Here is a crazy link to a crazy story in the somewhat crazy New York Times. It’s about depression. Everyone’s depressed. 17,000,000 Americans had at least one major depressive episode, 40,000,000 suffer from an anxiety disorder, and these overwhelming numbers only reflect what people report.
These aren’t simply Nervous Nellies chewing their fingernails, either. The suicide rate jumped 33% between 1999 and 2017. People are so sad they are killing themselves.
From there the article goes off the rails, laying all of this sadness at the feet of
… bitter social antagonisms, the country is racked by mass shootings, the mind-bending perils of the internet, revelations of widespread sexual predation, the worsening effects of climate change, virulent competition, the specter of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, grinding student debt and crises in housing, health care and higher education. The frightening environment helps cause depression, depression causes catastrophic thinking, and catastrophic thinking makes the environment seem even more terrifying than it is.NYT, Jan. 2, 2020
Sounds pretty horrible, and the author uses these things combined with all the sadness they cause to explain why we’ve elected Trump.
In fact we, as in we Americans, live in the best time in our history, ever, period, no exceptions, none, nada. The economy? Soaring. Wars? All voluntary–no drafting; you want to go kill, go kill. You want to stay home, you stay home. Healthcare? No matter how badly off you are, there is some healthcare somewhere for you, even if it’s walking into the ER. Compare that to the USA in 1930.
The list goes on. Education is there if you want it. Yes, it’s expensive, but in places like California you can community-college your way into UCLA. Easy if you’re poor? No. But guess what? Life here was never easy for the poor, but it’s easier now than it used to be.
Equality for women? They outnumber men in college now. Racial discrimination? Still everywhere, but less virulent, less violent, and lots of people are able to succeed within a racist social structure, c.f. Barack Obama.
Crime? It’s down unless you’re in a tiny pool of ground zero urban areas; otherwise, do you remember NYC in the 70’s?
My point isn’t that we live in paradise, it’s that no matter how bad things are, they are a hell of a lot better than they were when I was a kid, and better still from my dad and granddad’s age, with the exception of the destruction of earth’s environment. However, the current victims of that aren’t the average American. Yet.
So what explains the sadness?
My non-scientific answer is one word: Obesity. Americans are huge and getting huger. In a few years over half the population will be morbidly obese. I don’t mean chubby, or fat, or overweight. I mean so fucking fat that it’s going to kill them.
And you know what? Fat makes you sad. Real fucking sad. Try being happy when you’re so fat you can’t walk up the stairs, walk down the aisle, cross a parking lot, get to the all-you-can-gorge buffet without being, literally, out of breath.
Trying being upbeat when you look horrible, from your ankles to your cheeks and everything in between. Try enjoying life when you can’t run, jump, stroll, cycle, climb, sit down, get up, or lay in the grass without a winch handy.
Try overcoming your problems at work when simply walking to the bathroom makes you sweat, when you are hostage to air conditioning or heating, when you have to buy clothes big as a family tent, when nothing fits, when all the models look like space aliens compared to you, when no amount of plus sizes are big enough, and when you have to worry about whether or not your ass is going to fit into the conference chair, and if it does, whether it will break.
This is reality for millions and millions of Americans, and it’s gonna get a lot worse very, very soon.
Obesity makes you sad, but so does being overweight. Our bodies don’t work right or look right when we’re fat. They are evolved to be skinny and to cope with starvation. They aren’t designed to cope with McDonalds.
And what about the sad people who aren’t obese? What’s the source of their misery? I don’t know, but here’s a clue: People are more unhappy the less active they are and the more alone they are. You can be alone in a lot of ways, often when surrounded by people. Work, even family can be alienating. The only places where loneliness has a chance of being beaten back are in positive social surroundings like church, or groups of like-minded people getting together to enjoy a common interest.
Here’s the thing: You can pick apart the reasons for being sad, but it’s hard to argue with the solution, which is to ride your bike.
The correlation between vigorous exercise and everything good is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt. Riding a bike is an effective medicine for depression in millions of people. Why? Because our bodies were made to move, not to sit and worry. The stress that comes from psychosocial stress is uniformly bad for you, but the stress that comes from muscular contractions is almost exclusively good. This means that sitting in your office chair fearing for your job ruins you, whereas sitting on your bike saddle, pounding your brains out as you fear getting shelled (think Kevin Stalk), is GREAT for you.
Moreover, bicycling often has a social component that counteracts loneliness. Sure, lots of cyclists are d-bags. But lots of them aren’t, and there’s probably a group out there that’s right for you.
Bicycling and vigorous exercise help you control weight, lower blood pressure, decrease stress levels, improve cognitive functioning, and let your body/mind say “Fuck off” to nagging worries and daily anxieties. It doesn’t banish them completely, but it holds them at bay and can keep your mind balanced.
Bicycling may not make you happy, especially when you have to confront paying for the new carbon rig. But it’s pretty huge start.
Ride yer fuggin’ bike, and help others ride theirs.
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