Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How To Find Hope – Johann Hari

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Finding a typically ingenious yet deep way to describe her harrowing experience with bouts of manic depression, the indomitable late Carrie Fisher once said, “One is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs … Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out.” According to the World Health Organisation (website accessed on 15th February 2019), depression is referred to as a ‘common illness worldwide’, that afflicted over 300 million people. After setting out these grave statistics, the WHO proceeds to expound further on this pernicious illness in a matter-of-fact way, “depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. Especially when long-lasting and with moderate or severe intensity, depression may become a serious health condition. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.

Our stereotypical understanding – bolstered by the findings of research scientists, egged on by discourses on this topic by various medical practitioners constituting experts in this domain, and goaded on by the profit motives of Big Pharma – of depression has been that it is an insidious disease having its origin in an ‘imbalanced’ brain. Just a step removed from branding the unfortunate sufferer as one who is off kilter.

In a fundamentally path breaking and breathtaking book, the New York Times bestselling author Johann Hari upends the received wisdom regarding depression before proposing a radical set of principles that would combat this dangerous phenomenon with a bare minimum recourse to antidepressants. Hari must know being a sufferer himself. Recounting his painful experiences with candor and a dash of wit, Hari reminisces about the reasons proffered by his doctor for depression. Naturally depleted levels of a chemical termed serotonin in the brain is the direct, most proximate and ascertainable cause for depression. The solution – a new generation of drugs termed Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) or simply anti-depressants.

This spiel linking an innate deficiency in the brain with depression has ruled the roost thereby enhancing the coffers of the Big Pharma immensely. At the time of writing, the market for antidepressants is a whopping $100 billion plus. Hari debunks this obviously causal link by resorting to a degree of research that is frankly, astounding. Examining the social and psychological factors triggering depression, such as disconnection from the future, childhood trauma, disconnection from meaningful work and relationships, loneliness, lack of fulfilment, absence of status and disconnection from nature, Hari argues that these are some of the ‘lost connections’ that both accelerate and exacerbate the onset and course of depression.

Crisscrossing continents, clocking humongous air miles and poring over millions of academic papers in between, Hari has made research the cornerstone and crux of his book. The people whom he has interviewed for this work span a broad spectrum of professions and viewpoints. From a junkie-transformed-into-neuroscientist in Sydney to an avid mountaineer primatologist outside Banff in Canada, from interviewing isolated Amish community members to watching a spider weave its web outside a rehabilitation centre for gaming addicts, Hari leaves no stone unturned to strike at the core of the causes responsible for triggering depression.

Hari also interviews pioneers in path breaking methodologies such as Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University. Professor Griffiths amazingly secures the relevant approvals to bring back experimentation using psychedelic drugs to correlate the effects between the outcomes affected by an imbibing of psychedelic drugs and the results of deep meditation. The conclusion startlingly reveals identical patterns and experiences. Similarly, in the city of London he meets George Brown and Tirril Harris, authors of a groundbreaking study of the social causes of depression that had the duo venturing into the community and interviewing women about their lives. He makes clear the importance of their work and spends 10 pages telling their story, but quotes just a few sentences from each. However, most curiously – and this is a conundrum that manifests itself in almost every page – he devotes a surprisingly short amount of space for their narratives. While there has been no dearth of experts who have been interviewed both formally and informally for this book, the narrative does not find their voice. The results, opinions, methodologies and probabilities are all summarized by the author himself.

So how does one restore such lost connections? Hari’s solution is to “find practical ways to dismantle hierarchies and create a more equal place, where everybody feels they have a measure of respect and status”. This he argues may be done by simple actions such as bonding and banding together and finding meaningful work. Demonstrating fulfilling real life stories that include the now famous Kotti housing project protests in Berlin to a therapeutic horticulture group in east London; a bunch of bike mechanics in Baltimore responsible for setting up a workers’ cooperative to a short-lived albeit successful Canadian government tryst with universal basic income, Hari strings together a succession of ameliorating tales that warm the very cockles of the heart.

Depression has for far too long remained undisturbed as the elephant in the room. A combination of forced as well as ingrained factors such as shame, stigma, societal isolation and reluctance have taken an unfortunate toll on the minds and bodies of the hapless sufferers. It is time that all the relevant stakeholders unite, cutting across personal motives and materialistic drivers, to obliterate this scourge. To accomplish this, as Hari illustrates, huge steps, both mental and physical would need to be taken, boldly and brazenly. “One of the most important slogans of the past few years has been ‘Take back control’,” hari notes.  “People are right to connect with this slogan – they have lost control, and they long to regain it – but that slogan has been used by political force . . . that will give them even less control.”

