"On a cold winter’s day, a group of porcupines huddled together to stay warm and keep from freezing. But soon they felt one another’s quills and moved apart. When the need for warmth brought them closer together again, their quills again forced them apart. They were driven back and forth at the mercy of their discomforts until they found the distance from one another that provided both a maximum of warmth and a minimum of pain. In human beings, the emptiness and monotony of the isolated self produces a need for society. This brings people together, but their many offensive qualities and intolerable faults drive them apart again. The optimum distance that they finally find that permits them to coexist is embodied in politeness and good manners. Because of this distance between us, we can only partially satisfy our need for warmth, but at the same time, we are spared the stab of one another’s quills.”
(See also: Elizabeth Gilbert on Schopenhauer’s dilemma and “having that critical little space, in which to be a little bit self-contained—to create your own warmth, your own sense of your own humanity—so that you could be close without being stabbed. The path to that is as close a secret to happiness as anything I’ve ever learned.”)
Some types of psychotherapy are short-term, lasting a few weeks, while others are long-term, lasting months or years. Some focus mostly on the problem at hand, while others encourage people to speak freely about whatever comes to mind…
“A happy life and a meaningful life have some differences,” says Roy Baumeister, a Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. He bases that claim on a paper he published last year in the Journal of Positive Psychology, co-authored with researchers at the University of Minnesota and Stanford.
Baumeister and his colleagues surveyed 397 adults, looking for correlations between their levels of happiness, meaning, and various other aspects of their lives: their behavior, moods, relationships, health, stress levels, work lives, creative pursuits, and more.
They found that a meaningful life and a happy life often go hand-in-hand—but not always. And they were curious to learn more about the differences between the two. Their statistical analysis tried to separate out what brought meaning to one’s life but not happiness, and what brought happiness but not meaning.
Their findings suggest that meaning (separate from happiness) is not connected with whether one is healthy, has enough money, or feels comfortable in life, while happiness (separate from meaning) is. More specifically, the researchers identified five major differences between a happy life and a meaningful one.
•Happy people satisfy their wants and needs, but that seems largely irrelevant to a meaningful life. Therefore, health, wealth, and ease in life were all related to happiness, but not meaning.
•Happiness involves being focused on the present, whereas meaningfulness involves thinking more about the past, present, and future—and the relationship between them. In addition, happiness was seen as fleeting, while meaningfulness seemed to last longer.
•Meaningfulness is derived from giving to other people; happiness comes from what they give to you. Although social connections were linked to both happiness and meaning, happiness was connected more to the benefits one receives from social relationships, especially friendships, while meaningfulness was related to what one gives to others—for example, taking care of children. Along these lines, self-described “takers” were happier than self-described “givers,” and spending time with friends was linked to happiness more than meaning, whereas spending more time with loved ones was linked to meaning but not happiness.
•Meaningful lives involve stress and challenges. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness, which suggests that engaging in challenging or difficult situations that are beyond oneself or one’s pleasures promotes meaningfulness but not happiness.
•Self-expression is important to meaning but not happiness. Doing things to express oneself and caring about personal and cultural identity were linked to a meaningful life but not a happy one. For example, considering oneself to be wise or creative was associated with meaning but not happiness.
One of the more surprising findings from the study was that giving to others was associated with meaning, rather than happiness, while taking from others was related to happiness and not meaning. Though many researchers have found a connection between giving and happiness, Baumeister argues that this connection is due to how one assigns meaning to the act of giving.
“If we just look at helping others, the simple effect is that people who help others are happier,” says Baumeister. But when you eliminate the effects of meaning on happiness and vice versa, he says, “then helping makes people less happy, so that all the effect of helping on happiness comes by way of increasing meaningfulness.”
“Be not the slave of your own past - plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with new self-respect, with new power, and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“At the end of our lives, each of us will look back and wonder what really mattered. It won’t be busyness. It’ll be that we were able to love and be intimate with others, that we enjoyed beauty and were creative in some manner. That we lived our lives fully.
The busyness now is in pursuing some accomplishment, commodity, or recognition we think we want. We race to the end of our lives. Then at the finish line, we realize we’ve barely skimmed the surface.
“Freud suggests that we imagine our lives as a story in which three parts of ourselves are always involved; that in doing any one thing we have a least three projects: we are satisfying a desire, we are sustaining a sense of moral well-being, and we are ensuring our survival.”—Adam Phillips
It’s unavoidable. It’s inevitable. It’s mandatory. It’s practically the only way the process truly works.
Over and over people come to therapy hoping that this will be the one relationship where I won’t ever do the one, awful, terrible, hurtful, intolerable thing that everyone else has always done to them.
And then I do it. Or something kind of like it, or something only a very little like the terrible thing, but similar enough to bring it all back in a flash and make you feel the darkest déjà vu: “It’s happening AGAIN.”
I will be late, or forget your partner’s name, or double-book, or lose an e-mail, or push too hard, or seem preoccupied, or be masking a dip in my own personal energy, or be over-protective, or have a “tone” in my voice, or misunderstand, or misconstrue, or f-up.
And you will be absolutely sure that it’s proof that I don’t care, don’t value you, that I am crazy, or just like your ex-wife, or your father, or that I am too fragile, depressed, not keeping up, or that I left you – or am about to leave you – alone.
Sometimes it will happen right away, sometimes not for a few weeks, or even years.
But – inevitably – I will do it.
If I don’t, we probably aren’t connecting. We aren’t approaching the realm of intimacy. The terrible, messy, liberating sacred zone where your unconscious Self pulls on mine – and we slip, momentarily, into the black hole of our core conflicts.
Sounds like fun doesn’t it?
But that’s how it works. Really.
We all repeat patterns in our relationships, and the therapeutic relationship – although unique, with important parameters – is still a relationship. As we fall into our favorite tried-and-true dance steps, we all pull and lead our partners to fall in line. Even if we want to learn new steps – even if we want to quit dancing altogether – the old rhythms return.
So, whatever it is you want to break free from, we should expect it to happen, watch for it to happen. And when it does – that is our moment to strike! We can see it happening, live, in vivo, in our laboratory. If we can catch it, we can deconstruct it, we can explore what was at play, assign language to it for the first time, or rewrite the narrative, we can transform it, re-work it, create a new experience.
But, I will step in it. If you stay long enough, and want more from the process than some company while you wait out a disruptive brief crisis, I always do.
