Her own private Idaho

It's a terrible time of year to be writing about depression, but that's what has been coming up in conversations and news stories, such as CBC's the fifth estate investigation into the death of young teen who killed herself after being stalked for over two years by an internet predator who had convinced her to flash her pubescent boobs, and then carried out a threat to post the photo online when she wouldn't take it all off for him. God!
     A friend suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately known as SAD. He's one of two people I know who use light boxes or some other device meant to replace the light of the sun, which has to help even the chronically downcast. Don't we all feel better on a sunny day?
     Someone whose desolation knows no particular weather is a young man whose mother was murdered when he was four. He has grown up in the house of his surviving, shell-shocked parent, but now that it's time to step into the world, this fellow hasn't a clue how or where to begin.  He hints at how lost he feels on his FB page.
     It's enough to make anyone sad, even those of us who were born optimistic. I don't know what accounts for that. Some scientists say it's a gene, OXTR. If we have the gene we are better able to cope with hardship: we are not only optimistic but have a healthy sense of self-esteem and "mastery". Nothing is quite as simple as it appears, of course. Even if you have the gene, circumstances could so drag you down that it wouldn't make any difference. And the opposite is also true, that even if you don't have the gene, you could well be able to cope because, for example, you have some close friends, a satisfying job, you're in good health.
     It would be great if all the variables could be calculated and consciously shuffled to give people who really need it a break, but despite the science, it all seems so random - luck, happiness.  That alone is bound to set off a sort of hopelessness. Apparently brains can be reprogrammed, though. The theory goes that if we expect something to turn out badly, we often make choices that guarantee it. We subconsciously begin selecting situations in which we are likely to fail.  If I were depressed and somebody told me to reprogram myself, because I was more or less the author of my own sorrow, I would be offended. Are you kidding? Making it a matter of personal responsibility would be even more depressing. A trap, a sad trap. Not as simple to escape as saying to oneself, "this will turn out wonderfully, I know it". Brains can be retrained in theory, but it doesn't happen quickly and it would be very difficult to accomplish on one's own. A symptom of depression is lassitude, not having the energy even to try.
     The grandmother of the boy whose mother was murdered lives in Idaho. She settled there after the tragedy to deal with her own grief and to help the boy. She never loved Idaho: if her daughter had not died in such a violent way, if she had not left a son there, the grandmother might well be living somewhere else. But there she is while darkness edges more deeply into the day as the solstice nears, in her own private Idaho, which shares with the Gus Van Sant film "My Own Private Idaho" a cast of depressed characters, especially the one who lost his mother.
     In a local store earlier this week, waiting in line to pay for my purchase, I overheard a woman talking to the shop keeper. "Difficult in the end... I have a video." "I'm sure it was difficult," he replied. "Yes, and those kinds of things tend to roll up at this time of year, too."
     Less than two weeks before the light begins to return, with the potential to make all the difference for these folks and I hope it does. Hope. If only it were possible to put that in a box, wrap it up and tie it with a bow in this season of darkness and of giving.