Friday, August 15, 2014

Depression: Who Really Cares Outside a Small Circle of Friends?

Decades ago, in the late 60s and early 70s, there was a coffee house (not to be confused with all the coffee shops that litter our streets in our current culture where people buy lattes and work on their laptops) in Dayton, Ohio called the Lemon Tree.  Next to an small theatre which showed arty films.  Both places attracted the arty people, hippies, folk music buffs.

It was there that I heard Phil Ochs perform - a folk singer/songwriter well known for his protest sons - back in the 60s.  I've forgotten everything he sang EXCEPT one sone which rang so true with me called "Outside A Small Circle of Friends" which was based on the murder of a woman in New York City named Kitty Genovese in 1964.  Over more than a half hour period of time, this poor woman was stabbed repeatedly while those in the area who heard who screams did nothing.  Thirty-seven people in all have been identified who heard the screams - and did nothing.  No phone calls to the police or emergency personnel.  No attempts to stop the attack.  Nothing.  Kitty's attacker even left her for a bit and then returned to finish her off in the hallway of her apartment building.  Yet people, the bystanders - did nothing.

Phil Ochs' song starts and ends with these words: 
Oh, look outside the window/There's a wlman being grabbed/They've dragged her to the bushes/And now she's being stabbed.
Maybe we should call the cops/And try to stop the pain/But Monopoly is so much fun/I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure/It wouldn't interest anybody/Outside a small circle of friends. (refrain)
With the words:  And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends.

I read in the paper in the mid-70s that Phil Ochs had committed suicide by jumping out of a window. 

It was a different world back then.  No 911 - at least when Kitty Genovese was murdered. No PCs - or Apple.  No internet.  No laptops or wifi.   Computers were so big that they took up entire buildings and you had to have a degree to run them.  No social media. I think his tragic death went back largely unnoticed except for small articles in the paper and a small circle of friends.

These 13 words "And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside a small circle of friends" have stayed with me all these years, and I've often felt their impact in my struggles with depression, my experience up close and personal with workplace bullying and my subsequent journey towards recovery.


The news this week has been full of the suicide of well known comedian Robin Williams who suffered from depression.  Instantly, articles started cropping up on social media. Twitter and Facebook started to be full of links not only to Robin Williams, the person and actor, but also about depression.  What it is. What it isn't.  How it affects people.  What to say. What not to say.  Etc.

Robin Williams was a great comedian whose humour affected many, many people.  Yet, he apparently he lived a life of quiet desperation.  A life where he was so tormented and so bereft of hope for a better, more hopeful tomorrow that he committed what I deem the ultimate act of despair:  suicide.  Just like Phil Ochs did all those years ago.

Same phenomenon.  Same conclusion that life was not worth living.  Same outcome - the death of a very talented performer.

There are many of us on this planet who live lives of quiet desperation.  Unnoticed except outside a small circle of friends.

There are many of us who yearn for more, who struggle with depression and hopelessness, who just want to know that someone cares.  Who just want an outstretched hand to reach out to keep us from drowning in the waves of despair which keep washing over us.

The point I want to make here is that many of us - and be us I don't mean just people like me who have been traumatized by workplace abuse but also the population at large - live lives of quiet desperation.  Lives filled with acquaintances perhaps but no real friends.  Busy lives.  Even productive lives.  But at the core of our very being something seems to be missing.

That connection where we feel that we are really valued not for what we do, but for who we are.  Even when we are down for the count.

Often during this lonely sojourn on the way back from workplace abuse, I've felt lost and alone. (My struggles against the temptation of suicide are written in a previous post:  "The Danger of Suicide".)

Those words "outside a small circle of friends" seems to fit my life so much.

But yet, I remind myself time and again that I. Have. That. Small. Circle. Of. Friends. and that they are valuable, very valuable.  They alone are the reason I'm still here.  They alone are the reason that I haven't joined the ranks of those who have given up, thrown in the towel and committed the ultimate act of despair:  suicide.

They may be a small circle but they are a circle, and they are friends.  I value them.

Thank you for being there with me on the journey.  I'd rather have a small circle of committed people covering my back and cheering me on the journey than a larger group of less committed people.

Until tomorrow....

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