Season 10:2 SMILE

GOODTHING: No, it’s not a joke. Mum is dead. Mum is dead. And Hopeful, she’s dead too. And her friend Sunshine, she’s dead. And Eliza. And quite a few other people are dead.
KEZZIA: Why are you saying this? You can’t say things like that, grinning like an idiot.

I sat down with my new therapist. The topic of the conversation: emotional avoidance and emotional regulation. Apparently emotional avoidance makes emotional regulation difficult, if not impossible.

Therapist: In order to control your negative emotions, you need to face and process them. You can’t just ignore them and focus on the good emotions.

Me: Why not?

Therapist: That’s just not how humans generally work. You can’t just push down your negative emotions and hope they disappear. They won’t. Paradoxically, if you want to be able to control your emotions, you have to be able to deal with them.

I have no problem expressing anger. In fact, if I shut down my other emotions (such as sadness, nervousness, fear, etc) long enough, the emotions eventually convert into anger. This anger, even if it is directed outwardly (for example, at the current American political landscape), often gets redirected inwardly. So even if an outside source makes me angry, I am more likely to want to harm myself than anyone else. This inability to deal with emotions combined with my tendency to want to harm myself is what drove me to therapy in the first place.

In September 2017, I found myself at the top of an eight-story mall parking garage. I was looking down trying to decide whether I wanted to jump or not. I had been on a downward slide for months.  The triggering event however, was literally a five second clip from a documentary in which a former CIA director justified killing children in order to wipe out a terrorist target. The way the former director talked about it, and the nonchalant look on the faces of my professors and peers sent me over the edge. I was in class with people who either directed or responded to situations that often directly or indirectly result in the deaths of innocent people. Some of the younger students were hoping to find themselves in such a position one day. But instead of getting angry at the documentary, at my classmates or at my professors, I turned that anger inward. I told myself, “fuck a world where this happens” but my actions said, “fuck me for not being able to do anything about it.” Clearly, I didn’t jump. An eight story building is pretty high. My therapist pointed out that if I had jumped, chances are I would be dead. But for some reason I didn’t jump. I decided to try and get help one more time. What stopped me? I’m not sure, a mixture of fear that I would survive the jump and be gravely injured, a fear that it would hurt if I died, and a bit of a naïve hope that maybe I could make a positive difference in the issues I care about if I only stayed alive long enough to do so.

For the past few weeks, my therapist has been trying to discuss the importance of me being able to process my emotions in the moment without shutting them down. In fact, the reason I am blogging again is because I admitted that this blog was the only healthy outlet for expressing my emotions. So of course, I do find it a bit funny that the first episode I am writing about now that I am back to blogging is one about emotions. In this episode, humans programmed the vardies to make sure that humans were always happy. But the problem is, that despite how much we try to delude ourselves into believing otherwise, life hurts. We feel pain, grief, depression, jealousy, anger. We hurt ourselves and we hurt other people. We live in a world where those in power have no qualms about benefiting the rich, neglecting the poor, and droning children. Relationships suffer and end. People die.

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DOCTOR: No one had ever died here before this lady. The Vardies, they’d never heard of grief before. This place is all about hope and the future, and happiness. No one ever thought about the opposite. The Vardies didn’t know what to do with it. They identified grief as the enemy of happiness and everyone who was experiencing grief as a problem, as
BILL: Compost.

My inability to face my emotions, far from making me happy or giving me strength, has created a cycle of destruction that is difficult to break free from. I am acting like my own damn internal Vardy. Any emotion that I perceive to be a sign of weakness or that is uncomfortable (except in my case, for anger), I try to eliminate or at least ignore. The problem is, that trying to narrow my range of emotions to those that I think are acceptable is slowing destroying me.  Even as I write this blog post, there is a resistance within myself; trying to prevent me from fully experiencing and acknowledging the emotions that writing this stirs within me.

Emotions hurt. They can be unpleasant. Acknowledging them means dealing with the underlying issues that give rise to them and that in and of itself is a difficult process. I don’t want to deal with my chronic feelings of loneliness and emptiness. I don’t want to deal with how growing up in an emotionally abusive home impacts me. I don’t want to acknowledge how my research, which I love so much, also inspires feelings of helplessness and sorrow.  I don’t want to acknowledge that I’m scared about the future. I am scared that everything I’ve worked so hard for will be destroyed. I’m scared that more people will die because of the policies of politicians drunk on power.

