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I was angrily criticized this week for daring to suggest that “mental illness does not exist.” In fact, I never said such a thing, but did say that it is wildly overstated. Perhaps the largest group of liars, poseurs, fakes and quacks, outside of our political class, are those who go by the name psychiatrist and psychologist. The harm they do is incalculable, and man, the money that they charge for doing that harm is criminal!
Before I defend that statement, let me make something clear: there are people who are sincere and call what they do “life coaching,” even “counseling.” These are the ones who do not imagine that they understand a person’s past and its relationship to the makeup of that person. They merely try to give good and forward-thinking advice. They probably overcharge for the advice, but it takes two to tango.
When I was about ten years old, I heard a pounding in the hallway outside my bedroom, and when I poked my head out found my older brother with hands bloodied to a pulp, having used his fists on the closet door in utter frustration. My dad was holding him, hugging him, and both were crying. I do not know what caused that episode, whether it was being dumped by a girl or merely isolation, but my brother needed human comfort and contact. Instead, he was “sent to Denver,” and when he came back was a zombie.
He would remain in that state until his death in 2011. He could not deal normally with people, nor focus on anything. Religion became his outlet, his only comfort, one that I doubt really comforted him that much. He spent more time in church than in the shower each day. In his life before Denver, he was a poet, had athleticism and depth, and perhaps one or two very good friends. He was, after all, an acquired taste, smart far beyond most around him (reading Thomas Merton in eighth grade), but awkward in relationships.
After Denver, he got nothing but sympathetic eyes, and never wrote another poem. Dad took him in the family sign business, and he wasted out his days there. I recall he wrote one time that he would never again “experience the mountain tops” or words to that effect.
The diagnosis – we did not talk about things back then, but dad at one time mentioned “manic depression.” In Denver, they administered electroshock therapy. They might as well have killed him. It would have shortened his long and unhappy life. I don’t imagine he ever had ten minutes of true joy after he was helped by psychiatrists.
So I know something of what I speak – I have never seen a man in more pain than my brother that day. I still come close to tears if I speak of that episode.
If there is a thing called “manic depression,” I suppose he had it. These days they call it “bipolar disorder,” and along with ADD, is the among most contrived bullshit ever imagined – that is, it might be real, is rare, and cannot be fixed. Mostly, “bipolar” means you experience bouts of creativity followed by a letdown. It’s perfectly normal. It must be the creativity that makes people both happy and sad, two sides of the same coin. We need to deal with each, take it as it comes. I know darkness and depression. I am normal.
Most of what we see around us is just pain. Not illness – pain. There’s a lot of depression out there. Our society breeds depressed people. First, we advertise at them mercilessly, telling them there are wonderful things to own that will create happiness. But we make sure, via low wages saddled with taxes, medical costs, student loan debt, 20% interest on credit cards, mortgages and other forms of enslavement, that they cannot afford these things. Advertising only works by making us unhappy. Of course people who are in debt and cannot have the things they think they want are depressed!
The cure is so easy – stop wanting stuff. Live simply.
We don’t educate people properly, and so do not give them the mental capacity to work their way out of our maze. Education is a joke in our country – it should free our minds to explore this world. How they did this is sheer genius – they managed to make learning boring, unproductive, and stunting. People who cannot think properly are never going to be able to self-reflect well.
And we drug them. Psychiatrists are drug dealers, nothing more. And the drugs are harmful. Studies have shown that antidepressants do little more than placebos, but we really don’t know their true long-term effects. PhRMA runs FDA, not the opposite. I tend to think that all these drugs people are taking, starting in grade school, merely create a kind of shallowness in ability to experience the full range of emotions, including joy and pain. Some of the more potent ones are behind aggressive behaviors, and combinations and lingering half-lives could well lead to bouts of irrational violence, even suicides.
So if you are in pain as you read this, if you feel bad on a regular basis, if you have no joy, if everything seems pointless to you, consider the following: You are not mentally ill. You’re quite well. These are signals that you need to make changes. It takes a healthy mind to send these signals. It wants you to look in the mirror, identify and remedy the problem – get out of debt, learn to think and explore, get away from bad people, read, meditate, get off of the booze and drugs and give and get some hugs. It takes a long, long time to recover from our fucked up materialistic society.
Do not go to a psychiatrist to make changes. Do not go into “therapy.” Do not worry about potty training or stumbling in on mom and dad having sex. If you had some abuse growing up, real physical and mental abuse, this might be something that lingers inside you and needs to be aired. But it will not be fixed. You will only feel relieved. There is only one direction – forward. I am quite certain that childhood abuse is common and causes lingering damage. (Most of Freud’s early patients were abuse victims, but he never dealt with the matter in a productive manner.) I am sure that drugs will not fix that damage, nor therapy. But friends and love can really help. And time and perspective.
What to do with all these psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors telling you to hit pillows and twelve-step and all that nonsense? I suppose group therapy might help – us, not them. Get them all in one place, and hope they talk one another to death.
Meanwhile, the rest of us get to deal with life, real life, as it comes, complete with suffering, and some joy as well.
PS: A reader was kind enough to send me to this link, proving that none of us ever has an original idea. It is a long piece by the late Joe Bageant called Escape from the Zombie Food Court. His key line is “The diagnosis is not the disease.”