Health Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Too Sad to Move: On the Paralysis of Depression

On my honeymoon we hiked a glacier at the border of Argentina and Chile, about as far south as you could go before hitting Antarctica. No organic life moved. Neon blue water faded to the shore into a milky hue due to particles of ice. The shore was rock, the redbrown of a lion. The glacier sliced in white sections shot with the same chemical blue as the waters. The guide said the blue came from the sun. When ice gets super cold and dense, light refracts off it differently; the color shows more intense. We slipped and climbed in our rented spiked shoes and caught panoramas of water and rock and air. It was like no sensory experience I’ve had, save staring into a canvas — pure color, something by Gerhard Richter, maybe. Occasionally we’d meet a blue sliver in the ice plunging more than a mile. The guide told us to beware; if we tumbled to the bottom we might not die, but we’d break every bone, lie in pain until they somehow got us out.

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A bedrock of pain linked us, so this caught our attention. By then we’d developed a game, my husband and I, that we called: “Should we just kill ourselves?” It involved saying the phrase, then pondering the question. (The rules were unstated but understood.) We played when faced with a task that felt insurmountable, some paralysis, due to career, or other people, or family. Paralysis was something I felt I would live with always. My first therapist couldn’t figure it out, met with silence my description of sitting on the couch unable to move, circles of thought moving me instead, arguments against living. I’d found her after calling my dad, after considering walking into traffic with a seriousness that was new. No one we knew from India or with roots there had a therapist, at least not openly; but my dad was a pragmatist, and we didn’t need more death. The smell of my mom’s cremation was still in my nose, every word still in my head from the letter I slipped under her bathroom door a few days before she fell from a stroke that came like a surprise wave — blaming her for the hands that touched me when only hers should have, for denying me when I asked for therapy years later.

Now she was dead and I worried she didn’t know that I also didn’t blame her, that I loved her. I went to an old escape fantasy, first shared at the office of my pediatrician in Texas, who laughed when I asked for a pill that could turn me back to a baby. Some darkness always lay in wait to get me and I felt I couldn’t stand it — kids laughing in the shadows, or grown-ups who hated me, or, always, hands. I imagined the whole world sharpened to a point against me, a vision helped along by the many times people would stare: when I walked into a classroom, the only brown kid; when we entered a gas station on a road trip. Some years later a girl around my age, seven or eight, shot herself with a gun in the bathroom of her fancy prep school nearby. I was transfixed by the story, couldn’t stop thinking of a girl my age being so decisive while I stayed wishy-washy. I contemplated the knives in our kitchen, asked my mom what she’d think of a girl my age going that way, covered my tracks by saying I’d heard of such a happening. She said she’d think the girl was sick. I didn’t want her to think badly of me, so that was that.

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I don’t know where the urge to kill oneself comes from, if some of us have it and some of us don’t. My mom didn’t seem to have it. She had no hair or ability to walk or talk, and still she raised her arms every day to exercise them, on the hope she would get strong enough to live through surgery to remove the tumors that caused the stroke, a cancer growing in hiding until it made itself known by wrecking her in a second. Watching her I felt awed, and confused. If it’s not a kitchen knife that gets you it’s a rotting hole in your belly from the feeding tube, physical pain if not emotional. At amusement parks, I’d get to the end of the line and turn around, bow out, push through all the people to exit the experiment. I knew I’d never fight as my mom had, given the chance to die. Why waste time along the way?

Biology tells me I’m programmed to want to live. So many sperm could have made their way to the egg. Clearly the one that did had will, a survival instinct, expressed years later in my dad insisting I live by securing outside help. That day on the ice, my husband and I considered dying, but only because the glacier was more beautiful than anywhere else we could go. Better to die there, we reasoned, than return to a place of paralysis. I’ve found it helps to physically move, the way stretching can stave off the stiffening of joints that comes with another sort of disease. But healthcare is expensive in this country, people too busy to talk on phones, therapy treated as a luxury good. I do not know what one does without a biological proxy for the survival instinct, engaging your will to live when it is lost to you, who calls the numbers, writes the checks, lifts your arms in exercises when you can’t move.