DOCTOR: Once, long ago, a fisherman caught a magic haddock. The haddock offered the fisherman three wishes in return for its life. The fisherman said, “I’d like my son to come home from the war, and a hundred pieces of gold.” The problem is magic haddock, like robots, don’t think like people. The fisherman’s son came home from the war in a coffin and the King sent a hundred gold pieces in recognition of his heroic death. The fisherman had one wish left. What do you think he wished for? Some people say he should have wished for an infinite series of wishes, but if your city proves anything, it is that granting all your wishes is not a good idea.

I wish I didn’t feel as deeply as I do. I wish I could handpick which emotions I get to experience and discard the other ones. But I can’t. whether I like it or not, part of being a healthy human is being able to experience a range of human emotions and properly process them. Those who are unable too are often diagnosed with serious mental illnesses.  I don’t know what the answer is or how to get better. I do know that there isn’t a magic haddock who can grant my wish of limiting or even eliminating my emotions. That’s probably a good thing.

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Season 10:1 The Pilot: Looking for Hope?

I’ve been a fan of NuWho for the past three or four years. As a result, I know that crying is part of being a fan of the show. As someone who hates crying or showing weakness of any kind-Doctor Who provides one of the few safe spaces where I feel as if it is ok to cry. (This is one reason why I rarely watch Doctor Who with other people). I’ve gotten to the point where I can somewhat prepare myself for the times when I am pretty sure I will cry: when the Doctor regenerates, when a companion leaves, and perhaps during the last episode or so of the season/series. Of course, whether an episode causes one to cry or not is not just about the intention or skill of the writer. Just as important are the life circumstances of the viewer.

Perhaps this is just me, and perhaps I should know better, but I typically don’t expect the first episode of a new season to be a tear jerker. Especially when the new season involves the introduction of a new company. Typically the episode focuses on the wonder and excitement of traveling on the TARDIS and being exposed to different time periods and planets. Of course this episode had plenty of that but right off the bat Bill is exposed to the heartbreak, loss, and loneliness that one experiences and/or is exposed to when traveling with the Doctor. And the viewer, well at least me, is confronted with reminders about those experiences in the real world. Only, there isn’t a Doctor to guide me through those difficult moments as a result, I found that in my daily life, I feel more like Heather, than I do Bill.

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I travel a lot-not to different planets (yet!) but to different countries, states, cities. I travel mainly for internships and for school. Now don’t get me wrong, I love traveling and I am glad I have the opportunity to go to different places. But if the visit lasts more than a week, I find myself getting restless.  This restlessness rarely has to do with the city itself, or with the people around me, but it has to do with me and after years of going through the same cycle every time I go somewhere new for an extended period of time I’ve had to be honest with myself: I’m profoundly unhappy and I hate life. Or more specifically, I hate my life. I hate who I am and all the characteristics, thoughts, weaknesses, strengths that make me me. I hate how self-absorbed I am(as I wrote a blog post that is basically all about me), I hate how I look, I hate how I can never seem to make myself happy. I travel a lot because I enjoy traveling but also because for a while at least-I am able to escape myself by immersing myself in a new location. But soon enough, I have to deal with myself. I mean, you can’t exactly escape who you are.

BILL: You okay? 
HEATHER: Yeah, I’m fine.
BILL: Sorry, can I ask? What’s that in your eye?
HEATHER: It’s just a defect in the iris.
BILL: Looks like a star. 
HEATHER: Well, it’s a defect.
BILL: At least it’s a defect that looks like a star. 
HEATHER: I’m getting it fixed.

Everything about me feels like a defect that needs to be dealt with before I can be happy or until I can love myself or be loved by other people. All I do is want to run away, in the hopes that if I run far enough or often enough that somehow I can magically learn to like myself. But I’m not an idiot. I know that’s not how life works.

In this episode, we don’t really get to learn much about Heather-her background, her past, or exactly why she wants to so desperately leave that she is in a sense willing to die-(at the very least she gives up her humanity). All we know is her desperate loneliness and her brief connection with Bill. And although the episode doesn’t touch on this except for briefly, the alien lifeform, whatever it was, was also desperately lonely.

DOCTOR: Maybe it saw something it needed. What was she like, your friend? What did she want? What did she need?
HEATHER [memory]: Everywhere I go, I just want to leave.
BILL: I think she wanted to leave.
DOCTOR: You see? 
NARDOLE: The puddle found a passenger.
DOCTOR: A left-behind droplet of a liquid spaceship. A single tear drop, alone in a strange world. Then, one day, it finds someone who wants to fly away. Not just a passenger. More than a passenger, it found a pilot, so it ate her.

