Monday, January 26, 2009

It can take talking to a kid to realize how unnatural the world can be sometimes.

I've walked through the Jaguar Jungle exhibit at the Audubon Zoo many a time accepting its setting as simply background. No, it's not really Chichen-Itza I'm walking through. No, I am not walking past true ceremonial objects, true depictions of Mayan gods, or true temples. It is all an attempt at jazzing up an exhibit of anteaters, jaguars, macaws, toucans, and tamarins with some slightly artful context in which to appreciate where the animals come from. And then it all comes crashing in when your son takes one look at a sign about the Maya religion, asks you to read it, and then asks about the sacrifices of animals such as jaguars.

"Why did they sacrifice them, Mom?"
"They thought it would make their gods happy."
"And they sacrificed them in temples?"
"Yes, they did."
"What did the temples look like?"
"Like that one over there (pointing to the mock temple by the jaguars' enclosure), only much, much bigger."
(horrified child) "They sacrificed jaguars in there???"
(reassuringly) "No, no, not in that one over there. In temple cities built by the Maya in South America."
"Why don't we think that anymore?"
"I think we've realized that animals are living beings that have some right to live, too. Killing them won't really determine much of how nature works, like storms and harvests of food, or who is victorious in battle."

I realized then that having a mock-up of a Mayan temple at the zoo is kinda screwy. It doesn't really transport me to another world entirely - if it did, I'd most likely have to run for my life from the jaguars. I'd have to climb the temple ziggurat at Chichen-Itza slowly and take a massive rest once I got to the top, most likely. And I would have to come absolutely face-to-face with the fact that I'm a stranger in a land not my own.

Know where else we are all strangers in an unfamiliar place? In that land called Depression, with some peninsulas named Post-Traumatic Stress and some coves of Clinical D. There are even some nearby islands of Bipolar and some Schizophrenic Atolls. Oh, sure, just enough stuff works in Depression to make life tolerable, but there is always something, or a number of little things, on which one walks a tightrope without a net to catch him/her.

The scariest thing about this land is it sits on the exact same spot where we are, at all times - but many of us refuse to see it. There are a number of reasons for this, one of the biggest ones being the stigma attached to seeing Depression oneself when so many have dismissed it as a lost continent akin to Atlantis. "Forget it. You're just tired. Get a good night's sleep and get back to work."


It's tough to forget. Yeah, you probably are mightily fatigued. And good night's rests are probably beyond your grasp. Get back to work??? What the hell?????

This latest onslaught of shock and awe in the form of violent crime in our midst once again and the fact that we are still not addressing its causes and its prevention is also a time for re-examination of ourselves. Of what we believe. Why we are here. Are we really doing what's best for our selves and our families? When do the joys of living here outweigh the hardships and the horrors?

The people who are constantly diving in there to bring us these stories deserve a great deal of help in this regard, whether they are activists, bloggers, journalists, or just living their lives and using their eyes and ears. A book on the nonfiction writer Iris Chang that examined the mental state that led to her suicide also took a look at the culture within journalism of reporting trauma - a culture that encouraged the people reporting fires, wars, the effects of disasters both natural and unnatural to suck it all in and not to scratch too deeply beneath the surface of the effects exposure to such terrible events can have - and found an amazing effort to try to honestly address these problems in the journalistic community.

I hope it takes flight and becomes more established all over the world.

I think the bloggers here may need to take some advantage of it, as well as the journalists. This city is a hard, hard place. The violence here, the problems with education, law enforcement, our-largely tourism-based economy, racism, the efforts to overcome obstacles in rebuilding or even keeping our homes, our politicians and politics, health care - it gets crazy.

Getting help to cope is not a weakness.

It is simply giving you a sharper focus on what needs to be done. It can give you the tools to face what has happened to you and may still be happening to you. It can give you the strength to pick up and continue the struggle that is life - because, by God, you are needed. You are appreciated, no matter who you are. You can better appreciate some crushing, yet uplifting truths, and go on.

But really, the Mayan temple thing in the middle of Audubon Zoo is still messed up.


E.J. said...

What you wrote reminded me of a quote I always find helpful:

" matter the severity of our own circumstances, we have something to give to others. The fact of this does not invalidate our pain, but affirms our worth, that even in pain we can be of value." -Wayne Muller

Amy said...

This is an excellent post! The stigma attached to the labels keep so many people getting the help that they so badly need, if even for a little while.

It is very easy to focus on the bad. Very easy. There is so much of it. I have decided to focus on the good and work on the bad, instead of just focusing on it. With a little help from my 3rd grade class.

And the temples creep me out too!

Sophmom said...

It's not just the social stigma that stops people from seeking help. Sometimes, the inability to identify one's mental illness as such is a symptom thereof. Denial can be powerful enough to be pathological and intractible.
Excellent post, darlin'.

saintseester said...

This has to be one of the best posts that I think I've read over here. Very, very well done. Yes, depression is a stigma, but treatment can do wonders for a mind. That much I know from personal experience.