If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operates 24-7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

Health Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Who Are We Telling Depressed People to ‘Reach Out’ to, Anyway?

“Reach out,” they say. “Get help,” they say. “Go to therapy,” they say. They, of course, are seemingly every friend, celebrity, and politician offering well-meaning platitudes after the suicides of culinary force of nature Anthony Bourdain and iconic designer Kate Spade last week.

It is comforting to believe that all that stands between a beloved friend or family member and suicide is an active cry for help. Unfortunately, that banal chestnut too often doesn’t match the available treatment options for a vast number of Americans, especially when the Narcissist in Chief’s budget slashes funding for the National Institute of Mental Health by more than 30 percent in 2019.

In New York City, where major depressive disorder is the single greatest source of disability, according to a 2015 report by the mayor’s office, who exactly are we telling our friends and neighbors to reach out to? The report found that poverty, race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender identity, age, where a person lives, and whether or not they’ve been bullied all increase the likelihood that a New Yorker may experience mental health challenges or suicidal ideation — and yet those same factors make it harder to access treatment.

“At any given time over half a million adult New Yorkers are estimated to have depression, yet less than 40 percent report receiving care for it,” the 2015 report states. Eight percent of New York City public high school students report attempting suicide, a percentage that “doubles if a student has been bullied on school grounds, which 18 percent of students experience.” LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide, while elder citizens and Latina adolescents are both at elevated risk as well.

As a media critic, my journalism has almost never included personal memoir. But in light of the implicit shaming underneath all that stock advice to “reach out,” I want to share a story about how few resources are available for mental healthcare in our city, and why judging someone for “not getting help” is not just rude but dangerous.

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Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve considered myself lucky that I have never experienced suicidal ideation, beyond fleeting dark thoughts as a child and adolescent while living in an emotionally abusive home. But because of that upbringing, I’ve dealt with a kind of low-grade depression my whole life, an undercurrent that is always right under the surface, always, and which I work really hard to push through every day. (A coping strategy reflected in the Ani DiFranco lyric “Maybe you can keep me from ever being happy, but you’re not going to stop me from having fun,” which has resonated with me since 1997.) Most of the time I’ve been able to remain functional, but at times the depression has become much more acute.

In my mid twenties in the early 2000s, in the midst of a deep depression during which I stopped having the desire to see friends, take showers, or even write (the most alarming “tell”), I finally overcame my resistance and tried to find a therapist I could afford on a low-income activist writer’s budget. At the time, I was working completely unfunded as the founder and director of a small nonprofit feminist media justice group I was working to build, and I could not afford health insurance; I could barely afford rent and food. As I researched my options, nothing was affordable except for students in training, or group therapy, which — though often extremely useful — I determined wouldn’t be helpful for my specific challenges.

Activating my local network, I finally found one supposedly feminist therapist who I was told offered sliding-scale payment options. I called and asked the therapist if she was taking clients. She said she was. I told her I was living one bare step above poverty and did not have any savings or health insurance, but that I was suffering from a deep depression and I had finally accepted that I needed help. I asked what her rates were at the lowest end of the scale. I can’t remember if she said $75 or $100 per hour; I do remember the burning feeling of internalized shame rising up in my throat as I regretfully explained that I couldn’t afford that rate. Did she have any other options, or could she suggest other therapists with a lower scale? She replied, in a derisive tone I will never forget: “If you are unwilling to pay that little for therapy, you are not dedicated to improving your mental health.”

I hung up the phone and sobbed. I felt even more defeated, demoralized, and depressed than I had been before I reached out, and I quit the search for therapy right at that moment. It wasn’t just that I felt shamed; it was that my research had led me to a brick wall. It seemed as if there was no point in trying to seek additional resources.

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Now, many of us are familiar with the phrase “depression is a liar,” so perhaps if I had been in a better state of mental health I would have left her a scathing Yelp review and initiated another search, or returned to my network for additional recommendations. But the whole reason I was reaching out was that I wasn’t in that healthier state of mind, and so I fully believed there were no therapeutic options available for me.