I don’t know what the super intelligence alien space oil is supposed to signify. And the great thing about TV shows is that sometimes the character(s) can signify different things to different people, at different time points. And sometimes what we need the character(s) to signify might not necessarily make sense, especially to other people. But call me morbid, call me morose but for me the intelligent space oil, represents death. At the very least, it represents a form of death, since Heather gives up her humanity for what? For adventure? For thrills? To see the universe” Or for something more? At what point, does life become unbearable? At what point is the potential of what life holds-a new crush, a new love, not enough? At what point does the so called, “it gets better”-whatever that “it” is that everyone consistently talks about, that I’ve been constantly told about, come too late, if at all?

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The reason, at least for me, that Heather and Bill’s story, as of right now (who knows what will happen in future episodes. It is Moffat after all) is so sad is because it was so short. Heather, was already gone or on her way to leaving at least, when they first meet. Whatever possibilities that could have been were shut down and destroyed right from the beginning. Moffat, of course does leave room for hope.

DOCTOR: It’s a big universe, but maybe one day we’ll find her.

And knowing how Doctor Who works, they could very well one day find her. But in the real world…is hope something that tangibly exists or is it something we tell ourselves to just get through life? And what of those who no longer have hope? Heather, lost her hope-at least her hope that in her human life form that things would get better and that things could be different. Unfortunately, we don’t-(I mean I certainly don’t, but perhaps there are some space aliens amongst my readership?)  have the option to basically be consumed by intelligent space oil (though that might be a good thing?) and travel the universe. But yet, by closing off hope, we also close ourselves off to very real possibilities. In “The Pilot,” Heather was basically doomed from the moment we saw her. Yet, there seems to exist the possibility that she is continuing to live albeit in a different form. Hope still finds a way to exist, though in a different form then what is expected.  In the real world, it is often said that hope is only truly gone at the moment of death (and of course, for those who believe in an afterlife, or in a resurrection that occurs after death, hope can continue. Though even then, the hope takes on a different form. In death the hope of continuing a normal life no longer exists. Obviously for the person who died, but also for the people left behind).

So I guess, at the end of this episode, I’m ultimately left wondering what is hope? What does it look like? Can I even recognize it? What does it entail? Do I still have it? Do I even want it?

Greeks Bearing Gifts…How Can I Live With It?

TOSH: I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s incredible.
MARY: It’s more than incredible. With this, you can read people’s minds. It levels the pitch between man and God.

In Greek Bearing Gifts. Tosh is given a pendant that allows her to read minds. She is able to hear the thoughts of almost every single person that she comes into contact with. (Captain Jack being the exception). For many people, such an ability would be amazing. We would be able to cut through all the bullshit and be able to tell immediately when someone is lying. There would be very little question about who our true friends are. And we could help prevent disasters. We could solve murders, foil terrorist attacks, pinpoint rapists, abusers, etc. Mary, rightfully, describes this ability as leveling the playing field between humanity and God. Omniscience-or being all knowing-is a characteristic that many attribute to a deity figure. And many take great comfort in the idea that there exists an all knowing deity figure whose knowledge is tied with his/her omnipotence. (being all powerful). Many people would enjoy having even one characteristic that is often associated with divinity. Yet, as Tosh quickly finds out the good is balanced-maybe even outweighed by the bad.

When Tosh goes to Torchwood, she is able to hear the thoughts of her co-workers. She learns about the fling that Owen and Gwen are having- which conforms that she will never have a relationship with Owen. She hears the sarcastic and mean spirited remarks her co-workers have towards her and she is exposed to the pain that Ianto tries so hard to keep hidden.

IANTO: (thoughts) Can’t imagine the time when this isn’t everything. Pain so constant, like my stomach’s full of rats. Feels like this is all I am now. There isn’t an inch of me that doesn’t hurt.
IANTO: I’m about to brew some of Jack’s industrial strength coffee. Would you like a cup?
TOSH: I’m, I’m fine. Thanks, Ianto.

The pendant quickly overwhelms her. The thoughts of others-her co-workers, strangers, immediately makes her distrustful of other people and causes her to despair over the amount of pain and suffering.

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The pendant also leaves her open to manipulation. One would think that being aware of other people’s thoughts would prohibit her from manipulation, but her trust in that ability to read minds prevents her from being more suspicious of Mary, who we find out was using her all along to try and get home to her home planet. And because the pendant is how her species communicates she is able to affectively manipulate her thoughts and only communicate to Tosh what she wants Tosh to hear

Mind reading, does of course has its benefits. She is able to rescue a mother and son, from being murdered by their ex and father. However, though she was able to help someone, the good didn’t even begin to compare with the negative consequences of mindreading. There was so much pain and suffering that she couldn’t stop-so many people hurting that she couldn’t help.

