Monday, May 26, 2008

Getting Through the Human Experience

To be alone is one of the greatest evils.
William James

Psychopharmaceuticals are plentiful here in the United States as a way to help individuals cope with  psychic angst.  Pharmaceuticals are marketed as a means to help anyone who is bereft with depression, PTSD, personality disorders, anxiety, PMS, menopause, postpartum-related depression, mood disorders, dysthymic conditions, and even grief.  

A high number of bereaved parents, in my experience mostly mothers, are also prescribed anti-depressants. For some, these pharmaceutical remedies can bring equilibrium to a person who is fraught with debilitating mental illnesses.  Yet, are we pathologizing normal, albeit painful, human experiences of suffering?

Indeed for others, according to Dr. Elio Frattaroli and psychiatrists critical of the overuse of prescriptions, SSRIs are being used as a shortcut to healing, the McDonald's treatment plan of the 21st Century- the comfortable numbing of a society.  We are afraid to feel suffering.  We are uncertain of our own strengths to cope with loss. We do not know how much we can- and should- rely on one another to help us through the human experience.

Interestingly, while SSRIs can help some selective patients with legitimate mental disorders, there are also long-lasting effects of SSRI use. Researchers at the University of Ottawa have discovered a correlation between stillbirth and other negative birth outcomes and SSRIs.   While other studies have demonstrated inefficacy of some SSRIs, even in the case of the severely depressed wherein SSRIs were no more efficacious than a placebo. In some cases, it's worse than we realize. SSRIs were identified to increase violent thoughts toward self or others, including suicidal thoughts. The FDA has warned of these dangers at least twice; yet so many people remain enslaved in a cycle of medication and remedication.

I am not an expert in the use of psychopharmaceuticals for the severely depressed.  

I do, however, know that there are voluminous studies on the benefits of human connectedness, social support, and compassionate others.  Being connected with and supported by others helps women have healthier babies with higher Apgar scores. It helps women cope with the stress and angst of breast cancer. It reduces the effects of postpartum depression.  It helps the homeless and mentally ill.  It even helps accelerate recovery from a myocardial infarction (heart attack).

We are a society of aloneness, a society afraid of really experiencing our own emotions and the feelings of others. Many are emotionally bankrupt, while others are depleted of the most basic of human empathy. We are rushed, hurried, and harried. We do not have time for pause, or reflection, or grief- we have not scheduled suffering into our calendars. Our lives are consumed and constricted by things that are not real- Hollywood gossip, Blackberries and Palm Pilots, parties, Prada shoes, and consumerism. We are so diverted from what really matters that we hardly recognize that which is real- even real relationships. So few of us really have time for authentic relationships- the types of friendships in which we can entrust our pain and suffering. And it takes a tremendous amount of psychic energy to maintain the fraudulence of empty lives.  Is it any wonder so many in Western society face the types of existential crises that cry out for meaning and purpose and connection?

There is no substitute for human relationships. In the absence of meaningful connections to others, we will not survive as a species nor as individuals. We need one another to help us through suffering. We need guidance through the human experience. The answers do not lie in a bottle or in a pill or in distractions or in diversions. Our salvation from suffering, what will save us from the darkness, is the hope, love, empathy, and compassion we offer and receive from one another. It is the only way through the human experience.

Have you come to that Red Sea place in your life 
where there is no way out but through?
Merritt Malloy


tengu said...

Would you distinguish between loneliness and being alone?

I agree with the over reliance on pharma, but my approach is different, more to do with strengthening (relative concept) the mind and body, so that an experience can make the experiencer stronger or better.

Not too long ago during random net surfing I came across a cuddle club in NY. I wish they had those in these parts. The point being, contact, non-sexual, but based on empathy, love, positivity, is good. At the same time, being alone does not have to be negative. I interpret that as loneliness, whereas alone is more to do with understanding the singleness of me, or another, while accepting a common ground of being human. Through the common ground I connect, but I accept the difference of the individual, neither expecting nor projecting.

Perhaps the medical profession would be better off reading a little bit of foucault, to open their awareness of what has led 'us' to where we are.

i'll revisit from time to time. interesting thoughts.



Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

I believe James' idea of alone was not in the material sense, rather in the existential sense.

I'm also not sure about "cuddle clubs" and their real efficacy. It seems physicality is only one aspect of loneliness, and there are many ways and situations in which we are being touched by others or are surrounded by others, yet still lonely.

Thanks for your comments and for visiting!

tengu said...

not necessarily to be posted, just a quick reply before sleep takes over.

true. i have not read James, and I would agree with your inference. from my personal experience, being surrounded by people and yet being alone, unable to communicate or 'bond' in some way, is quite heavy going. personally, until recently i hoped to find an 'other' to be my companion, until i realised the co-dependency this risked leading to, even though eventually, it would be sweet to find such an individual. but even so, existentially, aren't we alone anyway? it's a recurring theme in my life, which perhaps may explain why flipping 'loneliness' into neutral-positive ground may have helped so much.

also, food for thought (valid-centered on me). as one develops, i find 2 things stand out. the first has to do with whether anyone else is interested in doing self development, which is important in as much as a social being, i interact in relationships with individuals who have a certain 'power' in the social (and not all 'social' terrains can be chosen at will, some come part and parcel with what one wishes to pursue, not all relationships are (lack of better word) two-somes and the dynamics can get complicated very quickly). these same individuals may force us to assume modes of being that are quite unhealthy, yet there are few alternatives allowing 'harmonious' working relations. masks :D

secondly, without getting into a superior/inferior frame, to what extent can one break into the 'blissful ignorance' of an other to set things right (and at what point does this not become arrogance in assuming one knows what is right?)?

i'm of the opinion that there are no easy answers, or 'true' answers, except perhaps to our 'selves'. which returns back to square one, getting to grips with 'aloneness' vs 'loneliness', existentially, but also in a social dimension, unless one wants to go live in a cave, literally or metaphorically.

the example of the 'cuddle clubs' was just to point out an attempt at a different form of communication and sociality (and a creative form i might add), which is not based on the rules or modalities taken for granted as the way to be. having neither participated nor read any validating opinion (yours would be the first!), i won't go further. personally, methinks 200 yrs down the road (if we make it;) some studies will contribute to understanding how verbal and visual communication play a much smaller role than we think, and even here, how these are conditioned by our 'beliefs' of what they are. ((ps search on bbc online for a recent report on a study to do with premature births and cuddling (or skin contact with parents, i can't remember). decreases stress levels. the results could interest you.))

have a sweet day.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Yes, I've seen and love those studies about the power of human touch...Ashley Montague wrote a fantastic book called Touching. If you can pick it up, I highly recommend it. He's fantastic!

Anonymous said...

This hits home with me in a profound way.
Beside the repeated suggestions that I medicate my grief, to "get through it easier", or those terrible days of feeling that if I didn't take something, I might harm myself, maybe even wantng to in many ways.. with the very thing they wanted me to take for help.

But I decided immediately... I wanted, I needed, to feel Dallas' death. To feel it in every spltting second, so that I may understand... so that I may indeed come through it.
I needed to feel his death as I felt his birth.
I honestly believe that had I been medicated "out" of my grief, I would be stuck in that one moment to this day.

I neither advocate nor disapprove of medicating when it is needed. But I don't know if I believe it should be taken to facilitate some easier grief. It can never be easy.
I don't even think I believe it should be.

I am so glad you posted this, it has been on my mind lately.
I am grateful as always for your insight and teaching.


Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Oh Angie-Thank you for your response. I hold you and Dallas in my daily thoughts...


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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