had gone away from the deep, meaningful conversations we used to have, and became physical. We’ve gotten better on that front, and Lent is only the jump-start we both feel is needed.

The second one I felt needed to be implemented when the first words out of my mouth were cursing the morning and sleeping through my alarm. It’s something that I’ve been working on for a while, back when the only things that would come out of my mouth were curse words, making me appear juvenile and unprofessional. Giving up both of these things will greatly improve my personal and professional life.

Along with this, I am also adding a couple of new practices: fasting and daily meditation. Although I consider myself a Christian, I don’t have many faith practices. Sure I’ll delve into a deep discussion, and I’ll read commentary and religious articles. Recently I started reading the entire Bible, since it is one thing that I haven’t done, but I’ve never been much for prayer. It’s something that concerns me a little bit, that when I do pray, it is very generic and very relevant to why I’d been asked to pray. If I can help it, I usually don’t.

My goal is to take 30 minutes out of every day and reflect and meditate. If Bible reading comes into play, then all the better. To help me focus, I’m fasting during the daylight hours, as well. I used to fast during Ramadan to try it out and to explore the different facets of the religions of the world, but even then, I wasn’t really into it. I’m going all out this year with my fasting, making sure that after the sun goes down, I don’t stuff myself, but rather continue on a normal eating pattern as if nothing happened. It’s a challenge, but I think I’m up for it.

I hate being self-centered and self-serving, but it is something I truly believe in, and something that I feel makes perfect sense to me. I’m open for questioning and discussion, as I believe that it is only by questioning and discussing can a person improve their faith. So I open up for all comments, emails, and other personal correspondence: Do you celebrate Lent? How are you celebrating it? Why don’t you celebrate it? What sort of faith practices do you have?

Death of a Luger: Who Takes the Blame?

Posted in current events with tags , , , , on February 15, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

A great tragedy occured on 12 February 2010 in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada: Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, during a trail run on the luge track, lost control on the final turn and flew into an unpadded metal pole at close to 90 miles per hour.  (The Huffington Post story has the disturbing video of the crash.) He was 21 years old.

Human nature demands that someone be at fault for this accident. Nothing happens on its own; there is someone to blame. Nodar’s family is blaming the creators of the luge track, as the walls on the track were too low, which caused him to fly to his death. However, a probe into the track says that there was nothing structurally wrong with the track, and that the fault lies entirely on Nodar’s mistakes. It should be noted, however, that despite it being Nodar’s fault, they have built an addition on the wall at the accident site, making it higher, and preventing any more accidents like this.

But probably the most telling aspect of this whole debacle is a quote from Nodar’s father, David, who competed in the luge when Georgia was still part of the Soviet Union

I don’t know anything about why it happened, I don’t know if it was the track or if it was a mistake, but I know that he should never have been going that fast. That kind of speed is too much in this sport.

There are three different places to put the blame for this accident: the architects and engineers who built the track, Nodar Kumaritashvili, and the sports community’s focus on being “better, faster, stronger.” All of them viable options, but which one is it?

I’m almost inclined to believe that all of these options worked together to create this tragedy. Several reports say that Nodar was fearful about the track the day before his death, saying that he was “scared about one of the turns” on the track, but his bravery and his dream to be an Olympic athlete made him go for it. This is where the fault can be placed on the athlete: his worried were not unfounded, but he went against his instincts, and that caused him to lose his life.

Of course, if the wall were up to standards, he never would have flown off the track. Athletes were concerned about the track before the fatal accident, with an Australian luger being quoted as saying, “To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down this track and we’re crash test dummies? I mean, this is our lives.” Structurally subpar, many athletes said that this accident was bound to happen if something weren’t changed. But the Olympic committee ignored the athletes’ concerns, and now we are one person short in an already small collection of the Georgian Olympic team.

But today’s age of athleticism is also to blame. Sports are constantly in need of being “exciting,” and the Olympic committee had boasted that the track was “faster, steeper and more intense than any track in history.” That’s all fine and dandy, but when will our need for speed become less of a priority than the safety of our athletes? There is always some sort of controversy in every sport about who is doing what to get the edge: baseball has steroids, figure skating had Tonya Harding hiring someone to break Nancy Kerrigan’s kneecaps. When will our primal competativeness be put to the wayside for us to make sure that everyone who competes will make it out alive?

I feel that everyone is to blame for this accident. Everyone who has ever worked on the track is to blame, every athlete who didn’t fight for a safer track is to blame, and our society’s bloodlust for competition is to blame. Sports are supposed to be entertaining and fun, and are never supposed to come to a screetching halt because of a preventable tragedy.

Nodar Kumaritashvili will be greatly missed, and I hope that his death will open the eyes to the rest of the world, and we can finally do something to protect the world’s greatest athletes.

A Retarded Double Standard

Posted in current events, politics with tags , , , , , on February 10, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Many times something comes up in the news that seems almost comical in a sense. Usually they aren’t pointed out unless you’re watching the Daily Show or the Colbert Report, but sometimes they simply just play out in perfect timing, and you wonder if it was scripted or just a wild dream you were having.

Such an event played out between Sarah Palin, Rahm Emanuel, and Rush Limbaugh over the weekend, and all of it over the dreaded “R-word”. In a closed-door meeting, Rahm Emanuel was all hyped up over dissident Democrats as “F—ing retarded.” Granted, even behind closed doors, that sort of language isn’t acceptable, and Emanuel rightly apologized for the comment.

Sarah Palin later chimed in on her blogs, claiming that Emanuel committed “a slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities,” and called for his immediate dismissal from his position as White House Chief of Staff. While I’ve never agreed with anything Sarah Palin ever did during her Vice Presidential run, I have to admit that she makes a great point. I agree that it was wildly inappropriate for Emanuel to toss such a word around, and while I wouldn’t call for his immediate dismissal, I feel that some sort of repercussion should be felt, such as a fine or something similar.

I’m kind of surprised I agreed with Palin on something. It actually feels sort of good. Why don’t I do it more often?

Later, Rush Limbaugh, famous for being a “giant blowhard,” went on his own rant about what Emanuel said, saying, “Our political correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards.” He went on to say, “I think their big news is he’s out there calling Obama’s number one supporters f’ing retards. So now there’s going to be a meeting. There’s going to be a retard summit at the White House. Much like the beer summit between Obama and Gates and that cop in Cambridge.”

“Retard summit”? Oh, Rush, I hope you’re ready to feel the wrath of Sarah Palin, ’cause here it comes!

…. where is it? Where is the unholy wrath of Sarah Palin? Where are the calls for Rush Limbaugh to be fired? To have a hefty fine slapped on him?

There is nothing. This is probably why I don’t agree with Sarah Palin.

While she did make a blanket statement of “crude and demeaning name calling at the expense of others is disrespectful,” by not specifically addressing Limbaugh like she addressed Emanuel, she’s is showing her true colors: Republicans occasionally have slips of the tongue, and Democrats are retarded.

This isn’t the first time Palin has said something ridiculous: on the campaign trail, she claimed that being in close proximity to Russia is foreign policy experience (I don’t have the direct quote, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter); in a recent interview, she said that the only way Obama can guaranteed re-election is to declare war on Iran. So much wrong with most of these statements.

I’m not a fan of improper use of words, just as much as I’m not a fan of political correctness. I’m not a fan of double standards, either. And overall, this sort of political bogusness is the worst of all. It’s unacceptable for anyone to toss out the word “retard” so loosely, but it’s even more of an abomination to hold a double standard based on politics.

But, that sort of rant will be saved for another day. For now, I leave you with the wise words of Stephen Colbert. Enjoy.