At the end of the episode after Mary, a murderer who had been banished from her home planet is killed by Jack, Tosh is left to ponder what she has learned from the pendant, which she destroys since she views it more as a curse rather than a gift.

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Mind reading, I believe is an ability that I am glad to do without. I have very little interest in being exposed to the inner thoughts of most humans. Though to be honest, there’s another “gift” “ability” characteristic, whatever you want to call it I wish I didn’t have. In the words of a character in another tv, show called The Wire, I have the unfortunate tendency to, “Givin’ a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.” Meaning, I care too much. And this isn’t a struggle that is unique to myself. The people I look up too and admire-are those who gave a fuck even though they didn’t have too. People like Martin Luther King Jr, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, etc People who were willing to challenge society or the government and who sustained substantial loses. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Edward Snowden has had his American passport revoked, and is living in Moscow away from family and friends. If he comes back to the United States he faces a lengthy jail sentence simply because he decided the American people deserved to know what the NSA was doing in the name of national security. Similarly Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the NSA had his home raided by the FBI and his marriage and career destroyed, because he spoke up against the NSA illegal and immoral monitoring practices. The aforementioned, plus many many more people destroyed or lost their lives because they cared and dared to get involved. While I have serious doubts I will lead a movement or be forced into exile in Moscow, caring and advocating against the issues I am personally passionate about has led me to gain a snapshot of the ugliness of humanity.

After a period of engaging in social justice work, you get worn down from the ugliness and hatred in humanity. Things that should horrify become blasé. Of course the CIA tortured people and were given authority to do so from the highest authorities in the country. Of course the FBI frequently monitors Muslim communities and entraps poverty stricken Muslims in the so-called war on terror-even though left by themselves without federal meddling, said people wouldn’t have even thought about engaging in a terrorist attack let alone have the resources to begin planning. Of course the NSA circumvents the constitution. Of course our country is going to keep engaging in unwinnable wars, that’s how it’s been since 9/11. Police brutality? Not surprising at all.

And even worse, while one is passionately talking and advocating about the issues one cares about- one begins to realize that most people don’t care. Read the senate report on torture-shrugs, who has time for that? Anyway, most of the people tortured were affiliated with al Qaeda, so who cares? The government is spying on citizens, well if people have nothing to hide then they have nothing to fear, right? Or people point out, why worry about things we can’t change? The government will do what it believes needs to be done and they will justify it In the name of national security.

Caring can lead one down a rabbit hole, where it is easy to get caught up in the darkness, violence, and corruption of humanity. But unlike the pendant, which Tosh destroyed, that really isn’t and shouldn’t be an option for those who care-even if we care too much. We don’t need less people who care about injustice we need more. But it can get overwhelming and depressing to have to encounter the worst of humanity again and again. I find myself with Tosh, asking, “After a while it gets to you. It changes how you see people. How can I live with it? “

The Caretaker: Why We Lie

Danny: It’s funny, you only really know what someone thinks of you when you know what lies they’ve told you. I mean you say you’ve seen wonders, you’ve seen amazing things and you kept them secret. From me. So what do you think of me, Clara?

Clara had a myriad of reasons for why she kept her travels with the Doctor a secret: mainly because it sounds insane. How do you explain to someone that you occasionally travel through space and time with an alien with two hearts that looks human? How would one even begin that conversation? And even if Danny believed her or Clara voluntarily showed him the TARDIS-there was always a possibility that he would think all of this was overwhelming and would leave her. Yet despite her feelings for Danny and her attempts at keeping a normal life by working as a teacher, she hasn’t given up traveling with the Doctor. Why would she? She gets to travel to distant worlds, meet Robin Hood, go into the future, and see strange aliens and creatures. But yet she doesn’t tell the Doctor about Danny. She of course lets him know that she is seeing someone, but he doesn’t really ask and she does not tell. Of course noticing twelve’s disdain for soldiers, that would make for a difficult conversation. So, she does what any control freak would do and she tries to hold on tightly to both of her lives while attempting to keep them separate. In the beginning of the episode, she even admits, albeit it very briefly that she can’t keep that up, but then she quickly calms herself down and gives herself a pep talk.

To a certain extent, there is some division between different areas of our life. For example, we might be less formal and uptight with our friends then we are with our bosses or professors. But that’s not to say that we are lying or that we transform into different people depending on who we hang out with. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us aren’t great actors nor are the majority of us psychopaths who can portray a charming façade for long periods of time. For the vast majority of us, hiding our main characteristics becomes difficult after an extended period. Superficial behaviors and negative vices can be controlled or minimized for a certain amount of time-for instance if one is proficient at cursing, one might be able to control his or her language while at work, but if we are lazy or mean spirited, at some point who we truly are will come to the fore.