And so will everyone you ever love.
The road to all intimacy leads straight through the deepest hole of our worst fears and crashes smack into our darkest core conflict.
Lets not hope that it won’t happen. Lets hope that it does.
In Generation Like, an eye-opening follow-up to FRONTLINE’s 2001 documentary The Merchants of Cool, author Douglas Rushkoff returns to the world of youth culture to explore how the perennial teen quest for identity and connection has migrated to social media — and how big brands are increasingly co-opting young consumers’ digital presences.
“Today’s teens don’t need to be chased down by corporations,” Rushkoff says. “They’re putting themselves online for anyone to see. They tell the world what they think is cool—starting with their own online profiles. Likes, follows, retweets, and favorites are the social currency of this generation.”
(click link above to watch the full 56 minute documentary)
“I think people’s attitudes need to change at a deep psychological level about how they view these different personality styles. For introverts particularly, to get rid of the guilt and the shame that they feel about who they are, but also for how the world looks at them.
As far as the world is concerned, I’ll give you three concrete places where it needs to change. Number one is in the establishment of psychology itself. What I do in my research, I was actually amazed at how biased psychology is against introversion. I expected it not to be that way because so many psychologists are introverts themselves. But I think it’s just the nature of the field that it mirrors whatever the biases are at the current time. So it used to be biased against homosexuality, biased against introversion and other stuff too. Right now, for example, they’re in a process of revising the diagnostics manual. And the last I heard is they’re considering an entry for something called introverted personality disorder. And that, to me, is just appalling.”—It’s OK to Eat Alone: Q&A with Susan Cain (the author of Quiet)
One of the great divides in male-female relationships is the “chick flick” — movies like “Terms of Endearment” and “The Notebook” that often leave women in tears and men bored. But now, a fascinating new study shows that sappy relationship movies made in Hollywood can actually help strengthen relationships in the real world.
A University of Rochester study found that couples who watched and talked about issues raised in movies like “Steel Magnolias” and “Love Story” were less likely to divorce or separate than couples in a control group. Surprisingly, the “Love Story” intervention was as effective at keeping couples together as two intensive therapist-led methods.
The findings, while preliminary, have important implications for marriage counseling efforts. The movie intervention could become a self-help option for couples who are reluctant to join formal therapy sessions or could be used by couples who live in areas with less access to therapists.
“A movie is a nonthreatening way to get the conversation started,” said Ronald D. Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and the lead author of the study. “It’s really exciting because it makes it so much easier to reach out to couples and help them strengthen their relationships on a wide scale.”
The initial goal of the study was to evaluate two types of therapist-led interventions called CARE and PREP. The CARE method focuses on acceptance and empathy in couples counseling, while PREP is centered on a specific communication style that couples use to resolve issues. The researchers wanted a third option that allowed couples to interact but did not involve intensive counseling.
They came up with the movie intervention, assigning couples to watch five movies and to take part in guided discussions afterward. A fourth group of couples received no counseling or self-help assignments and served as a control group.
Going into the study, the researchers expected that the CARE and PREP methods would have a pronounced effect on relationships and that the movie intervention might result in some mild improvements to relationship quality. To their surprise, the movie intervention worked just as well as both of the established therapy methods in reducing divorce and separation.
Among 174 couples studied, those who received marriage counseling or took part in the movie intervention were half as likely to divorce or separate after three years compared with couples in the control group who received no intervention. The divorce or separation rate was 11 percent in the intervention groups, compared with 24 percent in the control group.
In determining the list of relationship movies that might be useful to couples, the researchers eliminated popular romantic comedies or “falling in love” movies like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “When Harry Met Sally.” Instead, they put together a list of movies that show couples at various highs and lows in their relationships. “Hollywood can place very unrealistic expectations on romantic relationships,” Dr. Rogge said. “The idea that you are supposed to fall in love instantly and effortlessly is not reality and not relevant to most couples who are two, three or four years into a relationship.”
Some of the movies on the list, like “Couples Retreat,” are funny and not necessarily realistic. “But they are enough to get a dialogue going,” Dr. Rogge said.
Since completing the initial study, Dr. Rogge and his colleagues have been recruiting couples from around the country to study the effect of the movie intervention on different relationships, including long-married and same-sex couples. Megan Clifton, a 27-year-old student in Knoxville, Tenn., has lived with her boyfriend for nearly two years. Although she says the two have “great communication,” she opted to try the movie intervention.
While watching the movie “Date Night” with Tina Fey and Steve Carell, the couple laughed at a scene in which the husband fails to close drawers and cabinet doors. “He leaves cabinet doors open all the time, and I become the nagging girlfriend and he shuts down a little,” Ms. Clifton said. “When we were watching the movie, I said ‘That’s you!,’ and it was humorous. We ended up laughing about it, and it has helped us look at our relationship and our problems in a humorous way.”
Matt and Kellie Butler of Ashtabula, Ohio, have been married for 16 years and also feel the movie intervention has helped their relationship. So far they have watched “Love and Other Drugs” and “She’s Having a Baby.”
“It’s kind of powerful,” Mr. Butler said. “It’s like watching a role play in a group-therapy session, but it’s a movie so it’s less threatening and more entertaining.”
Mr. Butler said that even though he and his wife have a strong bond, long-married couples sometimes forget to talk about their relationship. “We’ve been married 16 years, but it’s not something you sit down and have a conversation about,” he said. “When you watch the movie, it focuses your conversation on your relationship.”
Dr. Rogge noted that more research is needed to determine the effect on a variety of couples. One flaw of the study is that the control group was not truly randomized. While the couples in the control group seemed similar to other couples in the study in terms of demographics and relationship quality, further research is needed to validate the movie method.
“I believe it’s the depth of the discussions that follow each movie and how much effort and time and introspection couples put into those discussions that will predict how well they do going forward,” said Dr. Rogge.
A: For the same reason that running comes so hard for fish. They don’t have the equipment. The ADD brain lacks internal organization that naturally leads most people to structure their lives. People with ADD must make a conscious, deliberate effort to build structure into their lives.
