Friday, March 12, 2010
Trying to cure life
Last night I re-read my sidebar. I wrote that I'm a person who's struggled with depression. I came close to deleting the whole thing, but I was tired. I started writing this entry, but I put it in the drafts folder where things always languish and die. For the first time, I'm interested enough to go back and finish what I started; that's a big thing for me!
What is this thing called depression, anyway? It's been called a disease, and the drug companies sure would like us all to believe that, for diseases can be cured with medication. Anti-depressants have never worked for me, so what have the doctors said? "You have medication resistant depression." Intractable. Oh, a very bad case indeed!
When I was in high school, I read R.D.Laing's "Sanity, Madness, and the Family." This book saved my sanity. The quick and dirty explanation of what Laing wrote is that the "crazy people" were having reasonable responses to insane circumstances. I was a miserable kid with a host of problems who started going to shrinks at a young age. But what good was that (especially back then), when they couldn't get my family to change their crazy-making behavior? If only there was behavioral therapy back then, the shrinks may have been helpful. I would have learned better coping skills. I'm grateful I'm not a teenager now, for I'd have been drugged to the eyeteeth. My own self-medicating, I'm sure, was a whole lot less harmful in the long run.
So, this brings me to what I was thinking about earlier. Can we drug people out of feeling unhappy? As far as I can tell, most depressed people are depressed because of something. I used to balk at that idea when I was feeling at my worst, for it challenged me to examine my life and make changes. Oh no, there's nothing wrong! I just have the "disease of depression."
Is it even ethical to drug people who are unsatisfied with their lives, their jobs, their marriages, their finances, and even their health? I'm beginning to think not. Why don't we just hand out heroin to the entire populace? That would solve everyone's ills, and quite inexpensively, too. But that won't do, for big pharma wouldn't make the big bucks.
We don't hear much of the word "unhappy" these days. We hear people use the word "happiness" quite a lot, but it's flip side has fallen into disuse. What if therapists stopped using the word "depression" and used the word "unhappy" instead?
For one thing, there'd be an awful lot of angry patients. Imagine if you will a woman who's married to an unemployed drunk, is saddled with a posse of kids, does all the housework and cooking and has a low-paying 40-hour a week job, whose home is falling down around her, has a car that needs works but can't afford it, and is being harrassed by social services because those kids are doing poorly in school and they think she needs to spend more quality time with them. That sounds like a lot of people around here.
So, this imaginary woman is stressed out and unhappy. She's been unhappy so long that she has a pessimistic mindset and, yes, is depressed. All the joys in life, which are there on occasion, give her little pleasure. For one thing, she's too tired to feel much pleasure. She hurts all over because she's sleep deprived and eats a terrible diet of over-processed food straight from the microwave.
When this woman finally makes it to a psychiatrist's office, as she might, she's diagnosed with major depression. Oh, the notes might say there's mitigating circumstances, but doesn't everyone have them? What does she get? Prescriptions. Something to make her feel more upbeat, even if there's nothing to be upbeat about. Maybe she'll get some painkillers, too. Five years down the road she'll be in rehab and on Seboxyn.
What if, instead, her living problems were addressed? Well, no, one can't do that. But, if one stops for a moment and thinks about the price of meds and doctors and shrinks and social service workers, giving this woman a monthly stipend so she can work less outside the home, or hire a bi-weekly housecleaner, or whatever might ease some of her burden, well, it'd be a bargain. But no, that is just too simple And, on top of that, tea-party types would say we're handing out checks to folks who've made their own dirty beds and deserve to lay in them.
Well, to those who think the above, everyone is paying a lot for a huge bulk of our society's unhappy overburdened people already. What do you think is best? Enforced sterilization for the poor or soon-to-be-poor?
So, we've got a society in which we have many chronically unhappy people. It's not limited to the poor, of course, but poverty is the great equalizer in terms of creating misery. Sure, one can live in poverty and be happy, but it's not normative, especially in this society where families and communities are fractured, total self-reliance is the norm, and having money and lots of stuff is the barometer of success. This last bit alone is a major cause of unhappiness in itself. Any day of the week, one can read an inspiring story on the Web or watch one on TV about vibrant happy people who live in dire circumstances, but they are regarded as freakish exceptions. The reasons why these folks are doing so well are not examined closely enough. We study disease and dis-ease, not happiness.
And then, the drug companies do not want us to know about how to improve our resiliency and health. Where would they be if we all woke up to the simple physical and mental health-affirming realities of good support systems, life-in-community, and finding true meaning and purpose in these lives of ours?
What if the doctors simply diagnosed "unhappiness"?
I think it would cause a revolution. We all know intuitively that pills can't cure the pain of unhappiness. Numb a person out enough, and they will feel better (or at least they'll feel less), but a nation of zombies we will become. I fear, sadly, that this is what we're becoming.
I, for one, am glad I woke up. I was unhappy. I may be unhappy again. That's life.
Image note: Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne "Allegory of Poverty" c.1630