For a while, Clara more or less succeeds in keeping her two worlds separate. There are times when her worlds almost collide but she is able to avert disaster. She manages to control the Doctor to a certain extent-ensuring that he does not pick her up in public, have her back by a certain time, etc and she is able to control Danny by keeping him from asking a bunch of questions, vaguely answering the questions he does have, and quickly making up excuses for why, for instance, her skin is shades darker hours after Danny had seen her or why she went into a closet wearing one set of clothes and then comes back out wearing another. Unfortunately, no matter how organized one is, one can’t control outside events and people for very long. As the audience, we knew that at some point in this series, something was going to give. Clara was not going to be able to continue this charade for long. In The Caretaker her hand is forced, and she has to tell the Doctor and Danny the truth. The problem is that by not taking the initiative and voluntarily telling Danny the truth, she risks losing him. And understandably so. Nobody likes being lied to. Furthermore, how can someone love a person that they don’t really know? In addition, Clara’s lies almost risked a countless number of lives as Danny had no reason to trust the Doctor, so when he saw the Doctor placing strange objects around the school, as a former soldier, why shouldn’t he suspicious? He had no reason to think that the Doctor was trying to save the school, not harm it.

Yet even when Danny sees the Skovox Blitzer, or the killing machine, and the Doctor briefly gets rid of it, Clara continues to try and keep the masquerade going.

Clara: Yes! It’s a play! Shut up. It is a play. We are rehearsing a play. Shh! Shh! shh! A surprise play! And, um, you see the vortex thing is a lighting effect. Very clever. And that thing. It’s one of the kids. In fancy dress. Really, really good fancy dress.

Now of course the show does break into some humor, as Danny mistakenly thinks that Clara is a space woman and the Doctor is her dad. But things quickly become serious. As Clara is dragging Danny out, the Doctor tells her,

Doctor: And when this is all over, you can finish the job.

Clara: How do you mean?

Doctor: Well you’ve explained me to him, you haven’t explained him to me.

Things become even more intense when Danny and Clara are alone:

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Yet Clara isn’t the only one trying to hide who she is-the Doctor takes part in a form of duplicity. No I am not talking about his disastrous attempt at acting like a normal human being by getting a job as the school’s caretaker-but the Doctor tries to hide who is from himself. Lying to other people becomes difficult as we continue to pile on lies since we need to remember what we have previously told them, but lying to one’s self leaves one vulnerable to a brutal awakening. You would think that the Doctor would have learned by now that the very things he despises often reflect a form of self-hatred. But just like human beings, we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. In this case, Danny calls out the Doctor for his hatred of soldiers:

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And of course we sometimes have the help of friends who enable us to continue lying to ourselves. In time heist, PSI tells Clara that she keeps making excuses for the Doctor.

In this episode, the lies that Clara and the Doctor have told begins to fall apart. The Doctor, seems to brush off Danny’s criticisms, while Clara recognizes that lying is no longer an option, not if she wants to keep Danny.

There are a variety of reasons why we tell lies-sometimes it’s to avoid getting in trouble, other times it’s to avoid doing something we don’t want to do, or we want to avoid hurting another person’s feelings, or we want to manipulate others into doing what we want. And sometimes we need to lie to protect others, (ie if we are trying to keep someone safe and from being killed, I think that takes precedence over any ethical quandaries one might have over lying). However, sometimes lying simply provides the illusion of self-protection.

Clara lied in order to protect both of her worlds and her relationships with the Doctor and Danny. The Doctor often lies ostensibly to protect his companions. But the Doctor also lies to himself as a form of protection. The truth can hurt-especially if it exposes something about ourselves that we don’t want to know.

I am known for being honest-sometimes brutally so. If someone annoys me, I tell them. If I think they are wrong, I will correct them. I don’t like lying-it just seems like a massive waste of time. Yet I’m not perfect. However, when I lie, it’s often to myself. And the problem with lying to oneself is that eventually you begin to believe the lies and they become your truths. One of the biggest lies I tell myself on a daily basis is that I’m ok and I don’t need anyone else. I’m highly independent. Based on my childhood, I’ve had to be. My relationship with family members is virtually nonexistent past maybe a few phone calls or text messages, and perhaps a visit once a year. When trouble calls, my family is often the last to know. But the same goes for them as well-when they are in trouble, I am the last to know. But my family life has enabled me to gain a certain level of independence. (I say certain mainly because my cooking skills are non-existent…but that’s why we have microwaves right?).

