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It's good to be kind to yourself and others

Portraits of Resilience
An IT professor at elite university MIT was suddenly surrounded by depression and suicide. It made him collect portraits of those who almost went to the bottom, but who reappeared to the surface.


Performance pressure and mental disorders. The US elite university MIT has been characterized by a remarkably high rate of suicide and mental disorders in recent times. The effort apparently costs both dead and wounded. A few years ago, a photographer and professor of computer science, Daniel Jackson, got to collect stories from people who have been mentally affected by depression, and who have, so far, coped. The stories and related photo portraits have been published regularly in MIT's newsletter The Tech and have now been compiled and published in the coffee table edition.

For many of those portrayed, the performance pressures on MIT – and the social isolation or tendency to be tough on themselves and others, as the race may involve – have helped pull them out where they could not bottom. In addition, the individual history of the individual, and the embedding of this history in the structures of society. As professor emeritus in sociology and author of i.a. Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness, David A. Karp, writes in the foreword about his experience of Portraits of Resilience:

"(…) I reminded how important it is to recognize the inevitable connections between human pain and the social contexts of our lives."

One-dimensional aesthetics, multidimensional work. Jackson's photographs of people and buildings are held in a sterile, black-and-white aesthetic that becomes somewhat one-dimensional in length. It's cut to the bone, one must say, and the style appeals to perhaps the primary target audience of people at and around MIT. For me, however, it provides the opposite experience of the depth evidenced in the book's introductory quote from psychologist and author Kay Redfield Jamison, explaining why she would rather not be free of depression:

"Beause I honestly believe that as a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely (…). ”

That said, is Portraits of Resilience an all but one-dimensional work. Everyone will probably be able to recognize elements of their own existence and the hassle of being in the world, especially if you tend to navigate a little too much for performance and productivity. The portrait of the happy over-achiever For example, Tyler Hess, who met the Wall, is creepy reading:

"I was reminded repeatedly that helping doesn't mean solving someone's problems. Often it means just being there. ”

"Motivation used to be in infinite supply for me." Right until it wasn't anymore.

However, it is not just strikers but vastly different people, with vastly different stories, and vastly different conceptions of life and the meaning of what Jackson portrays with respect and affection.

Combat terminology versus life wisdom. Unfortunately, the book's framing is characterized by a combat terminology that reflects not only an American, but also a very typical cultivation of the strength to overcome any of life's challenges. Jackson applies it both in the introduction – "(...) those who had experienced depression, anxiety, trauma (...) were on the front line of our struggles" "- and in the end, for example, in the annoyingly constructive and individual-oriented comment:" A joyous life is not bestowed but earned, often by struggle (…). ”

That terminology contrasts with the book's errand to show the appropriateness of thinking about depression in ways other than a hole you just have to see coming out of, or a battle you can win or lose. Then there is more wisdom to be gained in silent findings, such as Jackson's own: “I was reminded repeatedly that helping does not mean solving someone's problems. Often it means just being there. ”

The importance of social relationships. For many of the book's portraits, it is precisely the social relationships or lack of same that have affected their ability and desire to continue (and possibly change coordinates). But the book's versatility also stands out by illustrating that social relationships can be so many, and in addition to being a lifeline, the people you have or have had in your life can also be the opposite. The trick is to find out which relationships belong to where and how to deal with it from there.

The portrait that affected me the most is the book's very first by medical student Grace Taylor. Before switching to medicine, she read engineering and she says, among other things:

The book's multi-mood also stands out by illustrating that social relationships can be so many.

“It's easy to want to apply engineering principles to everything in life, but they haven't really helped me with my depression. The principles that helped me with my depression are things like: it's good to be kind to yourself; there is value in being vulnerable with other people; it's good to be kind to other people. And there's inherent benefit in talking about things that are hard, even if you don't understand why. "

Life is not simple, but it is often the principles that can make it possible to live it.

Nina Trige Andersen
Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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