“For years mental health professionals taught people that they could be psychologically healthy without social support, that “unless you love yourself, no one else will love you.” Women were told that they didn’t need men, and vice versa. People without any relationships were believed to be as healthy as those who had many. These ideas contradict the fundamental biology of human species: we are social mammals and could never have survived without deeply interconnected and interdependent human contact. The truth is, you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved. The capacity to love cannot be built in isolation.”—Bruce D. Perry, M.D., The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook
“The endless, useless urge to look on life comprehensively, to take a bird’s-eye view of ourselves and judge the dimensions of what we have or have not done: this is life as landscape, or life as résumé. But life is incremental, and though a worthwhile life is a gathering together of all that one is, good and bad, successful and not, the paradox is that we can never really see this one thing that all of our increments (and decrements, I suppose) add up to.”—
"Our attractions are forged in the deep space of our being, born of countless, often unknowable forces. When we encounter someone for the first time, our psyche and our heart begin an astonishingly complex scan, picking up obvious cues like physique and facial structure, but also noting myriad subtle cues such as body language, facial expression, the contour of the lips, the nuance of the voice, and the muscles around the eyes. We instantly process all this information without even knowing it. All we feel is desire or the lack of it. Scientists tell us that a silkworm can smell one other silkworm moth of the opposite sex from six and a half miles away. While our mating instinct may not be as developed as this species of moth, nature has bestowed an exquisite sensitivity upon our romantic radar, programmed to find just the right person to trigger whatever emotional circuitry we need to work through.
All of us are attracted to a certain type that stops us dead in our tracks: a physical type, an emotional type, and a personality type. Let’s say that there is a spectrum of attraction, from one to ten, and the people at the low end of the spectrum (like numbers one and two) aren’t physically or romantically attractive to us at all. But those on the “ten” end of the spectrum are icons: they’re compellingly attractive, they make us weak in the knees, and they trigger both our insecurities and our longing. Harville Hendrix, the founder of Imago Therapy, illuminates this phenomenon in a way which sheds light on our entire intimacy journey. He teaches that these people are so attractive to us in part because they embody not only the best, but also the the worst emotional characteristics of our parents!
Even though we may be adults, all of us have unresolved childhood hurts due to betrayal, anger, manipulation or abuse. Unconsciously, we seek healing through our partner. And we try to achieve this healing by bonding with someone who we sense might hurt us in similar ways to how we were hurt as children, in the hope that we can convince him or her to finally love and accept us.
Our conscious self is drawn to the positive qualities we yearn for, but our unconscious draws us to the qualities which remind us of how we were wounded the most.
This explains part of why we get so awkward and insecure around people we’re intensely attracted to.
It also explains why our greatest heartbreaks often occur with these most intense, fiery attractions. Some of us react to these past heartbreaks by only dating those on the low end of the spectrum. We are frightened of the intensity and the risk of painful loss when we deal with people on the high end of the attraction scale. We often feel safest with people who don’t do much for us on a physical or romantic level because it just feels more comfortable that way. But the downside is usually boredom, frustration and lack of passion.
Many others only date people on the high end of the spectrum, just going for the iconic types, because they believe that that’s where real love and passion lie. With someone who is a “high number” on your attraction spectrum, you can tell that you’re attracted in a fraction of a second. While this can be achingly exciting, it’s rarely comfortable or secure.”
You’re worried about X, Y, and Z. You obsess about them for hours every day, maybe for weeks.
How do you know whether this is typical worrying, a normal way of processing something that’s important to you, or if you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?
Karen Swartz, M.D., the Director of Clinical Programs at the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, says the main difference between worry and GAD is that the symptoms are more frequent with GAD. In a Depression and Anxiety Health Alert, she mentions one study that found that people without GAD tended to worry an average of 55 minutes a day, while those with GAD worried for 310 minutes each day. That’s one hour compared to five.
She identified a few other differences, as well:
Normal Worry: Worrying does not interfere with your job or social life.
GAD: Worrying significantly interferes with your work or social activities.
Normal Worry: You feel that your concerns are controllable and can be dealt with at a later time.
GAD: You feel that your worrying is out of your control.
Normal Worry: Your worries cause only mild distress.
GAD: Your worries are very distressing and pervasive.
Normal Worry: A specific cause initiated your worrying.
GAD: Worrying began for no reason.
Normal Worry: Your worries are limited to a specific topic or a small number of topics.
GAD: You worry about a broad range of topics, like job performance, money, personal safety or the safety of others, etc.
Normal Worry: Significant worrying lasts only for a brief period.
GAD: You have experienced excessive worrying for six months or more.
Normal Worry: Your worrying is not usually accompanied by physical or other psychological symptoms.
GAD: Three or more physical or psychological symptoms occur with your worrying (such as sleep problems, irritability, tense muscles, problems concentrating, fatigue or restlessness).
“My anxiety can be intolerable. But it is also, maybe, a gift—or at least the other side of a coin I ought to think twice about before trading in. As often as anxiety has held me back—prevented me from traveling, or from seizing opportunities or taking certain risks—it has also unquestionably spurred me forward. “If a man were a beast or an angel, he would not be able to be in anxiety,” Søren Kierkegaard wrote in 1844. “Since he is a synthesis, he can be in anxiety, and the greater the anxiety, the greater the man.” I don’t know about that. But I do know that some of the things for which I am most thankful—the opportunity to help lead a respected magazine; a place, however peripheral, in shaping public debate; a peripatetic and curious sensibility; and whatever quotients of emotional intelligence and good judgment I possess—not only coexist with my condition but are in some meaningful way the product of it.”—Scott Stossel, "Surviving Anxiety"
A powerful, must-read first-hand account of The Atlantic editor Scott Stossel’s lifelong battle with (and eventual embrace of) crippling anxiety issues. Anybody who has ever struggled with anxiety, or knows someone who has, will find something of value in this extraordinary and brave essay.
And after you’ve read his essay, please make sure to read the companion piece, This is Anxiety, featuring stories from other Atlantic readers about their own battles with anxieties of all kinds, how they’ve survived, what’s helpful, and what isn’t.
(A big, BIG thank you to The Atlantic for running these pieces, and doing their part to raise awareness and fight the stigma around talking openly about mental illness.)
