Our happiness, or unhappiness, we are often reminded, flows directly from how we view the world. That glass– half full or half empty? Life, full of cool, even miraculous, possibilities or a grim waiting room for inevitable depressing decline and death?
Of course, this kind of either-or thinking, so prevalent in our culture, can be as unproductive as it is simplistic. It’s true we are better served taking pleasure from small things than being tormented by what Professor Bukowski astutely called “that swarm of trivialities that can kill quicker than cancer, and which are always there”. But our lives here are complex and, at least for some of us, defy the kind of easy logic that tells us it’s better to look on the bright side than the dark side. Better to be active and productive, solving problems as they arise, than paralyzed by shifting, hazily understood affective disorders. These mood disorders, a quick check of the internet informs us, can not be detected by medical tests.
When I was a kid Batman was on TV, a colorful, campy live action version of the comic book. Many episodes ended in a cliff-hanger, the Dynamic Duo trapped in a room with the water rising, the floor and ceiling slowly moving toward each other to crush them, the walls, spiked with swords, closing in. Viewers were exhorted to tune in next time at the same bat time, same bat channel.
The walls closing in would begin the next episode, and just as things were a second from fatal, Batman’s ingenuity, gadgets, fearlessness and physical prowess would save the day. They’d get out of the trap and go kick the bad guy’s ass.
I struggled out into this frigid day with the image of the walls closing in. The walls are not closing in. Metaphors are one thing, the walls actually closing in are another. I did a little research to see if the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy study was still going on at a local psychiatric institute. I’d been given a doctor’s name and number yesterday, more than a month after I’d made several inquiries. I called and haven’t heard back yet, so I did a bit more research about the study on-line.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is, and I couldn’t say it better myself: a “structured, short-term, present-oriented psychotherapy for depression, directed toward solving current problems and modifying dysfunctional (inaccurate and/or unhelpful) thinking and behavior.”
I’d prefer this action oriented, insight based approach to the usual psycho-pharmaceutical one so often endorsed by well-paid, highly respected snake oil salesmen. You can read a thorough review of the effectiveness and testing of these pills here. Placebos, it has been demonstrated, are more than 80% as effective as the patent drugs for treating things like depression, dysthymia, anxiety disorder. (Which reminds me, I have to stop putting off reordering my organic placebo– it always gives me a tiny jolt of hope when I take it every morning).
I read about the study and was suddenly stopped in my tracks. The first step, after a psychological evaluation to determine your level of affective disorder, is to pop you head first into a long, claustrophobic metal tube, where amid frightful banging, your brain will be scanned to get an image of the “before” brain.
“Fuck that,” I found myself saying, shrugging out of my skin and preparing to hop on to my skeleton, waiting alertly on all fours, to gallop off screaming into the night.