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Critic's Picks: ESSAY

I wrote a talk to psychiatrists in my senior year of high school for an elective class on James Baldwin. My teacher had asked us to craft a speech addressing a particular group of people and model it after the fiery rhetoric with which Baldwin wrote. I chose to address psychiatrists because I had my own problems with depression and medications alike.

Editor's Comments:
Jacob makes a compelling argument against the over-prescription of psych meds by contemporary psychiatrists. By addressing his essay directly to psychiatrists, he drives his message home, providing the perspective of an experienced patient.

"By arguing on the force of circumstances, we have argued away all
force from ourselves; and stand leashed together, uniform in dress and
movement, like rowers of some boundless galley."
-Thomas Carlyle (1829)

"Fitter, healthier and more productive than a pig in a cage on antibiotics."
-Radiohead (1997)

"We all attempt to live on the surface, where we assume we will be less
lonely, whereas experience is of the depths and is dictated by what we
really fear and hate and love as distinguished from what we think we ought
to fear and hate and love."
-James Baldwin (1964)

"We are but fettered by the chains of our own forging, and which
ourselves also can render asunder."
-Thomas Carlyle (1829)

A Talk to Psychiatrists

By Jacob Friedman,
age: 18
New York

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" person.

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.

Works Cited
Jamison, Kay Redfield. Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1996).

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