Accusations Of Mental Cruelty And The Hunt For Lord Mirth

Galileo Galilei

Is that him? Lord? Lord?

To go to bed frustrated, despondent, or angry is to frequently enter shock therapy.

In my case, I was still smarting from my decision to go public, the withholding of a blessing from (and it may surprise them to hear themselves described as such) key members of my circle, and professional setbacks and frustrations. A familiar feeling of emotional drowning, in other words, was fully engaged by the time my brain cycled down into that deeper level of analysis known as dreaming.

I was in a kitchen. Something in my throat tickled, but the muscles that would normally vibrate the windpipe wouldn’t engage. The tickle remained. It grew in my awareness. I obsessed over not having the basic, elementary mechanism to sooth that discomfort. To scratch. I was starting to panic. What was wrong with me?

Then another thought took it to the next level.


I considered those who suffer from more intense discomforts, from chronic pain, who similarly don’t have the ability to find relief. About the torture this biological existence can so quickly become. With that, there was an immediate magnification. Suddenly my minor muscular failure, my paralysis, was a signal of a hellish existence to come.

The irritation — without the hope of improvement — suddenly became a spectre: an imagined force from the future inhabiting my body today. (Insert Psycho shower-scene knife screech here.)

OK. End dream.

Interestingly, it was just as my partner, my love, had described her anxiety earlier in the day: a mistaking of fears about the future for a reality of the moment. A ghost, I thought. A poisonous mist of belief.

All that is to say, I was well primed for rejection when I received what I will refer to as my first mental-health hate mail.

While most of the feedback about my decision to come out has been good. Some, however, has been confusing or plain irritating.

A couple have insisted I am setting back the struggle for healing and freedom for the suffering by using the phrase “mental illness,” for example. Efforts have been launched to inform me that I myself am not mentally ill but merely inhabiting some ultra-creative alternative reality that requires massive amounts … of suffering. Apparently. Some object to the term because they feel it excludes the role the body plays in patterns of damaging thinking.

While my letter-writer insists the contrary, mental illness is just like heart disease or cancer, at least as far as getting sick is concerned. There are numerous factors that play into susceptibility and onset — genes, trauma, diet, toxins, etc. — as I’ve said here many times. But that doesn’t stop it from finding ultimate expression in our awareness, our mental processes, in sick thinking. (And by “sick” I don’t mean non-conformist. I mean ruminative thinking that sees the ultimate source of all ugliness in the universe, if there is such a thing as ugliness in the universe, in the self. Depressives feel me.)

There was a researcher who, taking issue with my use of the term, insisted to me in an email yesterday:

Someway, somehow, I am going to rewrite the text books and man will be “shed of this so call demon of Mental Illness.”

Talking to me is like talking to Galileo, Einstein, Salk, Madam Curie, Carver, Land, Becquerel, Newton, Pasteur, Rutherford, etc.

These people were just ordinary people that happened upon new information.  That is all.

I took the time to search for the brilliance of Sr. Galilei on his website. Let’s leave it at that.

Then there was this morning’s email from a Dallas Morning News reader:

Re: 27-June-2013 DMN article, “Why I went public with my mental illness”

Mr Harman,

While I applaud your intention to fight for the de-stigmatization of mental illness, your article has in fact made the problem worse for those of us who depend upon the psychiatrist-prescribed and carefully monitored medications that enable us to live relatively normal lives.

Consider these statements in your article (emphases mine) and their extremely negative implications:

[1] “Until recently, the best that popular medicine could offer me was an ever-expanding cabinet of pills and, as a last resort, the intentional seizures of electroconvulsive therapy. Yet more than half of those who were prescribed the most popular medications will not achieve remission.”

[2] “While I have achieved remission of most of my symptoms through a newer treatment known as transcranial magnetic stimulation and have been drug-free since January, I’ll be standing with the alliance in its efforts.”