Yet the truth is that there are times when I am not ok and when I need help. But the lies I tell myself are that I don’t need anyone else and that if I reach out for help I will be abandoned. To be fair, past experience has sometimes proven that to be correct. Reaching out to my family often resulted in ridicule or silence. And reaching out to others-in particular institutions have at best left me in some sort of limbo-and in the worst case, resulted in me losing my health insurance, my shelter, and my source of income and having to move back home to my emotionally abusive mother. Yet even though those particular experiences were horrible, the reality is that not everyone is like that, and I have received kindness and strength from others. In particular my teachers and professors throughout the years have been there for me.

Yet every time I go through a dark period trapped by depression, the same lies whisper into my ear again, “I don’t need anyone. If I reach out I will be abandoned and betrayed. The thinking behind these lies is that if I don’t allow myself to become vulnerable, then I can’t be hurt. But the truth is, when I lock myself away, when I shut myself off, I’m doing more harm than good for myself. Isolation, also leads to other lies-lies that state I am not good enough, that my life does not matter, etc-but those lies start from ones that are meant to protect me.

But what does it mean to embrace truth?(or me being a good post-modernist/progressive Christian, perhaps I should say truths…?) Clara had to embrace telling Danny and the Doctor the truth, as well as coming to terms with the fact that she couldn’t keep living life at the pace she was going. And the Doctor and Clara were both told the truth about the Doctor, (though of course that does not come to a head until next week…) I can’t speak for other people, but what I’ve been learning especially as I go through a particular difficult episode of anxiety and depression, is that it is ok to need other people. In fact, in order to survive, reaching out is mandatory. I’ve needed to admit to myself the truth that I can’t live my life in complete isolation, not if I want to survive. Depression feeds on isolation and loneliness.

One of the things that has helped me to reach out to others-is my theology on God. I’ve mentioned before how the God I held onto as a child was all powerful, and all knowing, and while loving was incredibly vengeful. This God demanded obedience. In addition, the theology espoused by my childhood church was one of them vs us. Those not within our little circle were to be distrusted and even within our circle we had to be weary of backbiting and those who would talk about us for not being “holy” enough. Yet the theology I hold onto now, is one that endorses a God who is not afraid to be vulnerable. Love requires a demonstration of vulnerability, and being willing to join in another person’s journey of suffering requires that one be willing to feel pain. The God I now hold onto, loves humanity unabashedly, loves me unabashedly. I don’t need to hide from this God, nor run away out of shame for my flaws and weaknesses. This God journeys with me through the darkest moments. And this God desires relationship-but relationships, as Clara learned, requires openness. And what is becoming clear to me, as I continue on this journey, is that one’s relationship with God, can’t really be lived in isolation. We need other people. We change and develop based on those we interact with. Furthermore, God often works through the people in our lives. For me, when I am isolated from others, I also feel isolated from God. And this is coming from an introvert…

Clara needed to let go of the lies that she had everything under control and that she could have a relationship while withholding a major part of her life. The Doctor continues to lie to himself about who he is. And next week those lies come to a head when Clara is able to see him for who he truly is. The lies I need to let go are those that tell me I am alone, I don’t need anyone, and that I am unlovable. What lies are you holding onto?

Depression, suicide, and hope

Robin Williams was found dead on August 11th, 2014 and initial reports are speculating that it was a suicide.  No, I was not a hardcore Robin Williams fan though I have seen some of his movies. I also am not one to report on celebrity deaths beyond sharing an article or two on my personal facebook page. But when it comes to suicide, I always pause a bit. I’ve been honest with my struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, even though there continues to be a stigma attached to mental illness. (Depression, touted as a treatable disease, is often dismissed as not serious or as a pity party. Treatable does not mean curable and many people, including me, battle depression on a daily basis with the help of medication, a therapist, and the support of friends, families, and colleagues.)

When I first started this blog, I was in the midst of a major depressive episode. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I had been kicked out of an internship program in California and had to have treatment for my depression, I was back home in an the home of my emotionally abusive mother, and I was trying to help get my grandmother into a nursing home while my mother throw hissy fits like a toddler on a daily basis. And God-don’t get me started on God-I wasn’t sure what I believed and after being betrayed by a “progressive church” I was not a fan of Christianity at the moment.  Suicidal thoughts were a daily plague. It felt as if depression had infected the core of my physical and spiritual body. I was looking for something-any little thing to hold onto.  I was lucky that a friend introduced me to the daft old man traveling through space and time in a blue box. Of course, the show isn’t a cure for depression nor did it change my circumstances, but it provided me with relief from suicidal thoughts for just a few hours every day. And then of course, I saw the episode, “Vincent and the Doctor,” and was moved to tears. Here was an episode that viewed mental illness through a compassionate lens and didn’t end with the cheery note that everything will be ok. As we know, through personal experiences, and now through the death of Robin Williams, sometimes things do not turn out ok. Sometimes the darkness is just too overpowering, especially when mental illness is stigmatized and adequate treatment is not available.  But even when someone does have access to the best medical treatment available sometimes depression can become so debilitating that death is viewed as the only option.

