Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Go Buzz, Go!

Despite the self-delusion that I am above certain of the lower-hanging fruits of pop culture, I must admit to being intrigued by the selection of Apollo 11 astronaut and moonwalker Buzz Aldrin to compete in the upcoming season of “Dancing with the Stars”. While I must confess that particular program is not “appointment viewing” for me, I still think it’s great Buzz will be competing. Admittedly I have no high hopes for his ability to get very far in the competition; he is, after all, an 80-year-old white guy with a doctorate in astrophysics. Nerd-cred? Yes. Funky-dance-move-cred? Not likely.

Still, I hope he does better than that pathetobnoxious media slore Kate Gosselin. Seeing Buzz outlast her on the show would be schadenfreudelicious!

As you may have guessed, I don’t like Kate. No… it goes beyond NOT liking her. It’s more of an inherent INABILITY to like her. I realize it is most likely a severe character flaw on my part, but there is literally nothing she could ever do to make me find her anything more than retch-worthy. If she rescued my children from a burning building and sustained fatal burns in the process and her last dying wish was for me to like her and she offered her last breath as a penance to me, though as a parent I would be grateful for her actions, I’d STILL find her creepy and obnoxious.

Now… what was I talking about? Oh yeah… Buzz Aldrin. Sorry ‘bout that.

Anyway, the real reason I wish Buzz Aldrin well in the competition is one which perhaps is unexpected. True, anyone who knows me even casually cannot help but be aware of my obsession with manned space flight… particularly Project Apollo. But surprisingly, that’s only part of my interest. The primary reason I want Buzz Aldrin to have a good time is because of his most courageous act. No, I’m not talking about climbing into a Saturn V or a Titan booster or even his combat missions during the Korean War. Those, though dangerous, were calculated risks. If things had gone to hell he would at least be assured a hero’s funeral and the admiration of others.

No, in my opinion the bravest thing he ever did was write the 1973 autobiography “Return to Earth”. In that book, Aldrin openly discussed his battles with depression after the conclusion of his successful Apollo 11 mission. While in today’s world of “tell all” books this may not seem like much, in its time the book was nothing less than a revelation. Here was a person from a hyper-alpha-male military/astronaut background - where even the slightest hint of weakness was anathema - talking openly about his struggles with mental illness. In doing so, he exposed himself to charges of being a “wimp” (actually, being in the military, that would likely have been one of the milder epithets hurled his way).

In the spirit of Aldrin's book, and as someone who has dealt with mental health issues in the past (in my case, anxiety disorder) here are a few things I’d like to pass along to others – particularly men - who may be dealing with anxiety or depression:
First of all, get help. Don’t try to be all macho about it and suffer in silence. Quite often it’s the macho bullshit and the pervasive need to look invincible that causes these problems. We men are pretty damned stupid in this regard. This is clearly one area where we have a LOT to learn from women. As a general rule, women tend to be much more honest and open in their communication and are less ashamed to confide in each other when they need help. That’s one thing that made Buzz Aldrin’s book so important: he was a man with undeniable "guy cred" telling other men this is an important medical issue which had been ignored far too long. If you think you may be suffering from depression, talk to a trusted friend or a reputable medical practitioner. Second, don’t be ashamed of it. The brain is a biological organ just like your heart or liver or pancreas. Having a mental disorder doesn’t make you a bad or ethically weak person any more than a kidney infection does. Third, if a health professional prescribes medication for the condition, take it as directed. If you have any adverse reactions, tell your doctor. Let him or her know what works for you and what doesn’t. While the medical folks are usually knowledgeable and helpful, in the end you’re the best judge of how your body is reacting. Finally, be patient. I know from hard personal experience this is difficult, but as you battle mental conditions, be aware that they don’t cure themselves overnight and that the brain needs time to recover. Just as a broken leg needs time to heal, your mind needs time, too. When things are bad, learn to be like a passenger in a jet plane hit by turbulence: don’t fight it; just “ride it out” in the knowledge things WILL get better. Just as with a broken bone, if it heals properly, your mind can come back stronger than before.

All of which somehow brings me back to Buzz Aldrin. He not only has come through his battle with depression but has used his experiences to help others. And so, while I think Buzz’s chances of winning the dancing competition are about nil, I genuinely hope he has a wonderful time for as long as he’s on the program. He’s earned it.

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