Let’s examine the potential effects upon a hypothetical DMN reader of your most damaging (and misleading) phrases, viz. “ever-expanding cabinet of pills,” and “drug-free.”  “Drug-free” is overwhelmingly used to describe the rehabilitation of those who have suffered from the abuse of damaging drug; drugs that have no positive healing value whatsoever.  So if I am struggling from a severe depressive condition that I am trying to manage via the judicious use of psychiatric medications, I may now step back and say to myself, “Am I on the path to a damaging addiction?  Will my dependence upon these medications require progressively greater (or an “ever-expanding” variety of) doses in order to continue to be effective?  I better take some steps right away to become ‘drug-free’ like the author.”

It appears as if you do not understand at least two key facts with regard to depression and psychiatric medications:

[1] The medications are intended to manage depressive symptoms, not drive them into “remission.”  Your use of the term “remission” is misleading because it suggests to the reader that he or she may be “healed” from mental illness in the way that a cancer patient might achieve short- or long-term wellness because the cancer has been eradicated from his or her body.  DEPRESSION IS NOTHING LIKE CANCER!!!  Depression results, not from the invasion of healthy cells by deadly ones, but by a LACK of the proper balance of mood-controlling chemicals in the brain.  It is these chemicals that the psychiatric medications intend to replace; hence, in most cases, to be “drug-free” would take the patient back to the deficit situation.

[2] Because of the enormous complexity of the human body, different patients respond differently to various treatment plans.  Your article subtly suggests that TMS may the answer for everyone, and that becoming “drug-free” should be everyone’s goal.  In fact, I could take the cynical position that your seemingly sincere article is actually a clever advertisement published for the benefit of purveyors of TMS.

I respectfully request that you consider printing a revised article that acknowledges its potentially damaging statements– earnest thought they may have been — and strive to better inform your readers.



Disclaimer:  I have no association with the medical profession, and do not stand to benefit financially from my request for a revised article.  I am merely a sufferer of depression whose life has been literally saved with the help of skillful psychiatric care.

This one I did respond to. And very nearly in an unnecessarily abrasive manner. I started and stopped several times. I knew he was hurting, that he felt slighted. I couldn’t belittle that. But I also wanted to let him know how his letter had affected me.

I said things like: It was his responsibility to present his point of view to the media, not mine. That there is no chemical imbalance in depressives’ brains before they start medication. That it’s a fallacy to say otherwise. That the term “remission” is a standard term used by researchers connoting an improvement of symptoms and not the discontinuation of medication as he implied that I was implying. That I am not anti-med. Only that I went off meds as a criteria of the clinical trial. The fact that I have not had to start them again is just that: a matter of fact. It’s not a judgement. And, given my recent mood swings, may not be a truth for much longer.

And, finally, I thanked him for not calling me an agent of the evil TMS industry (while choosing to let me know that I’m not being called such, just the same). [UPDATE: I forgot to mention, he quickly wrote back* to apologize.]

anatomy of melancholy

Ho. And Hum.

What does that all have to do with price of an iced double Americano?

It says something universal to me about the rising mist of imagined insults. The evidences of ruminative thinking. That gag reflex. And, like the iced coffee drink, it serves as an invitation to quickly find other means of entertainment. The urgent need to unplug, de-stress, and go fart in the garden, for example.

It’s about taking what the doctor ordered way back with The Anatomy of Melancholy by Thomas Burton (known more completely as: The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up).

Anatomy encouraged depressives way back in 1621 to get their time in nature in. Music, too.

And it closed with this fitting defense of the author:

Whoever you may be, I caution you against rashly defaming the author of this work, or cavilling in jest against him. Nay, do not silently reproach him in consequence of others’ censure, nor employ your wit in foolish disapproval, or false accusation. For, should Democritus Junior prove to be what he professes, even a kinsman of his elder namesake, or be ever so little of the same kidney, it is all over with you: he will become both accuser and judge of you in your spleen, will dissipate you in jests, pulverise you into salt, and sacrifice you, I can promise you, to the God of Mirth.

Today everyone got off easy. Probably because Lord Mirth was away (at play, we have to assume). One day we all won’t be so lucky.

* Mr. Harman: After having read your reply, my only valid recourse is to apologize to you.  You are quite right:  It is my responsibility, not yours, to present my point of view.  Furthermore, my viewpoint could have easily (and more effectively) been expressed without the inclusion of the unfounded suggestion that you were secretly promoting TMS or the condescending assertion that I understand depression better than you do.

