Dancing Without Feet

The New Yorker:

At the age of fourteen, Sidiki Conde collapsed on his way to school, in Guinea. For several months, he was in a coma. The lack of adequate medical knowledge muddies the source of his illness; it may have been polio. When he finally returned to consciousness, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He became deeply depressed; suicide crossed his mind.

One night in a dream, a voice asked him, “Why you are so sad? You are still here. You have something to offer.” Inspired, Sidiki finally asked to be released from the hospital, and in the next few years gradually regained the function of his arms. He then completely reinvented himself: he learned to walk again, on his hands, and to bicycle, water-ski, and dance. Gradually, he added drumming, choreography, and composition to his resume, eventually playing gigs at Lincoln Center and with world-class musicians, like Youssou N’dour and Baaba Maal. In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts named him a Fellow.

The psychologists Dan Gilbert and Timothy Wilson have written about what they call “affective forecasting” errors, the inability of humans to predict their own future. One of the most famous examples of this is a study about lottery winners: they are often happy for a little while, but eventually the novelty of the money wears off, distant relatives hold out their hands a few times too many, and the winners return to their native dispositions. Those who were happy to begin with stay happy; those who were not usually return to their unhappiness.

George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist and the author of “The Other Side of Sadness” has found similarly striking results looking at grief. Although many people expect to suffer from acute grief for years after losing a loved one, Bonanno has found in dozens of studies that this stage is often, in fact, relatively brief. Chronic grief that lasts for years afflicts only about one in ten people, and many (somewhere between one thirds and two thirds of the population) begin recovering within weeks. He and his colleagues have also observed similar patterns after other highly stressful events, like natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and cancer diagnoses.

Read the whole story: The New Yorker

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