Saturday, May 2, 2009

Thank You For Being My Friends

Try this experiment on yourself.  Imagine that you are standing at the base of the hill.  What do you see, smell, hear?  Put yourself in this picture.  Are you with anybody?  If so, who is it?  What is your relationship like? 

Now, tell me. How steep is the hill?  Really steep?  Sort of steep?  Not so steep? 

Friends And The Perception Of Difficulty 

Researchers at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom and the University of Virginia in the United States conducted similar experiments with college students, examining the effect of various factors on the perception of obstacles.  They asked participants to estimate the degree of the incline, (a more precise measurement than I asked from you.)  Those who had a friend standing nearby, or imagining a friend estimated the slant to be lower than those who had a neutral person or enemy nearby.  Current mood and physical condition, by the way, had no influence on their estimates.

These findings are reported in the April 21, 2009 New York Times article, "What Are Friends For? A Longer Life"  The physical benefits of friendship have been documented among breast cancer and heart patients.  Friends increase longevity and brain health, even decrease your incidence of colds.  A regular reader of Prozac Monologues, a friend of mine, brought the article to my attention.  And I am pleased to bring it to yours.

Recovery, Not Remission 

I used to pursue remission of my depression.  With each relapse I felt like a failure and was terrified of a return to the scariest symptoms.  Recently I have been learning about NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  NAMI focuses on recovery, by which they mean management of symptoms, a process of moving beyond the limitations of the disability. 

Recovery is different from the medical focus on remission, the elimination of symptoms.  In my case, we can't find a medication that eliminates my symptoms without intolerable side effects.  The psychiatrists predict that without enough medication to eliminate symptoms, I have a 90% or better chance of relapse, and that episodes will continue to get worse.  So the goal of remission was the course of despair.

But recovery, I can manage recovery.  Now I am focusing on the resources I have to deal with my depression.  If I look at my non-medical resources, they are many.  They include my friends.

I have lots of friends.  My friends make this hill of mine a lot less steep.

What about you?  What were your results from the mind experiment?  What are your thoughts about friendship?
 
photo in the public domain

reformatted 11/26/10

6 comments:

  1. I wrote a comment relating to managment versus remission in an email and sent it to you before I thought of posting it here--and I can't figure out how to just cut and past it from the email. In a nutshell, though, I see the perspecting of managing useful in my weeding garlic mustard work, and even broader than that, in aging, in just about all our living and working activities. Thank you, Blessings,
    Margaret

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  2. I've spent some time recently studying the issue of friendship in the history of ethical theory; specifically in Aristotle, Spinoza and Nietzsche. It's interesting however that so few theorists decide to engage with this topic. I was told by a reputable Aristotle scholar that many consider Aristotle's extensive discussion of friendship in the Nichomachean Ethics to be a digression into terrain outside the proper scope of ethics. What? But propriety never made for good philosophy anyway.

    I tend to agree with Nietzsche's assessment, which would seem to predict the results of this research. He notes that in the usual cases, a friend is expected to be someone we can rely on to help compensate for a weakness. An intolerable weight can become manageable with another to share the load.

    Before getting to the harsh intuition crushers, I think this aspect of friendship is more valuable than Nietzsche recognizes; especially when the load is unbearable alone or when bearing it with another provides us with the sort of transformative social experiences that extends our lives in new and fulfilling directions (I've always thought that this is best illustrated by the social dynamic in jazz/creative improvisation).

    Nevertheless, I think Nietzsche's critique is still quite good if only to a limited extent. If it were framed as a response to the results of this research it would be: sure the journey will be easier with a companion, but why prefer an easier path? If one were a hedonist with the goal of reducing suffering and struggle this would be a nonstarter.

    But if happiness is understood in a more ancient light as action and the extension of one's capacities, this question appears to cast some suspicion on those who ease our travels. Perhaps the question the eudaimonist should consider is: how far can I make it up that hill alone? And how much further with my friend?

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  3. Going the journey alone will test one's capacity to go the journey alone. But then you never test whether you are up to what is possible in the transformative social experiences. If human beings are social animals (and our prolonged period of dependence after birth would argue for it), then how can we fulfill our potential without each other?

    Friendship is not in the interest of the Crazy Delusion, which may be why Aristotle's views have fallen out of favor.

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  4. As i served as an acolyte today i felt real peace. songs help lift me out of depression somehow quicker than medication. just be careful opf the sonmgs you pick. depression is debilitating if one lets it win. You be the winner. focus on all you have accomplished,all who love you and everything positive even when life looks very bleak. i have to do that everyday.

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  5. "then how can we fulfill our potential without each other?"

    Friends help to share the load by reflecting back to us who we are in their eyes and, even more importantly, who we can be. Of the hard, brave things I've done, many became possible when someone let me see the possibility in their eyes. By myself, I would not see or would not dare. "By myself" I lose my self. Which is "--cidal," although not so final.

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  6. A new way to look at dealing with a disorder. Recovery vs. Remission...I like it! I'm cutting and pasting this into my journal to remember. Thank you.
    Shelly from Bipolarconnect

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