“We are not transparent to ourselves. We have intuitions, suspicions, hunches, vague musings, and strangely mixed emotions, all of which resist simple definition. We have moods, but we don’t really know them. Then, from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before. Alexander Pope identified a central function of poetry as taking thoughts we experience half-formed and giving them clear expression: “what was often thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” In other words, a fugitive and elusive part of our own thinking, our own experience, is taken up, edited, and returned to us better than it was before, so that we feel, at last, that we know ourselves more clearly.”—Alain de Botton, Art as Therapy
“To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive - to grief, sorrow, and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before.”—Rollo May
Do some therapists cry with their patients? Does it mean he or she has poor boundaries?
Well, I certainly can’t speak for all therapists, but in my own experience there are absolutely therapists who tear up—or even openly cry—with a client. And I don’t think it speaks to poor boundaries at all, but rather to a therapist’s openness to what’s happening in the room. If you’re a psychodynamically-oriented therapist, working with a client over a long period time, you’re simply going to feel for them at times, whether in their struggles or in their joy. I don’t think it’s appropriate to breakdown and weep as a therapist, but I think tears on the therapist’s part can actually be a fairly powerful thing in the right context, and add to, rather than detract from, the therapeutic relationship.
"[therapists] reported they experienced their last in-session cry due to sadness (75%), “feeling touched” (63%), warmth (33%), gratitude (15%) and joy (12%). According to the researchers these findings challenge the idea that therapists cry “due to the therapist being overwhelmed by intense negative emotions that arise in therapy, and instead signals a moment of potentially positive emotional connection, even if amid painful negative affect.”
Is there really a good reason to keep on going? I work a minimum wage job, have never been in a relationship, my family life is shit and abusive...honestly, aren't there some people who don't have anything going for them? Why shouldn't I end it?
Okay. I’m going to do something rather unorthodox:
I’m not going to tell you to keep living.
But I’m also not going to tell you to stop living.
I’m not privy to the details of your life and I am not going to blow sunshine up your ass and tell you it’s all gonna be rainbows and unicorns if you just try to smile a little more. I can only tell you what I’ve found based on my own experience. Here, in brief, are the highlights of my philosophy on situations such as yours:
1.) In almost all cases, life can get better with your effort. This means taking steps to get counseling from a psychologist or psychiatrist or social worker, make healthy choices (counseling being one of them!) and fill your life with better humans, avoiding the shittier ones where possible (and it ain’t always possible). You may need to cut some ties. You may need to do things you don’t want to do, like admit to your own mistakes and missteps. But I promise you it can be done. And if you put in a ton of effort and it fails, so what? You tried. Better to attempt to make your life better than just ending it without even trying. Because what’s the fucking point of that?
2.) Every major improvement is the result of many tiny steps. For example, let’s take your general unhappiness. You want to be happy. I’d wager you will at least feel better if you have someone to talk to. I think a counselor is a great option because that person is (hopefully) unbiased. But to get into the counseling session, you’re going to need to do a few things. You’re going to need to get on the computer and Google counselors in your area. You’re gonna need to make some phone calls or emails to find out who provides free or low-cost care (sometimes they will say they have a “sliding scale” fee. That’s what you’re looking for.) You’re gonna need to make the appointments and write down the appointments and remember the appointments and show up to the appointments. See what I mean by “many tiny steps?” It ain’t gonna happen overnight. This may seem overwhelming, but just focus on mapping out the steps to your goal (feeling less shitty). Then take just one of those steps today. Just one. Then if you’re feeling motivated, you can take the next step. Saving your own life takes some planning and it’s the most important thing you can possibly do, so it’s worth putting in some effort.
3.) EVERYTHING LOOKS SHITTY WHEN YOU’RE STANDING INSIDE A GIANT GLASS PRISON SMEARED WITH SHIT — shit job, shit family, shit love life. That’s how depression works. The rest of the world is so obscured that you can’t see the beautiful and amazing things and opportunities just waiting for you right outside. Killing yourself is not the only way out of this prison. There’s a door. There’s a window. There’s a hole in the roof that’s just your size, and there’s a ladder to help you down from the roof to the ground below. And remember that you can always smash your way out. It’s a glass prison — it’s impermanent and ultimately can’t stand up to the force of your desire to lead a better life. It’s going to be tough and it’s going to hurt sometimes, but it’s going to be the best decision you ever made.
4.) We have some agency in that we are able to determine our own path to a certain degree. You can’t choose whether an anvil drops on your head while you are walking down the street. You CAN choose to keep your eyes open, be aware of your surroundings, get enough sleep at night, eat good food, drink water, and stay sober enough to notice this “DO NOT WALK HERE. CONSTRUCTION IN PROGRESS.” sign. To a certain extent, your life is in your own hands. Recognize that you have some power in this situation.
5.) Blood relation is not an obligation. Your family fucking sucks and they treated you like shit. They still do. I assume you’re an adult. This means you get to leave. You get to make your own choices. You get to take care of the kid inside you who couldn’t leave or make his/her own choices. Ask friends for help. Ask your counselor (remember, the psychologist or psychiatrist or social worker you’re going to seek out!) Ask a pastor for help if God is your thing or if you know a decent clergy member. Tell your story. Keep telling it until somebody listens. Keep telling it until you feel better
6.) Do not waste time on either guilt or self-pity. Neither will do you any good. Focus on forward momentum. Guilt and self-pity will only serve to hold you back. I have wasted far too much time on both these things and I would like to save you the time.
8.) I’ve wanted to kill myself and I never went through with it, and thank God for that, because I’ve gotten to experience an amazing life. If God or fate or science or a speeding bus end it all for me tomorrow, I’ll know I had a great adventure on earth. Or maybe I won’t know it, because I’ll be fucking dead, and who can say what happens? Who can say if death is better, or worse, or just a fat load of nothingness? I figure it’s better to deal with the devil I know (this life) than the devil I don’t (the afterlife — if such a thing exists).
9.) If you can do nothing else — just keep breathing for as long as you can. One breath after the other after the other. Put them all together and you’ve got a lifetime.
I hope you keep living. I trust that you will. You wrote to me, after all. You wouldn’t have done that if you didn’t retain some hope and some understanding that life has better things in store for you. I think you ought to stick around to see what those things are. Sometimes they’re shiny and taste like chocolate. It’s worth it.
I wish you good luck. But more than that, I wish you good effort.
And thanks for reminding me of the things I sometimes forget.
We are a psychologically sophisticated society. Emotional difficulties are now shared openly — not only by celebrities but by your average person. It’s not unusual for people to tell friends that they have an anxiety disorder, anger management problem, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorder, substance abuse problem, OCD or ADD.
