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Soup of This Day #297: With The Tired And Weary And There’s No Escape

March 1, 2013

Barred Owl
This is a Barred Owl. In Florida – Photo: anoldent, 2008. anoldent is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I don’t advertise that I have depression.

I don’t spend a lot of effort hiding it either but I haven’t got a t-shirt that has, ‘Hi I’m Fred and I have depression’ scrawled across it.

Because my name is not actually Fred and because it’s a bit of a downer to put your mental illness on your t-shirt. Both for yourself, whenever you catch your reflection, and for others, who might just want to say hello and move on with their day.

Mostly because your average human reaction to mental illness is variable but not always positive. This is understandable – The flipside of the statistic that almost 1/2 of all Australians will suffer a mental illness in their life, is that 1/2 won’t. And if you haven’t had the chance to take that wild ride inside your own headspace then it can be difficult to empathise with those that have. Your closest approximation will be at best via descriptions that almost never capture the minutiae of a mind that is hurt, while the most inaccurate guesses will be formed from generalised stereotypes perpetuated by pop culture.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not John Forbes Nash, Jr. (A Brilliant Mind) and nor am I Raymond Babbit (Rain Man). They’re good stories, but the 1st is about paranoid schizophrenia and the 2nd is about autism and is fictional. I can’t say if either film is accurate in its portrayals of their respective disorders because those are different mental illnesses to what I have.

For all of the honest misconceptions there is a reaction that I struggle with most of all.

Anger.

Yep, some people get angry at me for having depression. Angry that somehow I’m deriving something from mental illness that they are denied. Things like attention, sympathy and possibly 10% discounts at the local bowling alley.

And it’s true for everything bar the cheap frames and shoe hire – I get attention and sympathy from loved 1s and that is part of how I keep the black dog at bay. I also get some nice pills, professional therapy and an underlying fear that some day I might be driven to harm myself.

I have that last bit under control in case anyone was worried. And I’m talking about the fear of hurting myself rather than the desire to hurt myself. Never had the latter.

You might have heard though that there are positive aspects to depression. For 1 it can make you more creative and in my case it does. Although since I’m not really your imagining dragons kind of guy to begin with it’s not like I’ll be penning the next Lord of the Rings any time soon. At best, during my darkest hours I’d be marginally more artistic with the camouflage patterning on model warplanes.

If I could be arsed hauling myself out of a dark space to make a model warplane, that is. I have a Mk IV Spitfire that has been 1/2 completed for the past 8 years.

So I don’t advertise my misery. Its just not saleable.

Not that this kind of calculation has stopped the GEO Group in the US. They have just fronted up as the naming-rights holders for the home football stadium of the Florida Atlantic Owls. The Owls represent the public Florida Atlantic University and are based on that institution’s main campus in Boca Raton, Florida.

Which is also the town where the HQ of the GEO Group happens to be so in a sense there is a kind of synergy in play with this association. It would almost be an ideal fit.

If the business of GEO wasn’t to incarcerate criminals for profit.

Yep, the good folk at GEO own and operate:

‘…a broad range of correctional and detention facilities including maximum, medium and minimum security prisons, for-profit prisons known as immigration detention centers, minimum security detention centers and mental health and residential treatment facilities.’

And they do so, not just in the US, but also in South Africa, the United Kingdom and down here in Australia.

Don’t get me wrong here – Prisons would seem to be necessary. It’s just that as a profit-making venture they’d seem to have motivators that are maybe contrary to what the rest of us might like to see, particularly when we’re talking young folk playing football. For instance at GEO they consider the following to be risks to their business:

‘In particular, the demand for our correctional and detention facilities and services and BI’s services could be adversely affected by changes in existing criminal or immigration laws, crime rates in jurisdictions in which we operate, the relaxation of criminal or immigration enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction, sentencing or deportation practices, and the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws or the loosening of immigration laws. For example, any changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.’

Maybe that’s why they need a foothold in a football stadium – I’d not be streaking naked across that field – The sponsors have a 96% occupancy rate to uphold, even as lawmakers are working to reduce the number of criminals, and civil disobedience acts like that might garner you your own ‘private box’ for a stretch.

I’m not meaning to criticise the Florida Atlantic Owls here – The deal scores them $6m. It’s likely the case that some other more traditional sponsors, the kind with a product that you could reasonably promote in a sporting environment – Energy drinks, sporting apparel, prostitutes, etc. – are feeling the whole Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and are unable to compete with an organisation whose core business would tend to be going cell-packingly good in poorer times.

In return for that support GEO will serve a 12 year sentence trying to gain positive exposure in Division 1-A college football thanks to an Owls outfit that has been ambitious about its program since its kick-off in 2001.

There’s no indication that the Owls will now play in stripes or that training will be called ‘exercise time in the yard.’

And, like mental illness, prisons don’t have to be just about clichés and negatives. They can also be about rehabilitation and building better and stronger people.

Which brings us back to another plus for depression. You see, each time I battle this old black dog, I learn new tricks. I get better at self-reflecting and working out how to handle my thoughts and my temperament. This in turn makes me better and stronger in my life outside of depression – I am a better boss, a better friend, a better husband and a better dad because of it. A favourite Hemingway quote sums it up for me:

‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.’

You could envy me that, for I have served my time in dark places, been broken and now I am strong. I am now like a Barred Owl, patiently waiting and watching the world pass by, content in my place.

And the stripes make me look like I’ve lost weight.

Enjoy the weekend.

With The Tired And Weary And There’s No Escape

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