Posts Tagged ‘Media’
Since 1935, when Dupont adopted the slogan “Better Living Through Chemistry,” we have been a culture pummeled by polymers and overly impressed by the new and shiny. Their advertising not only changed how we thought about the rush of chemicals being delivered to us (through medicine, in our water, in our foods), but reflected a new age of humanity in which biochemistry became a cruel and indifferent king. No longer were people thought of as “heartbroken.” They were thought of as chemically imbalanced.
Most people don’t know that diagnoses vary and move along social currents. Because of the authority with which words like “clinical depression” or “bipolar” are used in modern conversation, they are given the impression that those words have a permanence and solidity they do not actually have.
For instance, what we now commonly call PTSD has only been recognized as a formal disorder since 1980. During the American Civil War, soldiers returning from battle with inexplicable symptoms were said to have “Soldier’s Heart.” In World War I it was referred to as “War Malaise” or “Shell Shock,” in World War II, “Combat Fatigue,” in Korea “Gross Stress Reaction” and after Vietnam, it was cleverly called “Post-Vietnam Syndrome.”
Does it matter what we call it?
Some think it matters a great deal because names often determine approach or treatment. It makes sense. If someone is called “Your Highness” we are sure to approach him or her quite differently than if he or she were called “dear.” Similarly, if we call a state of mind a chemical imbalance, than we are very likely to approach (or treat) that state with chemicals, often many. If, on the other hand, we call it a broken heart or loneliness or arrogance or self-pity, we take a rather different tack.
This comes up because of something a patient said to me the other day. She also recently moved east from New Mexico when her husband was made a corporate offer he couldn’t refuse. She came from an old family in Santa Fe with a history that went back almost 400 years to the Spanish Conquest. She had grown up with open vistas, nearly eternally clear skies, and a community in which everyone knew one another. To say hers was a shocking uprooting would be an understatement.
She came in complaining of inexplicable and free-floating anxiety, lethargy, a tendency to weepiness over trifles, an inability to sleep through the night because of dreams and restlessness. Her first question after she elaborated on her symptom picture was: “Do you think I’m depressed?” The as yet unspoken question underneath was: Did she need medication?
Instead of answering either of those questions, I asked her about her dreams, when these symptoms started, what she’d been doing since she moved here and how well (or poorly) she was getting acclimated to a new environment and culture.
As it turned out, her symptoms began about a month after arriving, shortly after the last box had been unpacked and recycled. Suddenly, there was nothing to do. Her husband was going to his new job. Her two young children were in school. She was at home, sans friends, sans work, sans family. In New Mexico, she had not only been working, she had an extended family that occupied a great deal of her time with social engagements and care-taking elderly members. People stopped into one another’s homes fairly regularly. She had a church she loved. Here, she was alone. Worse, she was lonely.
Could someone call that depression? I imagine they could find support for it in the diagnostics and standards manual. But I’d rather call it homesickness. Not only because it is more precise, but because it gives her a way out.
Of course she misses her home. Of course she feels lonely. Of course she’s bored and restless. Of course she longs for friends and relatives. Who wouldn’t in her situation? There’s no pathology in that.
What needed to be changed were not those feelings, but what she was doing all day with them. First prescription: Volunteer. Second prescription: Find a church with her husband. Third prescription: Join a club (in her case she agreed to a yoga class).
It took about a month for her symptoms to abate. While she still missed friends and family (and bright, endless blue skies), she was no longer as lonely, bored or restless. She slept better because her energy was redirected and expended during the day. She began to make new friends and feel a part of something bigger than her own heartbeat in a large, empty house.
The more I think about her case, the more I am inclined to think of PTSD as Soldier’s Heart. I think it more clearly sums up what we are looking at: A wound of war that breaks a heart, not a chemistry problem.
It was a long time ago. I was young. I was writing for Madison Avenue, hobnobbing with celebrities, going to parties. It was as far from a meaningful life as I’ve ever been, but it was the 1980′s, Reagan was president, we were selling and everyone was buying. Life was “good.”
Then one day I got an ad order for one of the firm’s big clients. They were pushing a new diet pill that would expand in the stomach and fool the person into feeling full so they wouldn’t eat. I read the marketing stats carefully. Their targeted audience was young, female and anorexic.
I don’t know what made me suddenly so sensitive or intolerant of such an obviously necessary strategy — who else would you sell a diet product to? — but I got angry. And in a pique of rebellion I hurled my typewriter against what I felt to be a nasty injustice and sealed my fate when I submitted an ad with a picture of the little expanding pill and a headline that read: Fat Chance.
Needless to say, they never ran the ad…
To see the whole article, go to Huffington Post.