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Even though I am in a much better place than I was a year ago, depression is still a daily battle.  Getting adequate medical treatment, having friends and professors that care and support me, and re-evaluating my theological notions about God (letting go of the manipulative, domineering God of my childhood) has helped, but I would be lying if I said depression still isn’t a struggle. I would be lying if I said that there aren’t days when I look out at this dark world filled with hatred, violence, genocide, and poverty and wonder if it is worth it. Is life in general worth it,  does my life in particular make a difference in a world filled with hurting people?  The answer I hold onto, especially during the days and nights I feel shattered is-yes. Somehow life, in the end does matter. Somehow my life, as a small insignificant individual does matter. It is that yes, which sometimes comes out as nothing more than a whisper that keeps me going. Depression means that I have to say yes to life on a daily basis. And I know the temptation to say no is strong.

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If you struggle with depression or any other mental illness, I pray that you are receiving help and are able to say yes to life on a daily basis or even on a minute by minute basis. For those, like Robin Williams who lost their battle yet fought so valiantly, their lives and their deaths matter. They aren’t selfish cowards who couldn’t hack life, but wounded people who fought with all their strengths, but some wars can’t be won.

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One Year and 5,000 views later…

I started this blog and its accompanying facebook page on March 4, 2013.  At that point I had only been watching Doctor Who for about a month, but I needed something to both occupy my time until grad school started and keep my mind off my depression and not so great home life. Never did I envision that this blog would grow so much or that it would amass over 5,000 views.  Nor did I imagine just how much fun I would have writing blog posts and interacting/debating with my fellow whovians or that I would be able to go to various conventions and meet some of the actors who have played a fundamental role in a show that has come to mean so much to me.

This blog has been a life saver.  I can’t explain how important it is for me to  have a safe place to turn to when life becomes stressful and overwhelming or when isolation threatens to crush me. Plus, I enjoy taking the time to focus on a show that I have grown to adore. I love having the opportunity to express why certain episodes have struck a nerve or to discuss the larger theological or societal ideas in Doctor Who while knowing that there are other people who enjoy thinking deeply about the show as well. It makes me feel a little less crazy and alone.

This year has been one of transition and there have been moments where I worried that my depression would get the better of me, but in the midst of all the chaos there was this blog and this community of fellow whovians to keep me grounded and sane. And the great thing about Doctor Who and the fanbase that has arisen from the show, is that there is an abundance of resources and networks available. While the show is currently on hiatus, one can re-watch episodes from the classic era and the nuwho era, there are novels, audiobooks, comicbooks, and fan made art and videos that help keep the whovian community active.

I want to thank each of you for following my blog or my facebook page and for being open and willing to engage in conversations about theology, doctor who, and anything else. I hope that you have enjoyed my posts thus far and that something I have written may have stuck with you, or made you think in a different way, or simply alleviated a few minutes of boredom. Thank you for a great year and I look forward to another year filled with adventures: “All of time and space. everywhere and anywhere, every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?”

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9. Vincent and the Doctor: A Compassionate View of Mental Illness

I’ve chosen to list my favorite episodes from earliest to latest, (example, The Beast Below was shown before Vincent and the Doctor and certainly before the Day of the Doctor, therefore it is listed as number eleven). I mention that because although for the purposes of order this episode is listed at number 9, in reality this episode is definitely one of my top two favorite episodes of Matt Smith’s era and is one of my top two favorite episode of NuWho.

See my previous articles:

11. The Beast Below

10. Amy’s Choice

9. Vincent and the Doctor

Now this certainly isn’t’one of my favorite episodes because of its CGI-which in my opinion was a bit cheesy, but for the fact that the writer, Richard Curtis, tackles mental illness in a beautiful and ultimately respectful manner. I’ve heard the episode disparagingly referred to as a “Mental health commercial” with some insisting that Doctor Who should not have dealt with mental illness at all. However, Doctor Who in general has never been afraid of tackling weighty subject matters such as oppression and slavery, and while it never lets the subject matter distract too much from its lighthearted tone, neither does the show stick it’s head in the sand and avoid uncomfortable subject matters. And it’s that ability to balance lightheartedness with fearless examination of difficult issues that I think has contributed to the show’s success.