Frankly, I am embarrassed.  I would prefer that you not publish my email to you, but I acknowledge that it is your right to do so.  If you choose to publish it as a comment, I ask that you also publish my apology.  I am usually careful not to launch vitriolic accusations that can only negate the potential progress of a given discussion, so this episode will serve as a painful reminder to renew my commitment.


8 thoughts on “Accusations Of Mental Cruelty And The Hunt For Lord Mirth

  1. Greg,
    Voicing an alternative to the possibility of any possible assistance that is non-traditional, that is not pharmacological based about helping those of us who have emotional illness issues like depression usually gets me the “walls up, attack the messenger for blasphemy attitude” of almost all of those who follow the paradigm of what I call the Medical/insdustrial/governmental/military complexees that are the “bedrock,” of our culture.
    I am grateful you write your truth and it is a wonder full experience for me to read your piece. One of my best friends is a 88 year retired psychiatrist who when I say the pills arent the answer, sort of pats me on the head and minimizes what I have to say.
    i understand his need to do that. However, just because he bought it hook line and sinker doesnt mean I have to.
    Keep going man.
    You have a big supporter here in California.

    • thanks, jim. it’s not that any of the critiques have been mean or hateful. they’re just hopelessly invalidating — and that is what hurts. i know they come from folks who are either hurting themselves, confused about their issues or mine or both, or honestly think they can improve my lot by pressing the lessons they’ve found inspiring or useful. but (imho, claro) our individual growth processes are just that: energies with their own unique origins and endpoints and (therefore) necessary trajectories. knowing how (and, firstly, when) to pull alongside another human being, engage them with true empathy, and transmit the kind of encouragement (not correction) that can be absorbed and processed is a major feat. i only attempt it with those i already know intimately, typically after an invitation.

      • Greg,
        That is what this journey is all about. Joseph Campbell says if you can see the trail in front of you, it is probably not yours.
        I think that is what attracts me to your words. You forge ahead where it is you go, and I consider myself fortunate to be a witness, albeit from a distance in time and space, but still in a slight way a fellow traveler.
        I admire you, your journey and have nothing but respect for you for having the courage to speak about it.
        Hopefully I have expressed this with loving kindness, cuz sometimes I can be a dick too!
        Lots of love from Napa CA

  2. Your mention of “ruminative thinking” was helpful to me. I’ve wondered why I chew so long on unpleasant, unbidden thoughts. Reading up about it is giving me a better understanding. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

    • learned yesterday the hippocampus shrinks in people with depression and so we have a harder time putting the brakes on such thinking. i think i have that right. haven’t digested my notes yet. anyway, there’s a physical basis for the hardship.

  3. Loved Mr. Burton’s “…sacrifice you…to the God of Mirth” comment.

    Interesting the “researcher” apologized and felt shame about his accusations and insinuations. Mental conditions exist in many forms.

    Here’s the thing: you’re suffering from depression and, like many of us, will do or try anything with a semblance of credibility in an effort to surface. Before you acknowledged the condition you were the same person you are now except you’re not implicitly wearing a mask of “normalcy” anymore.

    People squirm because, holy shit, truth forces them to see, act and maybe feel differently…to change. It’s possible the people who squirm most have mental health issues somewhere in their life or family history. In any event, people will shudder to settle the change, eventually move a little closer to the light and in time will be better for the experience.

    The best place to start working on neutralizing the stigma is with ourselves. Better for all of us if we find a way to hold our head as high as we can muster and tell it like it is. Not on a soapbox or to gloat but, without being apologetic or ashamed. It is what it is.

    There are a LOT of people dealing with depression and a LOT more who self-destruct in an attempt to deny it. Given the statistics, a lot of people we know are being treated for depression and, like most of us, suffer in silence while faking a stiff upper lip.

    Hang in, good work.

    • yeah. when i think i’m really suffering i should think of all those doing the same without the language to describe it, without knowing it’s biologically rooted, or having a single soul they can talk to about it. of course when we’re /really/ suffering there’s not much room for anything else. not even well-placed ‘shoulds.’

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