Yet, there is a widespread psychological disorder that most people know little or nothing about. Why? Because its symptoms are largely interpersonal, causing many to view it as a relationship issue, not a mental health one. Also, people shy away from the term because of its unflattering name: Borderline Personality Disorder.
“Borderline? Am I going over the edge into an abyss? Oh my gosh! Next topic.”
Enough ignorance. Let’s review the major symptoms of people who have borderline personality disorder (BPD):
They have turbulent and stormy relationships, making it difficult to keep a job or maintain a close relationship.
They have frequent emotional outbursts, often expressing their outrage with verbal abuse, physical attacks or acts of revenge.
Though they’re acutely sensitive to being abandoned and rejected, they’re harshly critical of those closest to them.
They view others as “good” or “bad.” A friend, parent or therapist may be idealized one day, yet viewed the next day as a terrible person for failing to live up to their expectations.
They may act out with self-destructive activity (i.e. reckless driving, compulsive shopping, shoplifting, cutting, bingeing with food, alcohol, drugs or promiscuous sex) as a way to fend off feelings of unbearable emptiness.
If you’re living with someone with BPD, life probably feels like an emotional roller coaster. So what can you do? Certainly, suggesting psychotherapy is a good idea. Don’t be surprised, however, if he or she uses therapy not to seek understanding but to rage about others. So, if therapy for your loved one is not moving forward, try a few suggestions:
““Bots like this show you that you exist,” says social media theorist and sociologist Nathan Jurgenson, who studies the interactions between our digital and IRL selves. (He’s also pretty well known for his job as Snapchat’s in-house sociologist.) “You’ve posted all these status updates, they really did matter, they haven’t gone away, they were recorded, and they say something about you. It’s the same thing people said when Friendster came around: We want proof that we exist.”
Jurgenson says that’s the most basic impulse behind our desire to engage with and share these reflective tokens, but the reason they actually succeed in entertaining us – why we find these statuses hilarious enough to share with our friends – is a little more complex. According to Jurgenson and other social theorists, “apps” like What Would I Say? (which isn’t really an app, but it interacts with Facebook’s API as such) mimic human behavior, but not quite perfectly, which also makes it less unnerving.
“It’s an uncanny valley situation, where [the app] reflects the self, but not too well, and not too poorly,” he says. “It’s enough of you that you recognize yourself, but it’s a distorted-enough reflection where it’s not creepy.”
The most impressive people I know are all terrible procrastinators. So could it be that procrastination isn’t always bad?
Most people who write about procrastination write about how to cure it. But this is, strictly speaking, impossible. There are an infinite number of things you could be doing. No matter what you work on, you’re not working on everything else. So the question is not how to avoid procrastination, but how to procrastinate well.
There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I’d argue, is good procrastination.
That’s the “absent-minded professor,” who forgets to shave, or eat, or even perhaps look where he’s going while he’s thinking about some interesting question. His mind is absent from the everyday world because it’s hard at work in another.
That’s the sense in which the most impressive people I know are all procrastinators. They’re type-C procrastinators: they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.
What’s “small stuff?” Roughly, work that has zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary. It’s hard to say at the time what will turn out to be your best work (will it be your magnum opus on Sumerian temple architecture, or the detective thriller you wrote under a pseudonym?), but there’s a whole class of tasks you can safely rule out: shaving, doing your laundry, cleaning the house, writing thank-you notes—anything that might be called an errand.
Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.
Good in a sense, at least. The people who want you to do the errands won’t think it’s good. But you probably have to annoy them if you want to get anything done. The mildest seeming people, if they want to do real work, all have a certain degree of ruthlessness when it comes to avoiding errands.
Some errands, like replying to letters, go away if you ignore them (perhaps taking friends with them). Others, like mowing the lawn, or filing tax returns, only get worse if you put them off. In principle it shouldn’t work to put off the second kind of errand. You’re going to have to do whatever it is eventually. Why not (as past-due notices are always saying) do it now?
The reason it pays to put off even those errands is that real work needs two things errands don’t: big chunks of time, and the right mood. If you get inspired by some project, it can be a net win to blow off everything you were supposed to do for the next few days to work on it. Yes, those errands may cost you more time when you finally get around to them. But if you get a lot done during those few days, you will be net more productive.
In fact, it may not be a difference in degree, but a difference in kind. There may be types of work that can only be done in long, uninterrupted stretches, when inspiration hits, rather than dutifully in scheduled little slices. Empirically it seems to be so. When I think of the people I know who’ve done great things, I don’t imagine them dutifully crossing items off to-do lists. I imagine them sneaking off to work on some new idea…
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious,” or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?
If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren’t caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.
I know. My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert.
Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes. Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts. It pays to learn the warning signs.
What is introversion?
In its modern sense, the concept goes back to the 1920s and the psychologist Carl Jung. Today it is a mainstay of personality tests, including the widely used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.
Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially “on,” we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: “I’m okay, you’re okay—in small doses.”
Read: the rest of the original Atlantic article here
See also:Interviews: “Introverts of the World, Unite!” A conversation with Jonathan Rauch, the author who—thanks to an astonishingly popular essay in the March 2003 Atlantic—may have unwittingly touched off an Introverts’ Rights revolution.
"We’re more accustomed as readers to the memoir model, where depression — or addiction, or even ordinary anxiety — appears as a monster from the past, one against which you still have to bolt the door every day, but one that’s not there right now, not interfering with your writing about it, not writing about it with you.
But there’s something to be said for the currency of Brosh’s vivid, sometimes nervous-making chronicles, or of Glover’s scribbled notes. It’s very sterile and very misleading to hear about battles only from people who either have already won or at least have already experienced the stability of intermediate victories. It presents a false sense of how hard those battles are. It understates the perilous sense of being in the middle of them. It understates how scary they are. Compare the feeling of listening to a 911 call from inside someone’s house while they’re afraid a burglar is inside to the feeling of hearing them tell you a week later what it was like that one time they were afraid there was a burglar in the house. The second will give you their reflective version of what happened; the first will give you their out-of-breath panic.
There is a developing candor about depression, addiction, and ordinary day-to-day struggles that can feel uncomfortably intimate to people who either are very private themselves or prefer other people to be very private. There are absolutely times when you read something and feel that you’re encountering details you shouldn’t be seeing, perhaps offered from a person not in the right frame of mind to be deciding how much to give away.