It took a lot longer for me to get out of that period of depression than it should have, in part because of that therapist insisting that I was “choosing to not prioritize my mental health” just because I was unable to afford her fees. I’m in a much better place now (my low-grade depression is less of an urgent battle and more of an endurance race these days), and thankfully I now have the option for mental healthcare under my partner’s employment benefits if I find myself in need of help in the future. But I know that if I — a cis-gender white journalist adept at research who, while having no money, has significant social capital and a strong network of connected writers and advocates — was unable to secure adequate mental healthcare, it’s decidedly more of a struggle for New Yorkers with fewer racial and professional privileges.

The outpouring of grief, disbelief, and concern in the wake of beloved public figures’ suicides is certainly normal, as is the instinct to want to encourage those struggling with depression and suicidal ideation to seek lifesaving support. But blanketing social media with hollow statements about “reaching out” (exhibit A: senior White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump) obscures the fact that, too often, the infrastructure for that aid is wholly inadequate. That is especially true under the despair-provoking darkness and myopic cruelty of the Trump administration, whose budget is making an already rickety ladder of support even more unstable, while triggering increased anxiety and depression.

If we truly want to help keep people alive and thriving, we need more than platitudes about calling friends or suicide hotlines in a moment of extreme crisis — we need ongoing, substantive, broad-based investment in mental healthcare. So instead of demanding that depressed people reach out to some random concept of help, how about every single person who isn’t struggling reach out to politicians who can fight for more effective mental healthcare policies and resources, and to philanthropic foundations and individuals who can help fund nonprofits that provide direct support to people who need it most. That’s the kind of outreach we should advocate for if we truly want to save lives.

If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operates 24-7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

To learn more about the battles for funding of mental health services in the U.S., visit the Mental Health America website.

To contact your congressional representatives about mental health funding, visit Call My Congress.



Bullied Staten Island Teen Throws Herself in Front of Train As Friends Watched

“I can’t. I’m done. I give up.”

That’s what a bullied Staten Island teen posted on Twitter on Monday. Yesterday, 15-year-old Felicia Garcia jumped in front of a train as classmates watched. She was taken to a Staten Island University Hospital, where she died.

About 3:15 p.m. yesterday, Garcia and dozens of her classmates at Totternville High School were waiting at the Huguenot Staten Island Railway station platform when Garcia reportedly broke away from the group and threw herself in front of an oncoming train.

“She got bullied in the school, especially by the football players,
because she looked different and had piercings,” senior Amanda
Liquori tells the New York Post.

“She wouldn’t have done it if she wasn’t bullied,” another friend, Alissa
Compitello, wrote on Twitter. “All this girl wanted was to be left
alone. And nobody could do that for her.”

Garcia was a foster child.

friend, Gabriella Leone, whose younger sister was there when Garcia
jumped in front of the train, tells the Post that the girl “had a
terrible life on top of all
the heartache — bullies at school taunted her and spread rumors. I hope
all bullies get punished!”


A Studies in Crap War on Christmas Special: ’30s Kids Crave Toys, Neglect Jesus, Attempt Minstrelsy

Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.


St. Nicholas for Boys and Girls

Date: December, 1932

The Cover Promises: Exactly the kind of joyous, old-fashioned Christmas liberals elected Obama to destroy.

Representative Quote:

“Fat people may wonder why they become so very popular at Christmas time. Especially Aunts. If they are wise, they suspect something when on Christmas Eve . . . their nieces approach them sweetly and and say ‘Aunt Maggie, would you very specially mind if I borrowed one of your stockings – just for tonight?”

Here’s a surprise. This New Yorker-dense dispatch from a purer American past is guaranteed to upset those of you who believe that the Best Buy cashier piping “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” somehow undoes all that is sacred about buying The Hangover on Blu-Ray.


In all 132 pages, I only came across one reference to that “reason for the season”: the Christ Child turns up in a review of Eric P. Kelly’s The Christmas Nightingale and that’s it.

Still, Baby Jesus has one up on that glory-hog Santa, who doesn’t show up here at all. Instead, St. Nick offers adventure stories, a girl-detective serial, more book reviews than the Sunday Times, an extravagant eight-page, multi-thousand word feature celebrating 1932’s newest toys, and strategies kids might employ to get as many presents as possible. St. Nick, it turns out, was as dedicated to moving product as Nintendo Power was.