Mental illness and its suffers are still often misunderstood, probably not to the same extent as during Van Gogh’s time, but mental illness is at best viewed with a collective yawn of disinterest and at worst believed to be the result of the personal and moral failings of the individual sufferer.  For example, depression is often ridiculed as being “less serious” than other health issues and is believed to be simply a matter of rearranging one’s thinking to be more positive. Those who suffer from depression are characterized as weak and it seems, at least from my personal experience, that depression is only taken seriously not when a person attempts suicide but when he/she completes it. The more ‘serious” mental illnesses such as manic depressive illness, schizophrenia, etc tend to be viewed with disgust. Those who suffer from such illnesses are ridiculed as “crazy” and are to be avoided. And of course mental illness exists in a spectrum with reactions varying depending on whether or not the suffers’ symptoms can be easily hidden or ignored. (My use of ‘less serious’ or ‘more serious’ does not designate my personal opinion nor are they meant to minimize the pain and suffering of said illnesses, however, they reflect how I’ve heard others, including mental health professionals characterize said illnesses.)

Because of the stigma of mental illness and the fact that a large portion of the population suffers from a mental health issue (Mental health statistics in America, and in the UK ) I believe it is vital for it to be discussed and for mental health issues to be humanized  and treated with compassion and I believe Vincent and the Doctor succeeded on all fronts.

Through Tony Curran’s brilliant acting we catch a glimpse of the suffering and pain that those struggling with mental illness (in this case either depression or manic depressive illness) may experience. In the episode Van Gogh is portrayed as a talentless drunk, disparaged by the locals and blamed for any strange or unusual deaths.  His illness frightens the other villagers and turns him into a laughing stalk.

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And his loneliness, anger and self-loathing are palpable. Amy and the Doctor recognize his talent, as well as the major impact Van Gogh would go on to have in the art world, but because of his illness and his ostracization he is unable to see the value in his work and he refuses to believe Amy and the Doctor’s compliments. He tells the Doctor and Amy, “I’ve come to accept the only person who’s going to love my paintings is me.”

While one does not need to suffer from a mental illness to experience self-loathing and social isolation, those are experiences some of us know all too well.  In my case, depression renders me unable to love myself. In fact, if I were honest, and those who read my writings know that I am honest to the point of extreme self-disclosure, I would have to say that I hate myself. I find myself to be a talentless hack and a burden. Now I don’t say this to seek compliments, because quite frankly even when I receive them I tend to not believe them. In my case, my depression makes it hard for me to believe that I have any value as a human being which in turn causes me to isolate myself. My ability to relate to others is severely impaired. Yet, I have been lucky. Any isolation has been self-imposed, unlike in Van Gogh’s case, where it is thrust upon him.

In the episode we witness the Doctor’s and Amy’s attempts at trying to soothe and comfort Van Gogh. Attempts that seem to fail. How does one comfort someone in the throes of deep depression? What can one say? What can one do? Often times, the best one can do is to stand by that person. The Doctor and Amy treated him with compassion, not as a freak, not as a drunkard, not as a crazy person but as a human being with a great mind and brilliant talent, who was suffering from a powerful illness. They helped him defeat the Krafayis, a monster whose destruction and devastation were very real, but the monster was invisible to everyone but Van Gogh.

Furthermore, Amy and the Doctor take Van Gogh to the future so that he could see the major impact his work has had and so that he could be aware that his work is loved and valued and that his life mattered.

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Amy of course, thinks that’s enough to rewrite history and convince Van Gogh not to kill himself. After all, isn’t that all it takes to defeat mental illness? The knowledge that one is loved and matters? Unfortunately, not always. Sometimes mental illness, especially during Van Gogh’s time period where treatment was primitive, requires more than the knowledge that one is loved and talented. Sometimes we do all we can to help someone struggling with mental illness and he/she battles bravely and yet the illness still wins. Does that make that person weak? A coward? Certainly not.  Does that mean that Amy and the Doctor failed because they could not prevent Van Gogh’s suicide? Of course not.

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This episode, I believe deals with the issue of mental illness in a compassionate light and it encourages discussion. While some might simply view it as a “mental health commercial” others might be able to take comfort in the fact that they aren’t alone and that they matter. Everyone deserves to be told they matter and are loved, no matter what inner demons and health issues they struggle with.

For those interested in reading a bit more about Van Gogh and his struggles check out this 2004 article in the Journal of the History of Neurosciences.