Human nature may be the same, but there are new rules of engagement.
With every major invention, every technical ratcheting forward, human history has been irrevocably altered. Some of the most pivotal alterations have been the result of the least dramatic and perhaps least glamorous discoveries, such as the toilet and interior plumbing.
Massive changes followed the introduction of those little white bowls in the average home, most notably the decrease of acute epidemic disease and the increase in the human lifespan, which in turn has had a ripple effect on everything we think and undertake…
To see the whole topic:
For the first time in Huffington Post, you can read more about the idea behind The Next Osama! This is one of the most important things I’ve ever done and I hope I can share it with all of you. It dovetails perfectly with all the things Verbal First Aid stands for, but takes a look at it from the cultural angle rather than the personal and psychological one.
The reason I’ve done this is because of what I’ve seen in my psychotherapy practice–people who are afraid, truly afraid, and look to all sorts of products to make them feel better: breast implants (so they feel younger and aren’t so afraid of losing their luster or facing their mortality), viagra (so they feel more virile and aren’t so afraid of the normal aging process), more and more insurance (so they’re supposedly protected against everything the insurance companies can make them afraid of).
I will be releasing a host of new articles on this topic–how the culture and particularly the media perpetuate needless, pervasive and viral fear and, not only what this does to us, but what we can do about it!
As they say, stay tuned.
The minimizing of communication is no accident. It comes as a consequence of minimal thinking, lethargy, and indifference. To some this is the death knell of American and Western civilization, the end of democracy as we know it (which requires active and informed participation by all citizens), the end of the broadest literacy rate in the history of mankind, and the end of equality of opportunity (for this too, takes an active, watchful, and observant eye). If it is, it is hardly surprising. Before the fall of every civilization came a period of fattening, of loosening, and finally, of decay.
In response to my last blog, a clergyman I know wrote to tell me a story about an experience he had teaching a group of teenagers (ranging from 13 to 16) at summer camp.
They were all gathered at a round table discussion on the general concept of “Important Teen Issues.” Everyone had a chance to write down what was important to him or her. Someone had written the verboten theme: “Sexual Immorality.”
One of the counselors (a young woman in her early 20’s) immediately raised her hand and asked with all innocence: “What’s sexual immorality? I’ve never heard of it before.”
Mind you, this was at a summer camp sponsored by a local church.
The clergyman monitoring the group was at an honest loss for words. Where to start? He wrote to me that the saddest part from his point of view was that she had honestly never been taught anything whatsoever about it. Sex and morality were separated by a deep cultural chasm and, as she explained to him, “Whatever two consenting adults do is fine, right?”
He shared another similar story: A teacher of middle-advanced years began working in a local school. Part of her routine was to ask her students to line up every morning, look her in the eye, greet her with manners and warmth, turn in their homework and finally take a seat.
The principal, who was young and new to the job, was alerted to this breach in standard protocol and confronted the teacher, demanding to know what made her do such an unusual thing.
The teacher simple explained, “To teach them respect, discipline, courtesy, and accountability.”
The principal promptly and in no uncertain terms ordered the teacher to cease and desist. “We only teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. And the time you’re taking on your ritual is taking time away from the school’s directives.”
The teacher stood motionless, disbelieving.
“We don’t teach respect, discipline, courtesy, and accountability,” the principal added as she walked away. “We don’t have an approved curriculum for it and it is not in the government’s standard testing.”
Is it any wonder that our language is shrinking? It’s only a reflection of our thinking.
TV Producers Badly in Need of Verbal First Aid
A young relative of mine is involved in a relationship that has been making her feel like a dramatic vehicle in a bad TV series. Every talk we’ve had about it has involved a long series of “he-said, she-said” revelations and rarely, if ever, have her conversations involved direct, open communication with the significant other.
She was deeply unhappy and felt powerless to do anything about the chaos, the secrets, the whisperings, or the plot twists and nefarious friends. She talked about her life as if it were a script being written by a committee of ravenous producers.
As a psychotherapist and a teacher of Verbal First Aid, it got me to thinking:
What has TV done to relationships? What have we learned by surrounding ourselves with shows such as “Raymond,” “Two and a Half Men,” “CSI,” “Survivor,” and “Trauma?” If it is true that art reflects life, it must be equally as true that life reflects art. We are what we surround ourselves with and perhaps it surrounds us in the way it does because it is in fact a projection of our truest selves.
If so, what surrounds us? What is the nature of relationships in mass media? What are we listening to as the TV runs on and on in the background and we’re preparing dinner or doing housework or making the beds? How differently are relationships portrayed now compared to, say, 40 years ago?
For the full piece, please go to: