Thursday, September 26, 2013

Does the brain forget how to be happy?

How does someone go from that smiling kid in Hawaii or the young man with the brilliant smile on the right side of this blog to the tortured soul in this November 2007 picture Leif took of himself with his computer camera? How does one go from someone who may have been moody at times and learned quite young to put a lid on is anger but still had hope, enthusiasm and confidence, and surely hours and days of happiness to someone so lonely, miserable and in debt that he decides to put a bullet in his brain instead of going to work that day?

I puzzle over this nearly every day. It still hurts deeply to think of Leif being so desperately unhappy that he would take his own life, would not reach out to us, felt it was useless and painful to go on. The email he sent to me about the same time he took this photo, in which he said that life held far more misery and pain than any kind of happiness was heartbreaking.

Today, as I thought about it, I considered the research I've read about the biochemical basis of emotions and the hereditary characteristics of deep clinical depression. It came to me because I was thinking about times I'd been particularly happy, and remembering what that was like. I wondered if Leif forgot how to be happy. Can we do that?

But it has to be beyond "forgetting," at least in a memory sense. Maybe the brain forgets how to make the chemicals that go with happiness. Maybe the depressed brain is terribly starved for them.

If it is true that some clinical depression can be caused by a gene that can be "switched on" by trauma and then can't be switched off, and true depression has a biochemical basis, a lack of the right "happiness" chemicals in the brain, then this insidious disease robs us of a profound part of our humanity.

Can someone with that depression find a way back to happiness? Would enough changes in the external environment . . . .for instance, in Leif's case, love, a mate, a sense of purpose, someone to care for, a job that was meaningful to him, getting out of debt . . . would these have ever ended in happiness, or would the chemical changes in his brain have continue to make him depressed no matter what?

And why did he deny that he was depressed? It was obvious to me that he was. Was it that male sense of pride that won't allow them to admit that they can't handle anything and everything? Particularly after he had told me the previous summer that nothing phased him, that he was the rock?

Did he really believe that he wasn't depressed? How could he have believed that, given what he wrote to me? And yet he denied it.

In fairness, I think it's hard for most people to admit they are depressed. They feel a sense of shame about it, though they shouldn't. I think they also fear they will be admonished about how much they have and they shouldn't be depressed or should snap out of it, and they know all too well they can't. They've tried.

I read something about depression a couple of days ago that was very profound. People try to talk people out of depression by counting their blessings, by essentially telling them they don't have a "right" or a "reason" to be unhappy because of all the good things in their lives, and that a lot of people have it worse than they do. I understand the motivation, and the logic, but what I read said, in effect, that telling a depressed person that they should be happy because someone else has it worse than they do is like telling a happy person they can't or shouldn't be happy because someone else has it better than they do. The emotions of depression and sadness are not in relation to what someone else has. They are have physical, emotional, and situational causes.

It's still very hard and sad for me to think of Leif coming home alone to his apartment, depressed and lonely, to eat by himself, watch movies by himself, sit at the computer alone, have no money pay his bills let alone to go out, and few friends to go out with, such that he stayed in social contact with someone who had hurt him very badly.

It still hurts to think of all the Leif could have been that he never had a chance to be.

It still hurts that he is not here. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Songs with Memories of Hawaii and Florida

Music brings back so many memories. It evokes so many thoughts and feelings. I rarely listen to the radio while driving, but not long ago I did have it on, playing a local classic rock station. So many songs they played were popular when we lived in Hawaii. The brought back memories of our time there, of Leif as a young boy in third through fifth grades, of how both my sons loved music and each had ways to play the music they loved.

They were always up on the contemporary music, and I heard what they played, or what was on the radio when we were all together in the car heading for the beach or an evening in Waikiki.

One of their favorite groups was Air Supply. We all enjoyed their music. The song, "All Out of Love" seemed particularly poignant and appropriate now, looking back on Leif's adult life, though many of their songs would be so on target.

Air Supply singing "All Out of Love" at 1983 Hawaii concert

We went to a couple of rock concerts in Hawaii. One was the Norwegian group A-Ha at the Hawaii Shell on August 8, 1986, just before we left Hawaii to move to Fort Sheridan, Illinois. I remember well that open air concert and how much we all enjoyed it. The boys liked just about everything A-Ha did, but of course, the wildly popular "Take On Me" was at the top of the list, followed later by the theme for the James Bond film "The Living Daylights" in 1987. They enjoyed the music videos on MTV and Leif would certainly have found the one for "Take On Me" creative and absorbing.

A-Ha MTV Official Video of "Take On Me"

We all liked the BeeGees, too, and on my trip down memory lane with the car radio, the song "Too Much Heaven," which carries the line "Nobody gets too much love anymore," was particularly heartrending. So many songs of lost love, unrequited love, that seem so tuned in to Leif's life of loves lost.

BeeGees singing "Too Much Heaven"

Music was such a deep and important part of Leif's life. I wish he'd somehow found or made a way to be a real part of it, playing in a band, or singing in a chorus. Maybe having something positive and beautiful in his life would have helped, and maybe he would have met people he enjoyed being with, maybe met someone to love that would have stayed in his life. I know I should stop speculating on what might or could have been, but it's hard not to wish or hope that things could have been different.

Last Sunday we were at Coconuts on the Beach over on the Atlantic side of Florida, a place we first went in December 2003, without Leif, and have always wished we could take him there. It was a gorgeous afternoon and we had a bonus. They had a live band playing, The BroHams. The lead guitarist looked like he could have been Leif a few years hence, bald headed with a kerchief tied on his head, goatee like life, somewhat overweight, wearing baggy jeans and a t-shirt Leif would have liked, a kind of Leonardo da Vinci man but with a guitar. We really enjoyed the music, and I couldn't help but think that Leif might have been able to do that, if he'd had the drive to play well and found a band.

Here's a photo of the band, though you can't see the drummer behind the guitar player. That's the one I was talking about on the left.

Leif would have enjoyed the music, a beer overlooking the beach, the food, and the three young bikini-clad women who danced in front of the band and the audience, putting on quite a show. I wish we could have taken him with us.

The photo of Leif in Hawaii was taken in 1984 when Leif was nine year old.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Leif and Lannay in December 1992

 In December 1992, when Leif was just shy of his 18th birthday and in his senior year at Manhattan High School, his Aunt Lannay (my sister) came to Kansas for an early Christmas celebration with our family. At that time, a lot of us were living in and near Manhattan, Kansas, and she wanted to spend a Christmas with her family. Lannay and Leif always had a special relationship, ever since he was one-and-a-half and we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia for a year. He was more affectionate with her than he was with anyone else and they had a bond.

It's interesting to me to see this picture now, nearly 21 years later and see a family resemblance between them that I had never really noticed before.

Leif was so slender then, handsome with such cute dimples. He still had acne, but it was a lot better than it had been when he was in junior high. His hair was very long, not quite as long as Lannay's but close. In these pictures he had it pulled back in a long pony tail. You can see that even at 18 when his hair was luxurious and long, he had a high forehead and receding hairline.

I remember how important music was to him, always, and you can see one of his guitars hanging up behind him in the top photo. He had quite a collection of CDs. Sometimes the door to his room would be literally pulsating more like a drumhead than a wooden panel door from the deep bass he played on his stereo.

These photos make me smile. He looks happy, really happy. He beams. That kind of unreserved smile was rare from him. I didn't see it often, and I miss it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Leif on December 29, 1996

Here's an unusual photo of Leif, with short hair and a beard and mustache and the large lens glasses that were the fashion at the time. It was taken December 29, 1996, when he was just shy of 22 years old, at a family gathering in our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas. He looks a bit solemn and thoughtful.

I found the photo among my mother's things, many photos I'd never seen. She always made prints of the best ones for all those in them, but there were many she never thought were good enough to share. Leif was part of a family group in this photo but I chose to scan only his face.

Most of the time, he either had long or short hair and no facial hair, or facial hair and no hair on his head. He also usually had a goatee and not a full beard, so there are few photos of him like this.

He was married and in college at the time. Finances were tight, but not yet desperate. I think the realities of adult life were just starting to set in.

I think, sometimes, about all of the places that were associated with him that are no longer . . . our old stone house, which was demolished, for instance, restaurants we used to go to together that went out of business, the places he went to preschool.

I wonder, sometimes, whether he could have made it if he hadn't had a gun in his hand that April 9th.

I think about what a beautiful child he was, and how full of bright intelligence. Why did he never find a focus for it?

Life is so full of questions. He looks full of questions in this photo, though of course I don't know what was really going through his mind. It's hard to believe that eleven years later he would be dead.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Leif's Antilles High School Yearbook 1991

 We moved to Puerto Rico in the summer of 1990. It was a rough adjustment for Leif in some ways. Nearly all of the students at AHS were Puerto Rican and spoke Spanish, which Leif never learned. The classes were taught in English, and all of the students spoke English, but for many it was their second language.

Leif was the new gringo, and a tall one that stood out. He got picked on and attacked. He did make it through the initial hazing and made good friends there, but the start that summer and early fall were hard.

He went out for soccer and finally had to quit trying to stay on the team. He wasn't used to the incredible heat and humidity after living in Chicago for four years, and wasn't immediately able to keep up with all the local kids running in the heat. Then he sprained his ankle. Between that and the coach having no understanding of his difficulties with the heat, he gave up. It was a shame, because he was quite a good soccer player, and he never played again.

Instead, he invested himself in music and drama, not through classes, but through playing his electric guitar, building one himself, and working on the school musical that year, "Guys and Dolls."

Sadly, this photo is the ONLY photo of Leif in this yearbook. There are no photos of him in any activities, and no mention of them. It's hard to imagine that.

I am still wondering where his second (junior year) Antilles yearbook might be, and whether he even got a yearbook his senior year when he attended and graduated from Manhattan High School in Manhattan, Kansas.