Archive for Vancouver

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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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.