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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

I’ve been meaning to write this entry for a couple of weeks now, but one of my periodic cycling depressions has struck, and in this mood it’s hard to find the words for what I want to say. So I’ll jump straight to the first point, and refer you to Emily Orr’s blog entry, in which she reacted to my previous post and the Virtual Hallucinations Project.

I found it a particularly interesting post, because unlike me Emily has experience hallucinations, and unlike me she didn’t find the Virtual Hallucinations Project disturbing, because as she says, compared to the real thing, “This was mild. This was a cakewalk compared to walking around a lockdown ward. This was…nothing.”

I still think the project is extremely valuable for giving people a glimpse into hallucinations and particularly schizophrenia, but found reading Emily’s perspective eye opening.

She also writes about her visit to the Survivors of Suicide project. The immersive part of the project begins with a warning: This part of the Survivors of Suicide may be disturbing.

Emily writes: “In this case? They’re not kidding.”

Oddly, or maybe not, I didn’t find the Survivors of Suicide Project disturbing – moving, important, saddening, but not disturbing. I suspect this is for reasons similar to why Emily wasn’t disturbed by the virtual hallucinations project – feeling suicidal is something I’ve lived with for more than half my life. Not constantly, but constantly enough during my teenage years and often enough during my adult life that, I suppose, it just can’t shock me.

The Survivors of Suicide Project is divided into two parts – a pleasant room, with candles you can light for anyone you’ve lost to suicide (I lit two), and notecards with information about healing, grief, recovery, treatment, and signs that someone might be suicidal. It also presents you with a darker version of the same room, filled with grave stones and dark images of death, and a bath of blood. Most of the items can be clicked to deliver information and statistics about suicide, such as “A person dies by suicide about every 16 minutes in the United States. An attempt is estimated to be made once every minute.”

I think it’s an immensely valuable educational project. Suicide is still a taboo topic; many people fear that talking about suicide with a potentially suicidal person will make them more likely to do it, when in fact, as the project tells us, “If you’re unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can’t make a person suicidal by showing that you care. In fact, giving the individual the opportunity to express his or her feelings may prevent a suicide attempt. The person may even be relieved that you brought up the issue.”

The only thing I felt the project didn’t achieve was any taste of the experience of feeling suicidally depressed, and really I’m not sure how anything possibly could. If you’re not in that state of mind, it’s almost impossible to even accurately remember how horrific it is – why would you want to, anyway? It’s a place of empty, pitch black hopelessness, falling through an endless tunnel of horror where you’ve lost the will even to try to grab at the illusion of a ledge. All you can think about is the desire for it to end – to hit the bottom and die, so finally it will all be over. The main thing that’s kept me alive is that when I’m in that state, I can barely move, let alone gather the energy to carry through any kind of suicide plan that carries the slightest chance of success.

If you are feeling depressed, Second Life has a Support for Healing island that offers group support discussion sessions in an attractive environment. The depression support chat is at 4 pm slt, which is too late for people in Europe unless they’re a serious night owl (or too miserable to sleep), but there are also anxiety support meanings timed for people in the UK.

Support for Healing island

I’ve occasionally seen news reports on whether “too much” internet use can make people more depressed (a stupid question, as “too much” inherently means “to a degree that’s bad for you”, duh). There seems to be an assumption in many of these that if all the miserable depressed internet users would only get off their computers and do something in real life, we’d transform into shiny happy people. At the end of the piece a line may be thrown in pointing out that some people actually get useful support from the internet.

I’m definitely one of those people. The first meaningful support for depression I had was on usenet, when I first got online in the 90s. Until then I didn’t realize it was something I could even talk to a doctor about. But with things like Second Life, I think the usefulness extends beyond support groups, because it provides an environment for interaction with others than I can manage far better than I can cope with real life. It might be “good for me” to leave my computer screen more often, but it’s also immensely difficult and exhausting for me to deal with the real world, much of the time. No, hanging out with friends in their homes on SL isn’t really as good as hanging out with them in real life, but since my friends live around the world and even the ones in my country are far enough away that I don’t see most of them very often, SL is fricking awesome.

What’s more, there are certain things that tend to make most people feel a bit better about themselves – namely, a sense of community, and feeling you can contribute and do something useful. It can be tough to find these in real life if you’re socially isolated (whether it be by temperament, illness, or geography), and especially if you can’t function in the work environments available to you. If you can’t work at all and have to live on disability benefits you have the added joy of being made to feel like a social pariah, even when you do voluntary work.

On Second Life, I very much feel part of a community. My friend Ayesha Lytton runs the land of Solace Beach, which includes a newbie orientation area, an underwater treasure hunt that I helped build, shopping, an amusement park with a drive in movie theatre, and regular live music and DJ events, as well as having over 60 sims of rental land. Sometimes I potter around helping out newbies; sometimes I make clothes and accessories to put in the treasure hunt or sell; sometimes I host at events, or just help out in whatever random ways are useful at the time. Hosting is something I’d loathe and be terrible at in real life, but on Second Life it’s ideal. Two hours work a week pays my SL rent, my managers are my friends, and we have a friendly crowd of regulars who let us know they really enjoy themselves with us.

It’s also a world that’s full of creativity, with magical places to explore. The work and the love that people put into their Second Life creations is inspiring and uplifting, as is the work people do on educational projects and support islands. This stands in stark contrast to how I tend to feel when I venture out into the real world for too long at a time!

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