Some time ago, I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about my personal life. Of course, I write first-person descriptions of the foolishness on display at political rallies, but as far as the reader is concerned, the article could have been written by John Doe or Sally Smith. There can be no benefit at all to bringing Dack Rouleau into the story as a singular person: for our ethnographical purposes, the perpetual adolescent known as Dack Rouleau is a non-entity, one that is completely irrelevant to the value of our story. There must be an author, and the author’s knowledge of the current topic must come to bear, but anything pertaining to the author subjectively is really best avoided. There’s no need for you to know about the color of my socks, or my earliest memory, or the first girl I had a crush on. And you definitely don’t need to know about the time I tried to kill myself and was locked up in the looney bin for a week.
That’s my personal information, you see, and there’s no reason at all for you to know about it. My reason for keeping it private is personal, too. It’s not that I’m worried you’re going to distrust me as a reliable source of information if you find out I’m suicidal; if you think that has anything to do with the accuracy of my reporting on what happens at Joe Biden’s rallies, then there’s not a whole lot I can do to help you. No, if anything, my fear is that you place excessive, undue value on me—me as a person, if not me as a writer—strictly out of unchecked sympathy. Sympathy is a terrible barometer for one’s intellectual value; if it weren’t, then Dave Pelzer wouldn’t be the worst writer in American history. In other words, the last thing I want is for you to think that I must be worth listening to, that you are morally obligated to read my writing, for no other reason than my history of nearly lethal sadness.
Truth be told, I’m ashamed of what I did—not because of the social stigma surrounding psychiatric hospitals, but because the whole ridiculous incident reveals how shamefully immature I was at the time. Of course, this is not to say that all those who check themselves into “crisis centers”—or, as in my case, are handcuffed and dragged there by the police—are immature, but it is to say that my specific problems had an awful lot to do with my obstinate inability to slap myself in the head and understand that the world is incapable of solving my problems for me. That isn’t quite the lesson I learned at the cuckoo’s nest, either—inside, I didn’t do much besides flirt with another patient and watch Disney movies—but it’s the lesson that I have come to learn, after more than two years of life after my imprisonment . . . um, hospitalization.
I have no doubt that an entire gaggle of “mental health advocates” (whatever that means) will read that last paragraph and demand my impalement. “How dare this curly-haired degenerate denigrate the dignity of American mental healthcare! Soon, he’ll be endorsing Marianne Williamson, whose unlettered commentary on psychotropic medications undoubtedly will inspire millions of people to kill themselves this year!” Well, those hypothetical critics of mine did stumble upon one kernel of truth: I’m writing this piece, one which I will probably regret publishing, only because I simply could not tolerate the embarrassing controversy surrounding Marianne Williamson’s criticism of the pharmaceutical industry. Usually, we love it when a politician says something nasty about Big Pharma, but because Williamson is drawing attention to the problem of thoughtless dispensation of antidepressants, suddenly she finds herself encroaching on taboos.
Let’s kick the ballistics, here: if you don’t think that antidepressants are way too ubiquitous in the United States, then you and I have very different understandings of American culture. I won’t bore you with the particulars of my suicidality, but suffice to say that I was grieving because of loss: a loved one of mine died, and I couldn’t process her death. Accordingly, I sought counseling, only to be told by most of my prospective therapists that they couldn’t work with me because I was “too depressed” and they were “unqualified” to work with a suicidal person. It was a lie, of course, but of the select few who agreed to work with me, their first instinct was to refer me to a psychiatrist, the sole purpose of which was to win me a prescription for some kind of psychotropic. I refused to do so, and because I was adamant that I would not take medication, even those select few soon became desperate to formally discharge me.
Here’s the problem, though: my depression was not inexplicable. I was depressed because I lost an individual whom I loved. Last time I checked, the normal emotional response to this situation is sadness. Is it appropriate for a doctor to observe this melancholia and declare, “You must treat this issue with psychotropic medication”? Wouldn’t medication be more appropriate if the patient wasn’t exhibiting any depressive symptoms in the aftermath of loss? I’m not suggesting that my self-destructive response should be encouraged, but in my view, encouraging suicide is every bit as ridiculous as discouraging depressive expression. In fact, the latter is much more abnormal from a purely human perspective! How do you expect people to navigate the world, to value human life, if they are denied the basic right to grief?
Don’t let any of these questions interfere with the self-satisfaction of the Twitter mob, of course. Hardly any time elapsed after Marianne Williamson delivered her critique—her overdue critique, in my humble opinion—of Big Pharma’s role in flooding the markets with antidepressants before scores of consumers took to Twitter to denounce her for suggesting that anything may conceivably be wrong with their selected form of treatment. Only the incurably reactionary would believe that Williamson’s complaint was tantamount to an excoriation of those who are prescribed the drugs that she denounces, but this is America, where the customer is always right, and so, her criticism of the omnipotent drug industry was interpreted as a personal attack by far too many—which is to say: by more than none.