Please join Bill O’Reilly and I in boycotting the Depression. Did Christmases like Kenny and Dolly’s ever really exist?

Christmas isn’t about presents! It’s about disrobing in front of mannequins!
Anyway, the editors of St. Nick not only suggest that a fat person’s stockings will take more gifts to stuff. They go so far as to instruct kids to mark their favorite toys in the magazine and leave it lying around where mom and dad might see it.


Even even before television’s promotion of the Santa myth elevated lavish gift-giving to a hallowed — even patriotic — tradition, American Christmas was already less about Christ than it was about brand names. Here, it’s Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, and Lincoln Logs, all of which turn up in rave reviews and advertisements, often on the same page.

That isn’t to say that St. Nick was indifferent to the dehumanizing effects of mass production.


Just as with the The Weekly Standard, when you buy Lincoln Logs, you’re actually buying your belief in America’s historical greatness.

stnickchristmaserector 002.jpg

This is the dawn of brand-name America. Still, the old ways lingered. In this article, a medicine man named Nod teaches the kids to craft goofy home-made toys– or, as he puts it, “Make um totems.”


On occasion, such bizarre, hand-crafted, quasi-representational art experiments turn up in Christmas stockings even in our media age.

That one took five weeks!

The most revealing pages of St. Nicholas are those devoted to essays, poems, and art submitted by readers. Prose doesn’t come much thicker than in”The Vacation Just Past,”14 year-old Ermine Lawrence’s account of a trip to New Orleans:

“No matter how staid and phlegmatic your workaday soul may be, no one’s heart could remain long impervious to the impetuous something that emanates from every quiet scent-laden courtyard; every graceful stairway.”

It’s Jim Henson’s Thesaurus Babies!

Lawrence goes on:
“Odd scenes greet you at every corner. Two mad little darkies execute the most intricate steps for a few chance coins in Pirate’s Alley, a rendezvous of the famous buccaneering brothers, Pierre and John Lafitte, who daily handled more vast sums than the kinky little heads of the mercenary little scamps ever dreamed existed.”

Reason No. 52 to build a time machine: the chance to kick Ermine Lawrence square in the crotch.

Perhaps girls and poetry will be less racist.


Ladies and gentlemen, the sly and wily stylin’s of the great Delta blueswoman Mayre-Louese Brenneman, age 15!

Less alarming items of interest:

  • Article “John Fillmore’s Fight,” which recounts the career in piracy of Millard Fillmore’s great-great-great grandfather in sentences like”Dolorous, indeed, were his reflections.”
  • Mystery serials “The White Feather,” starring teen girls in a summer resort town, and “The Man From Mystery House,” in which Smiley Andrews and Dick Scarlett sleuth across Maine.
  • G. Ralph Smith’s gorgeous illustrations of a poem about Brownies, whom I gather do not dance in New Orleans.


  • These encouragingly non-racist reader submissions.


Shocking Detail:
St. Nick‘s inexhaustible coverage of the toys of 1932 is impressive when you realize that 1932 didn’t have that many toys. I can identify six types: dolls, models, board games, sports accessories, engineering construction sets, and tiny versions of adult things that are no fun at all, like roll-top desks and kitchen cabinets.

Talking up some of these duds, the Toy Fair editor works harder than Kansas City sports writers on Royals’ opening day:

“Butterflies that measure a foot between wing tips! Snowball fights on the equator! Explorers who go to South America to see these wonders must have some way of keeping records. And so when Dr. H.S. Dickey went on a South America expedition, he took along two Smith-Corona typewriters. And they had to stand some rough treatment, too, strapped to the backs of naked Indians marching through jungle trails.”

This article from the very next issue of St. Nicholas demonstrates that even in the ’30s Americans understood de temporary nature of de dominance of white folks.


Some of those basketball players make pirate money!

[The Crap Archivist lives in Kansas City, where he originates his on-line Studies for the Voice‘s sister paper, The Pitch.]

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