“Delusional ideas [are] understood as a form of absolutism — a radical decontextualization serving vital restorative and defensive functions. Experiences that are insulated from dialogue cannot be challenged or invalidated.
– Robert D. Stolorow, “Trauma and Human Existence” (2007)
There has been a lot of work done over the last few years to bring to the foreground how mental health and well-being affects everyone, from every quadrant of society, regardless of their geography, culture, race, or class. And I say, as both an emerging mental health professional and citizen: bravo.
There is, however, something which bothers me in the midst of this accelerated (but otherwise welcome) media awareness campaign. It is the habitually casual use of the term “mental illness”, rather than “mental health”. There is more than a semantic difference between the two.
“Illness” is a medicalized notion. It correlates to somatic cause and effect: the patient’s body is sick, so the patient must take x to get better. When you have an illness, you take drugs to get better. Illness implies sickness, which implies the prescription of medicine. “Health” is a generalized notion, which may incorporate the taking of medication but certainly also encompasses needs which do not strictly apply to treatment via medication.
When we lump such disparate problems as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, cigarette addiction, and behavioural/emotional anxiety under a catch-all phrase, that term should not imply that everything which falls under its domain be medicalized or seen as a medical problem.
If you fear that you may have a problem which is affecting the quality of your life, slapping the word “illness” on it is needlessly stigmatizing. Illness = something is wrong. And when “illness” comes after “mental”, it can then seem to someone that they are wrong or somehow broken. In other words, the constant use of “mental illness” as a generalized term for discussion actually perpetuates a needless (and ironic) branding upon those who are affected.
Quite frankly, to use “mental health” is to say that someone who feels that something is affecting the quality of their life is not ill. They may not feel well, but they still have agency. It’s well-documented that what may appear to some as “symptoms” of behavioural or emotional disorders are in actuality subconscious attempts by the person affected to become healthy. We can facilitate this quite easily by not stigmatizing the language around mental health with terms that needlessly cast an onerous light on the problem.
We live in an atmosphere concentrated with media: we are drenched so deep that we don’t often realize how integral it has become in our lives. In my fiction, which can be speculative and sometimes nodding to “the future”, I don’t mention this much. I was wondering if, by not speaking to this (awesome/scary) fact of life, I was missing out on saying something substantial about our lives; then again, a writer with the intent to say “something substantial about our lives” is often asking for more than they can deliver to begin with. Perhaps I intentionally avoid the subject. Perhaps I want, fictionally, to portray a world where the reader can escape our media fishbowl, not content to stare into our monitors and smartphones – into any one of the many shining screens around us. *
(*This is not to say that, as someone who writes stories to be read, I am exempt from any of what I go on to describe.)
As Madge the manicurist in the Palmolive commercials used to say: “You’re soaking in it.” And we are.
My concern, as far as this post goes, is not the number of screens surrounding us, nor is it the gross subsidization of our environment by advertising (vis à vis self-interested parties). Content is king, after all. And, unlike ads and the proliferation of screens, I feel we don’t look at content very closely.
We are essentially surrounded by narratives.
I was once accused by the chaplain of Massey College of being a gnostic. He was very angry with me indeed. But part of being gnostic was using your head if you wanted to achieve salvation or even a tolerable life. That is something that the Christian church tends rather to discourage. Salvation is free for everyone. The greatest idiot and yahoo can be saved, the doctrine goes, because Christ loves him as much as he loves Albert Einstein. I don’t think that is true. I think that civilization—life—has a different place for the intelligent people who try to pull us a little further out of the primal ooze than it has for the boobs who just trot along behind, dragging on the wheels. This sort of opinion has won me the reputation of being an elitist. Behold an elitist.
This is from a wonderful interview with the multifaceted author, Robertson Davies, for the Paris Review. His responses are well-considered, done as they were before everyone felt pressured to distill themselves into soundbites. He provides a wonderful perspective on fiction writing, the role of the writer, what his own background lends to his writer’s toolkit, as well as an assortment of miscellany (including a very interesting reflection on the differences between Freudian and Jungian psychology, no less). He was a true character.
Not much updating lately. There is a reason. Actually, two:
1) I’ve signed with a literary agency who are interested in my current novel. This is great/fabulous/OMG news. However, because there are substantive revisions to be made (in order to clarify some of the details in the book and make it easier to sell to a publisher), my time is taken up with that.
2) I am beginning my career transition, from film/TV Post Production Supervisor to Psychotherapist. I haven’t really made that public here, but it’s happening. I will begin to discuss it soon, because obviously it will need some explanation. Part of the transition has been renovating our basement to be an office – while this is a great idea (even still), it’s also been a great deal of work and stress and cost.
So, as you can see, particularly when you factor-in work-work, my plate is full. I will send updates here as they happen – or you can simply subscribe to updates. I will obviously have much to share with you about how both of these developments…um, develop.
Needless to say, it’s an exciting, somewhat scary time.
Everyone is waiting for the zombie genre (in books, television, and particularly film) to whither away like a desiccated corpse. I argue that it’s here to stay – that, in fact, it has stronger legs (ugh) than most other genres of the macabre.
The dread of zombies imagined – the tiredness some of us feel with each iteration (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Walking Dead, Zombieland) – is understandable. Less understandable than with vampires, but understandable still. There are too many zombie and zombie-like (for the record, 28 Weeks Later is not, strictly-speaking, a zombie film, yet it more or less qualifies itself by virtue of many shared) themes in books, shows, and movies these days. But I would argue that it’s because – due to our increased connectedness to each other via the Internet and social media – we are exposed to real life zombies. Thematic zombies. Metaphorical zombies. And the exposure stands to increase.