Never mind that the displacement of psychotherapy by pharmacology was finalized in the Reagan Reign, when public funding for mental healthcare was dealt a mortal wound, the better to finance the pecuniary orgies on Wall Street and in the Department of Defense. Never mind that sustained talk therapy, the kind of therapy wherein psychologists can really come to know their clients, has been all but abandoned with the slandering of Freud, Jung, and the field’s many other pioneers. Never mind that hardly anyone alive today has heard of a man named Harry Stack Sullivan—the man who proposed that schizophrenia was not a mental illness at all, but rather, the mind’s failed and frustrated attempt to process some especially troubling piece of information, the man who called on his fellow researchers to help their patients to identify what was holding them back, and who never dismissed a patient’s predicament as a problem that could be solved with a prescription. No, the board of directors of every capitalist-medical conglomerate possess the key to mental health care, you see, and anyone who questions their perspicacity must be dismissed as a pseudoscientific, or worse.
“Worse”, in this case, is a synonym for “insensitive fearmonger and promoter of hate”. In the last few days, I’ve seen so many people declare, #ineedmymedsmarianne. The hashtag is accompanied by anecdotes of people who survived their emotional ordeals only because they had antidepressants or, in other cases, of people who died only because they didn’t. Either example can be dismissed on the basis of insufficient evidence, as there is no definitive proof that psychotropic medication (or the lack thereof) made the difference in literally any instance. Psychology is still among the softest sciences, and no amount of money poured into pharmacology will change that reality.
At this point, my imaginary critics reappear. “Okay, smarty-pants: how did you overcome your depression?” Who said I did? I’m still depressed as hell. Do you think I’ve gotten over that loss? Of course not: I’ll never get over it. I don’t think I should; to “get over it” implies that the loss didn’t really mean all that much to me, ya hear? Adding to my misery is the fact that I don’t have any friends, that I’ve never felt any love in my life, that I see the world getting worse by the minute, and a million other “thats” that I really don’t feel like enumerating right now. These aren’t things that can, or should, be cured by a pill: if a pill made me forget that I’m lonely, unloved, and largely powerless to stop the world from declining by the minute, then wouldn’t that pill, by definition, be wrecking untold damage upon my mental apparatus?
I have, however, overcome the immediate compulsion to kill myself. For the moment, at least, I am not interested in killing myself. How have I reached this point of relative stability? By reading philosophy—Nietzsche and Plato in particular—to help me to articulate some of my frustrations and disappointments with American society and culture. I also stopped taking drugs, started running twenty-six miles a week, and recently, I resumed my weightlifting. It’s not that Nietzsche helps me in my job, or that living drug-free helps me to appreciate cinema, or that running and weightlifting help me to make friends, but all of these activities make me feel just a little bit worthless—or a little worthier, if I am to look at the glass as being half-full. I can’t derive the same benefit by taking Trazodone, no matter what the dosage.
And that brings me to my climactic point. For the last fifteen months or so, I’ve been taking Trazodone to help me sleep. I asked for help sleeping in the spring of 2018 because I was so sad, so entrenched in my own misery, that I saw no other way out of my despair. I thought that I needed some kind of pharmacological assistance, some kind of emergency cord wherewith I could escape the pit of my own comprehensive emotional grotesquerie. At the very least, I was desperate for a good night’s sleep. I won’t deny that I have slept better since I started taking Trazodone, but I also understand that I would sleep much more easily at night if I felt some love in my life, if I had some friends, if the world wasn’t such a hostile place, etc. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for my unhappiness, for my inability to sleep well at night, and no amount of Trazodone can cure that.
Accordingly, in the midst of this misguided controversy surrounding Marianne Williamson, I have decided to stop taking Trazodone. I haven’t taken any since Friday night, I think, and I’m still here, still alive, still standing, and still sad. But I am alive.
For those of you who are struggling to contend with your own unhappiness, I don’t pretend to have the answer for you. I can’t guarantee that reading Nietzsche and Plato will make you feel better, or even enable you to express yourselves as successfully as I can. All I can say that is that the answer, your answer, won’t be found at the bottom of a bottle of pills. Even if those pills grant you the confidence to do great things—to meet the love of your life, for instance—remember that it was not the pills, but your newfound confidence, that effected the necessary change.
Likewise, it was not the Trazodone that enabled me to write to you tonight; it was twenty years of reading and writing that enabled me to do that. It was not the Trazodone that cured my depression, either; nothing has cured that, and I suspect that nothing ever will. Finally, blaming Marianne Williamson for your illusory dependency on unproven pharmaceuticals will not lead you to any of the long-sought-after solutions to your problems, any more than aiming a loaded pistol at my own skull was going to solve mine. Insert sarcastic joke here.