Sunday, May 31, 2020


I'd mentioned that I interviewed to be on the team of a mental health advocacy organization in Singapore. I got it! I'm very grateful. With the exception of SpaceX's launch, this week has been a turmoil of news. As if COVID wasn't enough, police brutality seems to know no bounds. I first heard the concept of ACAB from Ben in New York, and this was Bennett, because there are way too many Bens in the world and as a woman with agency, I can date as many of them as I want. I didn't quite understand what he meant, but in the year and a half since then, I've gotten much more familiar with it.

Anyway, I've also still been reading Learned Optimism and am two-thirds through it. I'm not a huge fan of self-help books because I think the entire genre detracts from the fact that some systemic injustices you cannot change by simply looking inward. However, this is one of the better books I've read, because it explains that while some people may be more predisposed to depression, there are some factors that you can take to minimize the risks of falling into depression. You know the phrase "you can will yourself out of it if you wanted to" that people used to say about mental illness, or sometimes still do? Well there's a certain truth to that.

No, you can't will yourself out of depression, that's fake news, but. There is a mindset that we all inherit from our upbringing, and it is either optimism or helplessness. When you were growing up, you would have learned by emulating, that your actions either changed circumstances and they matter, or you learned the opposite, that regardless what actions you took, you could not change anything about your circumstance, and you would learn to be helpless. That means, among people who don't face depression, some people are more optimistic and believe they have an impact, and some people don't believe they have any impact, but they're Not depressed so they're okay to exist in that non-depressed state without changing anything about their life.

Conversely, among people who are depressed, they either believe that their actions have impacts and thus they take steps to treat their depression no matter how long or how tough it is: taking medication, going for therapy, making drastic changes in their life, or if they'd learned helplessness early in life, they decide that the depression cannot be changed and either live with it, or eventually die from it. I realized I have a learned helplessness because of what I'd witnessed in my childhood. There were some things I could not and cannot change, I could not change who my parents were, I could not change how they were with each other or with my siblings and I, and even up to now, my mother and I have very opposing views, a tension I have never been able to change. So I had a learned helplessness explanatory style. I believed there was something permanently, pervasively and personally wrong with me, so sometimes when I'm depressed, I just accept there is a problem with me and struggle through it.

The good news is, according to the book, you can change your explanatory style. You can be an optimist, even if you are more predisposed toward depression, meaning one, you may delay or minimize your depressions, and two, you could even work through your depressions better because you believe your actions matter and they all have impact. I'm not saying I can change the entire world, I'll solve racism and sexism and poverty, nothing like that. However, I am saying that all other factors being equal, I believe I deserve a fighting chance in this world and I should control for everything else that I can, so that my depression has less of a chance to steer me out of control. If it is within my capacity for change, I will put in the effort, so that when the dark days come (as they invariably do), no one else and not even I can say that I didn't try, because try is all I do.

If you've read all of that, I highly recommend reading the book. It's very interesting and an easy read.

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