Indeed, the time has come for us to take control. A control that embraces an welcoming environment rather than an addictive cycle of antidepressants

Dante’s Tree

tree covered in moss in the wood

(Photo Credit: Pexels)

Spurred on by a cool and pleasant breeze, the dried leaves scattered upon the ground rose a little bit before gently wafting back down. The giant tree towered over the landscape like an imperial patriarch. This piece of botanical relic had been a mute albeit honest witness to many a rebellion and reunion, deceit and debauchery. Prince and pauper alike had paused under its unbiased and generous canopy to wipe their brows of sweat and gather their breaths.

Venky and Ash leisurely ambled down the path that sloped down towards the river bank. The radiant sun shimmered on the still surface of the stately mass of water. If the tree was the protector, the river was the nourisher.

“I just want you to understand that I will wait for you come hell or high water”, Venky reiterated his form conviction to Ash.

“Both time and tide teach you to wait for none”, Ash whispered softly without taking her beautiful and shapely eyes off a small patch of algae that called the base of the tree, home.

“Dante and Romeo believed in neither adages nor the ravages of time.”

“Dante never got his Beatrice and Romeo did a Socrates or was it the other way round?”

“But they waited. The worth of a wait knows weighs more than all the gold in every mine.”

The river slightly rippled thereby according assent.

(Word Count: 230)

Written as part of #TellTaleThursday with Anshu & Priya

For more stories please visit HERE.

No Hay Even When The Sun Shines

Marsh Road

(Photo Credit: Crispina Kemp)

The thin electricity wires strung out from pole to pole resembled random lines absently drawn against the clear blue sky. Lines from a blunt pencil; an instrument that had seen better days producing even better results. Just like some of Venky’s earlier days.

The ramshackle wooden fence to the right of a curve at the unpaved road caved in upon itself. Rotting wood. Wood which had once been sturdier enjoying the rays of the sun beating down upon it. Just like some of the sunny mornings and cheery disposition which adorned Venky’s past.

The untended grass on either side of the road was discoloured and unhealthy. The now pale yellow outgrowths were once an attractive green blessed by the touch of soil and sprinkler.

The road itself? There was a time when at the end of every journey there stood his beloved Ash. Now it was a road to nowhere.

(Word Count: 150)

Written as part of the Crimson’s Creative Challenge #14 More details regarding this challenge may be found HERE.

Wine & Crab

It curiously began at the pool into which she plunged headlong

As creeping stealthily behind her, he suddenly & playfully sounded the gong

Coming out of the water but with fire in her blazing eyes

When her palm firmly made contact with his cheek, it was not all kisses & apple pies

 

Then the bloody crab at the beach scurried out of the sand and pinched her big toe

Making her rant, rave and curse, hop, skip holler and bellow

Sensing a chance for redemption he whipped out the magic tube of gel

It was too late before he realised that instead of a salve from heaven it was an irritant from hell

 

The last straw was triggered by a bottle of potent and expensive red wine

On a cool and breezy evening most appropriate to leisurely drink and dine

When the waiter came to their table and asked, “Sir one for the road?”

The inebriated fool with a stupid grin replied “Yes please and also one for my lovely toad.”

 

The battered and bruised black eye couldn’t sense relief with neither ice not spray

Everything had gone haywire in what otherwise was to be a romantic getaway

Oh, everything had gone awry in what otherwise was to be a romantic getaway

(Word Count: 212)

Written as part of #TellTaleThursday with Anshu & Priya

Venky’s Ash & Fire

(Photo Credit: Anshu Bhojnagarwala)

The burning embers blazed away. Dazzling and diaphanous in their narrative, the dancing flames were both purifying and annihilating. Fire cleaves; flame liberates; flares unshackle. The incandescent yellow wonder was Venky’s Ash. Ash, of her big beautiful eyes, cascading and tumbling locks, an iron will and a heart of gold. Gold, the yellow metal; gold, the same colour as fire. Over a glass of high quality Beefeater Gin and Tonic, when he told her he will wait as long as it takes for her to agree, she smiled. A smile whose radiance put even the glory of flame to shame.

