A Talk to Psychiatrists
By Jacob Friedman,
Let me begin by stating the obvious: we are emotional beings.
We think, feel, and perceive in infinite mixtures of love, hate,
fear, sadness and happiness. We also struggle to hold back our
tears, to restrain our anger and to tame our wildest passions.
If we did not train our emotions, who could possibly fathom the
chaos into which humanity would decompose?
Within the last century, due to various discoveries in pharmacology,
we have probed relentlessly into the human psyche and created
drugs that can do our job for us, tempering our emotional extremes
into presentable and mild moods. With these new methods of altering
our unwanted emotions, we have given you, psychiatrists, a particular
responsibility. It has become your duty to properly diagnose our
innermost ailments, to prescribe us with the appropriate drug,
and to cure us of our mental illnesses.
But with the employment of chemical mood-stabilizers, anti-depressants
and anxiety-inhibitors to mitigate our "highs" and "lows,"
we run the risk of completely shielding ourselves from reality.
If someone lies awake burning with anxiety, or another has been
lamenting for days, he simply cures himself with the ingestion
of a pill, a pill consisting of millions of prosthetic molecules
created to fool those within him. No longer does one need to deeply
search himself, his life, or his situation in order to mollify
his most abhorred feelings, feelings that we think we ought not
to experience, that hurt us so bad that we wish we could escape
them. So we do. Now we have escaped them, we have gulped down
a glass of water like a chaser to the pill that digests in our
stomach. We sigh with relief never to suffer again. We can now
think the thoughts and experience the emotions of the "normal"
I am not stating that such medication should be abolished. I
acknowledge that there exist mental illnesses and chemical defects
that can deeply affect our emotions and ability to cope with life
in its broadest sense. I also realize that many of these illnesses
cannot be cured solely over time through practice and perseverance.
They require chemical treatment and medication.
It appears to me, however, that in many cases today instead of
people using such medications to solve a particular biological
fault of theirs, these drugs are being abused as a way of ignoring
and moreover adapting to the much larger defects of societal norms.
In other words, a person these days focuses on living a particular
lifestyle. It is the American lifestyle that I speak of, a lifestyle
rooted in presentation and success. In it we must perform efficiently
and confidently; for only then can we truly "make it"
as Americans. And deep down we all want to be the same person,
the "normal" person, who thinks innocently and demonstrates
mildness. Having constantly been reminded of how privileged we
are to participate in this "American dream," one does
not question his life or himself any more than asking, "what
is wrong with me?" And, thus, we turn to you to help us to
achieve this lifestyle and to forge us into this "normal"
person. It is computer science. It is assisted suicide. But, nevertheless,
we can then participate in this "American dream;" for
dreaming is all we are able to do while on drugs.
It is interesting that some of humanity's most influential and
greatest minds have belonged to some of the most "abnormal"
people, scientists and artists alike. Lord Byron, considering
himself and his fellow poets, remarked, "we of the craft
are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy"
(qtd. in Jamison). Frederic Chopin, the composer, F. Scott Fitzgerald,
the writer, John Nash, the 1994 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Kay
Jamison, the psychologist and Abraham Lincoln, the 16th American
president suffered from either major depression, schizophrenia,
or bipolar disorders. I come forward to you as a patient, seeking
a diagnosis, a prescription and a possible treatment. I have been
sick for some time now, but only recently have I realized the
magnitude of my infirmity. I am too normal. I laugh just enough
at parties to gain the approval of my friends; I occasionally
think about saving the whales; I hang a Thomas Kinkade painting
over my fireplace; My love for my wife does not interfere with
my "nine to five" desk job; I never feel too irascible
around my boss, who pays me well, well enough to buy my mood-stabilizers.
So I am asking you for a new prescription, one that will twist
me around a bit, make feel vulnerable perhaps?
Why did I remain patiently in your waiting room, anyway, like
someone millenniums ago waiting for the Oracle of Delphi to announce
another unavoidable fate. In my case, I have waited for prescriptions:
celexa, valium, and lithium among others. Under your guidance
I have transformed myself into a modern day Mr. Hyde; however,
this Mr. Hyde is much more insidious because of excessive normality
instead of overt eccentricity. I do not need you anymore. I have
learned my lesson. You have shown me all that I never want to
be. I did not take my pills this morning, and I do not plan on
ever taking them again. I can and no longer will wear this smiling
mask that blinds me from reality and myself. I want to see things
the way they really are. There may be times when depression will
weigh like lead upon my body, or times when I will fly with euphoria.
I invite them all; for I am an emotional being: I was born to
cry and laugh and shout and love. Love myself for all that I am.
Love humanity for all of its foibles. And love life for the infinite
number of feelings we are bound to experience. So now we give
psychiatrists a new responsibility, perhaps one of the greatest.
We ask them to teach us to love ourselves so that we can embrace
our sadness and face our fears instead of relentlessly trying
to escape them. With this basic love for ourselves, we can begin
to place our trust in life, instead of a pill. And only then can
we truly believe that we are happy people; for we will feel the
soil beneath our feet no matter how hard or soft it is.
Jamison, Kay Redfield. Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness
and the Artistic Temperament. (New York: Free Press Paperbacks,