Depression: Loosening the Noose of Stigma

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I’ve run into the subject of depression quite a bit recently.

Coincidentally and through no deliberate search of my own, I have come face-to-face with what seems to be a significant cultural shift in our alternative sports community… we are suddenly opening up, showing vulnerability, and reaching out to others for help. That is so incredibly awesome!

I have encountered this subject so much in personal conversations and media over the past month that I feel compelled to share some of the puzzle pieces. Maybe this information can spur a butterfly effect that could change or save a life…

This commentary by Simon Sinek sets the stage… while a bit hard on millenials, it demonstrates our generation’s vulnerabilities towards depression. These include operating in a highly filtered social media existence, having a degree of convenience and instant gratification to many aspects of life, and not always realizing that we must first climb the mountain in order to reach the summit (love that analogy). Check it out regardless of which generation you belong to…

I can't be the only one out there that feels depressed for what feels like way to long. I sat on this video for a week debating whether or not I should post it. In some ways it says exactly what I want to say. In other ways, I don't think it stated what I wanted to get across. Part of why I wanted to make this was simply to give a glimpse into my reality (not the filtered life we see here on FB). I tend not to want to post everything I do on facebook. I don't want others to feel depressed because of the showy nature of it (literally my job is to take pictures of cool things). Well, truth be told, it's not like that all the time. Not at all. I go through exactly the same things as everyone else out there. In fact, it's always frustrated me that people think what I do is different and somehow makes me immune to feeling down. Also, if I ever try to explain what I'm going through, I tend to get, "Rob, you live a charmed life… stop complaining." I'm sure Robin Williams got similar comments. I decided to post it finally, not because I wanted to share my story. I'm doing ok now. Instead, I do want anyone else out there who can relate to know they're not alone. It's everyone's secret. As guys, we're taught subtly (and sometimes outwardly) that it's a weakness. That's why I relate it to a broken bone here. It's a consequence in part of lifestyle, and it's something that's real and takes time. #keepitinperspective

Posted by Rob Nelson on Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rob is a member of our Southeast whitewater kayaking community, and his willingness to address a very personal and difficult subject is admirable and powerful. I believe he is absolutely correct about people being afraid to speak up because we don’t want to be a downer, and we think it clashes with optimism and a positive attitude. But here’s the thing… if you’ve ever heard of Asch’s conformity experiments, and the “single dissenter” psychological phenomenon, it only takes one person to stand up to give others hope and a voice.

Wellness: The Dark Ride

This article from Mountain Life Magazine digs deeper into the intricate relationships of these threads. The topic of sadness and hardship being taboo is revisited, as is the critical role of peer validation. One new piece to the puzzle is the effect that elevation can have on brain chemistry. When considered together, a fragile house of cards begins to emerge. But what is also evident is that silence and fear are giving way to support and love. As the article points out, there are 350 million other people on Earth dealing with something similar!

Note- The title of this blog was borrowed from a meaningful quote by Greg McDonnell within this Mountain Life piece.

Searching for Sero

Renowned adventure photographer John Rathwell and his partner Tracy Guenard put this project together to tell compelling stories about life and joy in the outdoors. Sero is short for serotonin, the chemical believed to contribute to a feeling of happiness, and the Searching for Sero mission is to shine light on mental wellness and suicide prevention.   

Rolling Stone / Dave Mirra

This piece of journalism is a powerful and sobering convergence of every factor in this discussion, with one additional component: head injuries. As it turns out, every one of these depression risk factors is exacerbated by a condition discovered in pro football players around 2000. CTE is a degenerative brain disease linked to concussions and depression, and even mild concussions can increase the risk of depression and suicide. The article focuses on legendary BMX rider Dave Mirra, who tragically took his own life in 2016. That event put the extreme sports community on its heels, and sparked a lot of research into the relationship between brain trauma and depression.

These conversations and articles have had a significant effect on me. I am a millennial who enjoys extreme sports and playing at altitude, and I have hit my head more times than I care to admit. Like it or not, I have signed up for a life of extreme highs and sometimes dramatic lows.

Is this information reason enough to quit the sports that I love and live life in a bubble? Hell no!

But I do know that I will pay closer attention to depression in my own life and in those of my friends. “The stoke” will live on, and hopefully we will be able to take care of ourselves and each other in a more informed way…

Good lines.

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