(Word Count: 100)

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

 For the complete list of entries, please click HERE

 

 

Collected Stories – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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There could not have been a better celebratory ring to mark the occasion. While statistics might mean everything and nothing at the same time, on more occasions than not, they cease to be mere numbers. Hence, when I felt a surge of contentment and a sense of fulfillment overwhelm me as the covers gently came down upon the book that I had just finished, there was a seemingly just reason for such a euphoria and the attendant statistic attached to it. I had just completed reading book No.1000. The book in question was “Collected Stories” and the author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Residing in inspired solitude in Mexico City, and chimney smoking 60 cigarettes a day, Gabriel Garcia Marquez ripped the veil off fictional realism. A man who counted amongst others Debussy and Bartók as worthy LPs for his Record Player not only knew class, but oozed it himself. His conventional typewriter cranked out a domain of literary landscape the likes of which were neither seem before nor have been glimpsed since.

An extraordinary exercise in fictional realism, “Collected Stories”, contain twenty-six of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s original, ingenious and mesmerizing short stories, set out in the chronological order of their publication in Spanish from three volumes: Eyes of a Blue Dog, Big Mama’s Funeral, and The Incredible and Sad Tale of lnnocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother. The leitmotif in this collection is the author himself. His recurring originality pulsates and courses through the stories in unrelenting spasms. “In my dreams, I was inventing literature,” recalled Marquez in an interview. Yesterday’s dreams are today’s reality.

Laying out a diaphanous combination of mystery, mystique and magic, one of the greatest story tellers of his generation demonstrates with an incandescent brilliance the fact that he is blessed with the depths of perception, bestowed with the breadth of imagination and brimming with an originality that is putting it mildly – extraordinarily uncommon amongst most writers.

For themes, there is the miasma of poverty, the economy of happiness and a perennial tryst with mortality that jumps at the reader out of every page. Curlews that peck out the eyes of three men, a vanishing ghost ship, an old man with enormous wings and a woman who has been transformed into a talking spider complement and compete with one another to make the book a genuine marvel of modern literature.

Death occupies the initial portion of the book and is the ‘protagonist’ of the first eleven stories. Revolving around either persons who are dead or are in the transitory phase of making an exit from the tangible world before becoming part of the intangible plane, these stories have a grotesque and morbid (no pun intended) sense of humour. Employing a no-frills dead pan fashion, Marquez highlights the impermanent nature of life and the permanent feature of death.  The ravages of death leave none in doubt about the ephemeral and often unacknowledged and unrecognized temporary world which merely flatters to deceive.

Garcia’s world is characterized by tumult and turbulence. Mirth and merriment on one side, massacres and mayhem on the other. Garcia’s world is also an oeuvre that has inspired not just imitation but also spawned a new realm of imagination.  Folklore, verbal storytelling, stirrings from Spanish baroque overlapping various epochs form a continuous thread connecting the stories in this collection. Shades of Borges and other Spanish fictional realism writers is clearly discernible in the writings of Garcia Marquez. But the most telling aspect of this riveting mish-mash of stories is an inherent contradiction that begs reconciling. A reconciliation, even attempting which would lead a courageous man into territories uncharted and terrains unexplored. A contradiction between the arcane and the basic, the mundane and the metaphysical and the inevitable and ingenuity.

Reviewing Garcia Marquez and his now eponymous dream theatre of Macondo, John Leonard in the Times discarded economy with a vengeance as he gushed a stream of praise reserved for the highest echelons of writing. “With a single bound, Gabriel García Márquez leaps onto the stage with Günter Grass and Vladimir Nabokov, his appetite as enormous as his imagination, his fatalism greater than either. Dazzling.”

‘Gabo’ as Marquez was popularly known amongst his friends and admirers, didn’t just contend himself writing stories. He breathed life into objects whose very existence couldn’t be envisaged and bestowed a pair of soaring wings to imagination. Wings that took the art of imagining things to a height never scaled before. He also gave me the incontestable privilege and pleasure of penning the 1000th book that I devoured!

Death By Euphorbia

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(Photo Credit: Crispina Kemp)

Kapuscinsky, following his methodical route, arrived at the Fairy Gardens. Spreading a tatami mat he set himself down in close proximity to the Euphorbia shrub.

“Sally I have decided to let the cat out of the bag.”

A thorny branch shot out and caressed Kapuscinsky’ s neck tenderly. When a second one enveloped his neck from behind, he knew something was not right. Two more determined branches wound around his neck and as the terrified botanist tried to scream, no words escaped his mouth. As his body convulsed in pain and eyes dilated devilishly, the thorns sliced the skin in his neck burying and burrowing deep within his throat. Torturous gurgles escaped his mouth and blood began gushing freely from the corners of his mouth.

A shellacked gardener later discovered a badly gutted throat, wrinkled tatami mat and a docile and tame Euphorbia shrub next to the dead with no branches.

(Word Count: 150)

Written as part of the Crimson’s Creative Challenge #13 More details regarding this challenge may be found HERE.