Friday, June 25, 2010

Why Are Our Pirates So Depressed?

"I feel like I'm in a hole that just keeps getting deeper and blacker. I know rationally that there's nothing wrong, but I just can't feel happy. And I cry at everything: TV commercials, books, plundering, you name it. Yar."
-- Black B.

Why is one of the most powerful, wealthy, and feared pirates in history so unhappy? He is suffering from the little-known condition Un-Jolly Roger Syndrome (UJRS). Pirates dedicate their existence almost exclusively to finding treasure, often at the expense of getting an education, developing a strong support system, or creating the social network necessary for dealing with life after the treasure is found. They define themselves by their search for gold, diamonds, rubies, and assorted valuables, so once the search is over, a void is left that they find difficult to fill. "I thought all my troubles were over when I found that treasure," says Black B., "But boy, was I ever wrong. Once the euphoria wore off, I realized that it was the hunting for the treasure that sustained me, not the treasure itself." And Black B. is not alone.

"After I found my treasure, I gave up pirating right away. Now I have to find an excuse to wake up in the morning. Sure, I've knocked three strokes off my handicap, but I used to be the terror of the Seven Seas for chrissakes. Yar!"
-- Blue B.

Like many retirees, pirates have a hard time adjusting to life after they acquire their treasure and leave pirating behind. This transition is particularly difficult for them because they have spent their lives at sea and are not used to day-to-day life on land. "I had never taken out the garbage in my life," observes Blue B. "Now, I have to do it every Monday and Thursday. What? Oh, I mean, Tuesday and Friday. I always forget." Blue B. says that his efforts to find a substitute for the highs of searching for treasure gave him little satisfaction: "For a while there, I was really into Napster. It was kind of cool that I could get all my favorite shanties for nothing. I was a pirate again! But then those landlubbers at the RIAA put a stop to that. I mean, I still steal software, but it's not the same." Blue B. eventually put his treasure in a chest, buried it, made a map disclosing the chest's location, and then left the map in a location that was not secure. "I know it sounds stupid. I spend my whole life seeking treasure, then, when I finally find it, I bury it, make a map with a big X on it where the treasure is, and leave the map lying around where just about anyone could find it. And the clues were really easy to figure out. It's like I wanted someone to find it so I have to go get my treasure back."

"Sometimes I think the world with just be better off if I let that crocodile eat me. Yar?"
-- Captain H.

A big part of pirate culture is excessive consumption of spirits, so many with UJRS are also alcoholics. This problem is exacerbated because most pirates do not feel comfortable talking openly about their feelings, even though alcoholism and depression are extremely common in this population. Consequently, they feel isolated, causing them to drink even more as a form of self-medication. This cycle can make their depression worse and can even lead to suicide. Though no official statistics exist, it has been estimated that more than 3,000 pirates a year walk off their own planks. In one of our interviews, Captain H. mused, "There isn't a whole lot of 'yo-ho-ho' left in my life." He added with a mournful chuckle, "But there's plenty of rum." A week after he was interviewed for this article, Captain H. was tragically murdered by an assailant who was described as "dressed in green, extremely quick and elusive...almost childlike." Many who knew the captain question whether his death might have actually been, effectively, a suicide. "It was like he just let it happen. How could that little guy kill such a powerful man?" said a friend who sailed with the captain for seventeen years. "It just doesn't make any sense, you know?"

"I even kicked my parrot. That was when I knew I needed help. Yar...."
--Long John S.

The good news is that UJRS can be overcome with therapy and medication. After three stints in a rehabilitation clinic, Black B. started a twelve-step program just for pirates called "You Are Remarkable" or Y.A.R. "We've got more than 8,000 members at Y.A.R. in five different countries." Blue B. became a member of Y.A.R. a year ago and has recently won his first tournament on the Senior PGA Tour. Long John S., who is not a member or Y.A.R. but attends therapy regularly, is perhaps the most successful ex-pirate of them all. His therapist, Dr. Robin Cohen, treats several ex-pirates with UJRS. His approach, which he calls "Thinking Outside the Chest," encourages them to focus on other aspects of life besides treasure. According to Long John S., the approach works. "Sure, I had tons of treasure, but Dr. C made me realize that it wasn't worth anything just sitting in a chest." With his treasure and a small-business grant from the state of California, Long John S. started a business of his own. "I asked myself, 'Long, what do you know better than anything?' The answer was seafood." His seafood restaurant was an immediate success and has since grown into an international franchise. Long John S. now splits his time between his business and motivational speaking, using his own story as inspiration to audiences across the world. "I thought my life was over after pirating. But now I'm one of the most successful businessmen in the United States. Yar."

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