But consider the brief but indelible post about depression that comedian Rob Delaney wrote in February 2010, which makes the rounds on social media periodically, simply because writing it was an act of service. It begins, “I deal with suicidal, unipolar depression and I take medication daily to treat it.” It goes on to discuss things that people who’ve never been depressed might find hard to imagine: “My mind played one thought over and over, which was ‘Kill yourself.’” At the time Delaney wrote the post, he was only a year and a half past his second major episode of depressive symptoms, and the immediacy of not waiting until he felt entirely safe is part of what gives the post power, and part of why people who are depressed know that he’s not lying when he says he knows what they’re feeling.
First-person cultural narratives about major battles are often written through the distorting haze of a long memory — that’s what David Carr was trying to counter when he investigated his own past for his memoir Night Of The Gun. But there’s no substitute, really, for the necessary honesty that comes with currency. Allie Brosh is Allie Brosh right now. You can wish her well, but she’ll tell you she’s not sure how it’s going. That’s part of why people with depression believe her. It’s part of why they trust her so much. She told The Telegraph about depression: “It’s sort of like a thing that is maybe a tunnel, but also maybe a giant tube that just keeps going in a circle. And you can’t tell which one it is while you’re in it. There might be light, but there might just be more tube.”
If you want to know how hard it is, she’s telling you that’s how hard it is. Not was, is. And as uncomfortable as that might be, it’s a perspective worth offering.
There is a motif, in fiction and in life, of people having wonderful things happen to them, but still ending up unhappy. We can adapt to anything, it seems—you can get your dream job, marry a wonderful human, finally get 1 million dollars or Twitter followers—eventually we acclimate and find new things to complain about.
If you want to look at it on a micro level, take an average day. You go to work; make some money; eat some food; interact with friends, family or co-workers; go home; and watch some TV. Nothing particularly bad happens, but you still can’t shake a feeling of stress, or worry, or inadequacy, or loneliness.
According to Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, a member of U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center’s advisory board, and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, our brains are naturally wired to focus on the negative, which can make us feel stressed and unhappy even though there are a lot of positive things in our lives. True, life can be hard, and legitimately terrible sometimes. Hanson’s book (a sort of self-help manual grounded in research on learning and brain structure) doesn’t suggest that we avoid dwelling on negative experiences altogether—that would be impossible. Instead, he advocates training our brains to appreciate positive experiences when we do have them, by taking the time to focus on them and install them in the brain.
I spoke with Hanson about this practice, which he calls “taking in the good,” and how evolution optimized our brains for survival, but not necessarily happiness…
Researchers at the University of Exeter have been bridging the gap between art and science by mapping the different ways in which the brain responds to poetry and prose. The team used state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to visual how the brain activates certain regions to process various activities.
Before this study, no one had specifically examined the brain’s differing responses to poetry and prose. The results, published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, revealed activity within a “reading network” of brain regions that were activated in response to any written material.
The team also found that emotionally charged writing activated areas of the brain which are known to respond to music. Predominantly on the right side, these regions had previously been shown to give rise to the “shivers down the spine” feeling caused by an emotional response to music.
The researchers found that when study participants read one of their favorite passages of poetry, regions of the brain associated with memory were stimulated more strongly than “reading areas.” This suggests that reading a favorite passage is like a recollection.
When the team specifically compared poetry to prose, they found evidence that poetry activates brain regions associated with introspection – such as the posterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobes.
interdisciplinary team of researchers from the fields of psychology and English. They recruited 13 volunteers, all faculty members and senior graduate students in English, then scanned their brain activity. These scans were compared when reading literal prose – such as an excerpt from a heating installation manual, evocative passages from novels, easy and difficult sonnets, and their favorite poetry.
According to Zeman, “Some people say it is impossible to reconcile science and art, but new brain imaging technology means we are now seeing a growing body of evidence about how the brain responds to the experience of art. This was a preliminary study, but it is all part of work that is helping us to make psychological, biological, anatomical sense of art.”
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”—
There are many reasons clients decide to end therapy. According to clinical psychologist Deborah Serani, Psy.D, “Sometimes they’ve reached their goals. Sometimes they need a break. Sometimes the connection with their therapist isn’t there.” Sometimes they notice a red flag. Sometimes they’re about to face a new fear or realize a new insight, said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the blog “In Therapy.”
“Whatever the reason, it’s vital to bring it into your sessions as soon as you feel it,” said Serani, author of the book Living With Depression. Howes agreed. Wanting to end therapy is a critical topic to explore, he said. And it could be as simple as telling your therapist, “I feel like it’s time to end therapy, I wonder what that’s all about?”
Therapy gives people the opportunity to have a positive ending, unlike most endings, which tend to be negative, such as death and divorce, Howes said. An end in therapy can be “more like a bittersweet graduation than a sad, abrupt, or complicated loss. Ideally, you can have a satisfying closure to therapy that will help you end relationships well in the future.”
That’s because our relationship with our therapist frequently mirrors our relationships outside their office. “We often unconsciously recreate dynamics from other relationships with our therapist,” said Joyce Marter, LCPC, a therapist and owner of the counseling practiceUrban Balance. “Processing negative feelings can be a way to work through maladaptive patterns and make the therapeutic relationship a corrective experience. If you avoid this conversation by simply discontinuing therapy, you will miss this opportunity for a deeper level of healing resulting from your therapy.”
Tips on Ending Therapy
Below, clinicians share additional thoughts on the best ways to approach your therapist when you’d like to end therapy.
1. Figure out why you’d like to leave. According to Jeffrey Sumber, M.A., a psychotherapist, author and teacher, the best way to end therapy is to delve into why you’d like to leave. Ask yourself: Is it “because I feel disrespected, stuck or incompatible or [am I] actually feeling uncomfortable dealing with certain things that the counselor is pushing me on?” It’s common and part of the process of changing problematic patterns, he said, to feel triggered and even angry with your therapist.
2. Don’t stop therapy abruptly. Again, it’s important for clients to talk with their therapists, because they may realize that their desire to part ways is premature. Even if you decide to leave therapy, processing this is helpful. “A session or two to discuss how you feel and what kinds of post-treatment experiences you may go through will help ease guilt, regret or sadness that often arises when wanting to stop therapy,” Serani said.