A shitload of people voted for a complete ass to be the mayor of Toronto. A shit. Load. Mind you, not many who lived downtown did. Still, it was a rout. People like me – people who prize intelligent discourse over pot shots, people who would prefer to be ruled by someone with an informed conscience rather than a bullet-list of to-dos – were incredulous. It didn’t even matter what quadrant of the political spectrum Rob Ford occupied: he was the last person any reasonably well-informed person would have wanted. And yet he won in spades.
Thematic zombies. Metaphorical zombies. The dread of zombies.
Who voted for him? Who can say that they “understand” him? Are they too not also zombies by virtue of his succession to the throne of city council? Faceless, nameless, godless, conscience-less hordes hefted Mr. Ford to office, and we stand here still – a year later – asking ourselves just what the hell happened, watching the circus of political buffoonery before our eyes.
Lest this become a solely personal treatise, isn’t this the same for everyone? Aren’t we witnessing “zombie activity” in other guises: large groups of seemingly nameless, faceless, godless, conscience-less hordes blindly enabling things we fundamentally disagree with but are powerless to dispell? For me it’s the rise of Rob Ford, for others it could be the Occupy movement. For others still, it could be the revolution in Tahrir Square. The massive, faceless but powerful other. The faceless, godless, conscience-less hordes…with agency.
Thematic zombies. Metaphorical zombies. The dread of zombies.
No, it is not going away. Make popcorn.
“Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.”
– Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Austrian psychotherapist
The more I read about mutuality – the art of affecting and being affected by another, particularly within the context of a therapeutic environment – the more I realize that the online world is a place (or a thing) which appears to function this way, yet in practice is typically abstinent and unilateral.
With the Internet (as much as I hate using that word so generally) we have a vast infrastructure – insert plumbing/transit/Tower of Babel metaphors – whose sole purpose is the nearly instantaneous transmission of information. Yet, the ways and methods that we — its users, managers, and architects — have managed to communicate with each other have not evolved in-step with the technological state-of-the-art.
This is not to say that we cannot experience mutuality via internet communication, but rather a) current technological interfaces do a better job of anonymizing the personalities of its users rather than accentuating them, and b) the interpersonal efficacy of this technology has not progressed past what was available in 1996, since the advent of full-duplex sound cards. Continue reading
I am spending the summer immersing myself in reading all things psycho. I came across a statement which, if you can get past the academic tone, provides a key interpretation of how the relational approach (which is what I’m studying) is divergent from classical psychoanalysis’ emphasis on a one-person psychology.
“The relational-perspectivist approach I am advocating views the patient-analyst relationship as continually being established and reestablished through ongoing mutual influence in which both patient and analyst systematically affect, and are affected by, each other. A communication process is established between patient and analyst in which influence flows in both directions. This implies a “two-person psychology” or a regulatory-systems conceptualization of the analytic process. The terms transference and countertransference too easily lend themselves to a model that implies a one-way influence in which the analyst reacts to the patient. That the influence between patient and analyst is not equal does not mean that it is not mutual; the analytic relationship may be mutual without being symmetrical.”
– Lewis Aron, A Meeting of Minds: Mutuality in Psychoanalysis
The author proceeds to develop this distinction between relational and classical (two-person vs. one-person psychology) as it pertains to intersubjectivity (the mutual awareness of what the other is thinking/feeling in a therapeutic environment and how this field of awareness affects both the patient and analyst). The quote above is a brilliantly distilled proposition which may seem commonsensical on first reading, but with a broader understanding of the history of psychoanalysis I can see how revolutionary a statement this is.
I am trying (desperately) to avoid a “boy, it’s been a wacky ride these last few months!” post. It certainly isn’t for lack of things to talk about, news to update you with, opinions to confess/shout.
Thing is, I don’t know who you are. Sure, I know there are some of you who are semi-regular visitors. There are others who happen upon this place by accident (via Blogger or StumbleUpon). There are also those who come here via Google searches, either via my name or – most likely – a book review (which admittedly I haven’t done in, oh, a year or so *). And no, this isn’t going to be a “Matt wittily evading accusations of being a lazy bastard by turning the camera on the reader” post.
I’ve been posting artsy stuff, writerly stuff, industry opinion stuff. I don’t mind the randomness, so long as there’s no fluff. I do mind the lack of output. I wish, for one, that I could post more photographs (which is to say, I wish I had a better selection of photos to post **).
It comes down to the fact that I’ve been working like a dog since May (note: this happens every year that I’m working on a SAW film). When I come out of these periods, I feel like Rip van Winkle: a little dazed, slow on the up-take. Whereas last year this time I started teaching, this time this year I am a student (part-time) †. I have a small (but good) feature and a small (but good and potentially controversial) TV show on my plate from now till February. If funds allow, I also hope to have an editor working with me on my novel, with an eye to approaching a publisher or self-publishing if that doesn’t seem feasible ††. I’m collaborating on a musical.
My plate is full.
– – –
* which isn’t to say that I’m not reading or that I don’t want to do any more book reviews. I’m reading a lot of non-fiction, thank you. Much of it either out of professional or academic interest. However, if only to improve my Google ranking, here’s a quick book review of Antwerp by Roberto Bolaño: What the fuck was that? (ISBN-13: 978-0811217170)
** another casualty of working so much is my photography. I still have the same roll of film in my camera that I’d loaded in June. I think I’ve only taken 4 exposures since then. Of course, my cellphone camera gets all the fun these days, unfortunately.
† I will be continuing teaching, but for only two terms this year as opposed to three (which was exhausting and… exhausting)
†† It needs a new name, for one thing. And I know this is going to drive me up the wall more than any changes to the actual content of the book.