Plus, “Honoring the relationship and the work you have done together with some sessions to achieve closure in a positive way can be a very powerful experience,” Marter said.
But there are exceptions. Howes suggested leaving abruptly if there are ethical violations. He reminded readers that you’re “the boss” in therapy:
If there have been significant ethical violations in therapy – sexual advances, breached confidentiality, boundary violations, etc. – it may be best to leave and seek treatment elsewhere. It’s important for clients to know they are the boss; it’s your time and your dime, and you can leave whenever you want. If the violations are serious enough, you may want to tell your therapist’s boss, your next therapist, or the licensing board about them.
3. Talk in person. Avoid ending therapy with a text, email or voicemail, Marter said. “Speaking directly is an opportunity to practice assertive communication and perhaps also conflict resolution, making it is an opportunity for learning and growth.”
4. Be honest. “If you feel comfortable and emotionally safe doing so, it is best to be direct and honest with your therapist about how you are feeling about him or her, the therapeutic relationship or the counseling process,” Marter said.
When offering feedback to your therapist, do so “without bitterness or judgment,” said John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. “After all, this person will be working with others in the future, and your thoughts may change his or her style, and help them to better serve their clients in the future.”
“A good therapist will be open to feedback and will use it to continually improve,” added Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and expert in postpartum mental health.
5. Communicate clearly. “Your best bet is to be as direct, open, and clear as possible,” Hibbert said. Articulate your exact reasons for wanting to end therapy. Hibbert gave the following examples: “’I didn’t agree with what you said last session and it makes me feel like this isn’t going to work,’ or ‘I’ve tried several sessions, but I just don’t feel like we’re a good match.’”
(“’Not being a “good match’ is a perfectly good reason to terminate therapy, since so much of it has to do with a good personality fit and a trusting relationship,” she added.)
6. Be ready for your therapist to disagree. According to Serani, “It is not unusual for a therapist to agree with ending therapy, especially if you’ve reached your goals and are doing well.” But they also might disagree with you, she said. Still, remember that this is “your therapy.” “Don’t agree to continue if you truly want to stop, or feel persuaded to keep coming for sessions because your therapist pressures you to stay.”
7. Plan for the end in the beginning. “Every therapy ends, there’s no reason to deny this fact,” Howes said. He suggested discussing termination at the start of treatment. “Early in therapy when you’re covering your treatment goals, why not talk about how and when you’d like therapy to end? Will you stop when you’ve achieved all your goals? When the insurance runs out? When and if you get bored in therapy?”
Again, therapy can teach you valuable skills to use for your other relationships. According to Marter, “Even if after expressing your negative feelings, you choose to end the therapeutic relationship, you can rest assured that you took good care of yourself by advocating for yourself in a way that was direct and honest. This is a skill you can bring with you to other relationships that are no longer working for you.”
Psychotherapy is in decline. In the United States, from 1998 to 2007, the number of patients in outpatient mental health facilities receiving psychotherapy alone fell by 34 percent, while the number receiving medication alone increased by 23 percent.
This is not necessarily for a lack of interest. A recent analysis of 33 studies found that patients expressed a three-times-greater preference for psychotherapy over medications.
As well they should: for patients with the most common conditions, like depression and anxiety, empirically supported psychotherapies — that is, those shown to be safe and effective in randomized controlled trials — are indeed the best treatments of first choice. Medications, because of their potential side effects, should in most cases be considered only if therapy either doesn’t work well or if the patient isn’t willing to try counseling.
So what explains the gap between what people might prefer and benefit from, and what they get?
The answer is that psychotherapy has an image problem. Primary care physicians, insurers, policy makers, the public and even many therapists are largely unaware of the high level of research support that psychotherapy has. The situation is exacerbated by an assumption of greater scientific rigor in the biologically based practices of the pharmaceutical industries — industries that, not incidentally, also have the money to aggressively market and lobby for those practices.
For the sake of patients and the health care system itself, psychotherapy needs to overhaul its image, more aggressively embracing, formalizing and promoting its empirically supported methods.
My colleague Ivan W. Miller and I recently surveyed the empirical literature on psychotherapy in a series of papers we edited for the November edition of the journal Clinical Psychology Review. It is clear that a variety of therapies have strong evidentiary support, including cognitive-behavioral, mindfulness, interpersonal, family and even brief psychodynamic therapies (e.g., 20 sessions).
In the short term, these therapies are about as effective as medications in reducing symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety disorders. They can also produce better long-term results for patients and their family members, in that they often improve functioning in social and work contexts and prevent relapse better than medications.
Given the chronic nature of many psychiatric conditions, the more lasting benefits of psychotherapy could help reduce our health care costs and climbing disability rates, which haven’t been significantly affected by the large increases in psychotropic medication prescribing in recent decades.
Psychotherapy faces an uphill battle in making this case to the public. There is no Big Therapy to counteract Big Pharma, with its billions of dollars spent on lobbying, advertising and research and development efforts. Most psychotherapies come from humble beginnings, born from an initial insight in the consulting office or a research finding that is quietly tested and refined in larger studies.
The fact that medications have a clearer, better marketed evidence base leads to more reliable insurance coverage than psychotherapy has. It also means more prescriptions and fewer referrals to psychotherapy.
But psychotherapy’s problems come as much from within as from without. Many therapists are contributing to the problem by failing to recognize and use evidence-based psychotherapies (and by sometimes proffering patently outlandish ideas). There has been a disappointing reluctance among psychotherapists to make the hard choices about which therapies are effective and which — like some old-fashioned Freudian therapies — should be abandoned.
There is a lot of organizational catching up to do. Groups like the American Psychiatric Association, which typically promote medications as treatments of first choice, have been publishing practice guidelines for more than two decades, providing recommendations for which treatments to use under what circumstances. The American Psychological Association, which promotes psychotherapeutic approaches, only recently formed a committee to begin developing treatment guidelines.
Professional psychotherapy organizations also must devote more of their membership dues and resources to lobbying efforts as well as to marketing campaigns targeting consumers, primary care providers and insurers.
If psychotherapeutic services and expenditures are not based on the best available research, the profession will be further squeezed out by a health care system that increasingly — and rightly — favors evidence-based medicine. Many of psychotherapy’s practices already meet such standards. For the good of its patients, the profession must fight for the parity it deserves.
Brandon A. Gaudiano is a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.
Hello! Just wanted to drop a quick note to everyone out there and let you know that I’ll be returning to far more frequent and regular posting as of this week. I’ve been crazy busy the past few months, and this site was (sadly) one of the things I had to leave on the side of the road for a while…but I’m ready to jump back in. A heartfelt thanks to all those who’ve stuck around!
“I was sitting on a plane next to a psychiatrist and I said to her, “I’ve just written this book and it has another abandoned child in it. Another loveless person abandons another child in the beginning. What is it about abandonment?” This psychiatrist, who had a deep, scratchy voice, said, “My dear, we are all abandoned.”—Louise Erdrich
You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.
And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…
That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.
And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’…then I said, ‘you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.’
And I let it come, and I just started to feel ‘oh my God,’and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments.
And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness.
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice— though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. "Mend my life!" each voice cried. But you didn’t stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations, though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world determined to do the only thing you could do— determined to save the only life you could save.
There isn’t any point in denying that the outburst of sympathy and support that followed my confession to an attempt at self-slaughter last year (Richard Herring podcast) has touched me very deeply.
Some people, as some people always will, cannot understand that depression (or in my case cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder) is an illness and they are themselves perhaps the sufferers of a malady that one might call either an obsession with money, or a woeful lack of imagination.
“How can someone so well-off, well-known and successful have depression?” they ask. Alastair Campbell in a marvelous article, suggested changing the word “depression” to “cancer” or “diabetes” in order to reveal how, in its own way, sick a question, it is. Ill-natured, ill-informed, ill-willed or just plain ill, it’s hard to say.
But, most people, a surging, warm, caring majority, have been kind. Almost too kind. There’s something a little flustering and embarrassing when a taxi-driver shakes you by the hand, looks deep into your eyes and says “You look after yourself, mate, yes? Promise me?” And there’s something perhaps not too helpful to one’s mental health when it is the only subject people want to talk to you about, however kindly or for whatever reasons.
But I have nothing to complain about. I won’t go into the terrible details of the bottle of vodka, the mixture of pills and the closeness to permanent oblivion I came. You can imagine them and I don’t want to upset the poor TV producer and hotel staff who had to break down my door and find me in the unconscious state I was in, four broken ribs thanks to some sort of convulsive fit that must have overtaken me while I lay almost comatose, vomit dribbling from my mouth. You can picture the scene.
The episode, plus the relationship I now have with a magnificent psychiatrist, has made made my mental health better, I think, than it’s ever been. I used to think it utterly normal that I suffered from “suicidal ideation” on an almost daily basis. In other words, for as long as I can remember, the thought of ending my life came to me frequently and obsessively. But then it’s the thought behind the most famous speech in all history. To be, or not to be:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action…
Take time to read it slowly to yourself or out loud. I don’t have Hamlet’s wit (or Shakespeare’s of course) but every logical or doubtful step from line to line expresses better how hard I thought about the advantages and cursed (as I thought) disadvantages against suicide. The speech, for the most part, stayed my hand. As it did Hamlet’s.
But medicine, much as some don’t like to hear it, can help. I am on a regime of four a day. One is an SNRI, the other a mood-stabilizer. I haven’t considered suicide in anything other than a puzzled intellectual way since this pharmaceutical regime “kicked in”.
But I can still be sad. Perhaps you might go to my tumblr page and see what Bertrand Russell wrote about his abiding passions (it’s the last section of the page). I can be sad for the same reason he was, though I do so much less about it than that great man did. But I can be sad for personal reasons because I am often forlorn, unhappy and lonely. These are qualities all humans suffer from and do not qualify (except in their worst extremes) as mental illnesses.
Lonely? I get invitation cards through the post almost every day. I shall be in the Royal Box at Wimbledon and I have serious and generous offers from friends asking me to join them in the South of France, Italy, Sicily, South Africa, British Columbia and America this summer. I have two months to start a book before I go off to Broadway for a run of Twelfth Night there.
I can read back that last sentence and see that, bipolar or not, if I’m under treatment and not actually depressed, what the fuck right do I have to be lonely, unhappy or forlorn? I don’t have the right. But there again I don’t have the right not to have those feelings. Feelings are not something to which one does or does not have rights.
In the end loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems. I hate having only myself to come home to. If I have a book to write, it’s fine. I’m up so early in the morning that even I pop out for an early supper I am happy to go straight to bed, eager to be up and writing at dawn the next day. But otherwise…
It’s not that I want a sexual partner, a long-term partner, someone to share a bed and a snuggle on the sofa with – although perhaps I do and in the past I have had and it has been joyful. But the fact is I value my privacy too. It’s a lose-lose matter. I don’t want to be alone, but I want to be left alone. Perhaps this is just a form of narcissism, vanity, overdemanding entitlement – give it whatever derogatory term you think it deserves. I don’t know the answer.
I suppose I just don’t like my own company very much. Which is odd, given how many times people very kindly tell me that they’d put me on their ideal dinner party guestlist. I do think I can usually be relied upon to be good company when I’m out and about and sitting round a table chatting, being silly, sharing jokes and stories and bringing shy people out of their shells.
But then I get home and I’m all alone again.
I don’t write this for sympathy. I don’t write it as part as my on going and undying commitment to the cause of mental health charities like Mind. I don’t quite know why I write it. I think I write it because it fascinates me.
And perhaps I am writing this for any of you out there who are lonely too. There’s not much we can do about it. I am luckier than many of you because I am lonely in a crowd of people who are mostly very nice to me and appear to be pleased to meet me. But I want you to know that you are not alone in your being alone.Loneliness is not much written about (my spell-check wanted me to say that loveliness is not much written about – how wrong that is) but humankind is a social species and maybe it’s something we should think about more than we do. I cannot think of many plays or documentaries or novels about lonely people. Aah, look at them all, Paul McCartney enjoined us in Eleanor Rigby… where do they all come from?
The strange thing is, if you see me in the street and engage in conversation I will probably freeze into polite fear and smile inanely until I can get away to be on my lonely ownsome.
“Nobody ever gets blamed for getting physical illness – even when those illnesses do result from lifestyle choices – so why on earth do we still talk about depression like it is the fault, and the lifestyle choice, of the depressive? Believe me, nobody who has had it would choose it for themselves, nor wish it on their worst enemy.”—Alastair Campbell