So, you probably have already realized I'm something of a Wendell Berry fan. I am continually amazed at how well he can articulate the state of the world, the reasons for it, and the interconnectedness of all things. I am equally awed by his ability to propose solutions, real solutions, and his understanding of why we're not moving towards those. Although our training is worlds apart, I feel like he is a kindred spirit in the work I'm doing.
I mention him because of that intersection. He's helped me to clarify what I'm experiencing in session with a wide range of folks from a wide range of places (I've recently begun accepting Skype sessions with a select number of people). Many of the people I am seeing are in this truly deep state of depression that seems to require medication because it just won't resolve. Now, you will hear people throw out terms like "clinical depression" as if to differentiate from I know not what but I think it's to imply a biological origin that requires medication as opposed to something you can "fix". Interestingly, I see many of these people when they've run out of medication options and are still struggling.
Now, before we go any further, let me assure you, they are very much struggling.
What I am struggling with, in the face of their struggles, is that no one is talking about why people are struggling. No one is talking about the fact that people are achieving more, we have a higher standard of living across the board than ever before, in North America and lower life satisfaction. Why would that be? It's not probable that as an organism, our ability to process information and turn it into moods has evolved so the majority of people need some type of psychotropic to get through the day - and they're still depressed/miserable/exhausted. Evolution just does not work that quickly (consider our wisdom teeth, for example).
The fact is that we're struggling because as a society, we're constantly getting a message that we, as individuals, aren't good enough, we aren't rich enough, organized enough, fancy enough, posh enough, happy enough, beautiful enough. No matter what we buy, it's not the right house, car, clothes, food - even if it was when we bought it. We should be fit and at the gym all of the time but at home with our kids or developing our creative pursuits, or committed to our work and exhausted by it but also fulfilled and doing work we feel passionate about and invigorated by with a smile on our face and a firm commitment in our hearts. But also at home helping our kids with their homework or volunteering, and making homemade everything. Our kids should be perfect and model children but also free to express themselves and be creative but also academic and athletic and independent and thoughtful but not cause too much of a fuss or go against the grain. And we should have me time but also self care (and no, they are not the same thing) but be 100% committed to our place and 100% committed to our family.
Do you see where I'm going here?
My currently feeling is, to put on my therapist hat, that we're living in a world where the adults are actually being pushed into an adolescent role and that is not healthy. The State will take care of everything for you - just buy things and keep the economy going and it will all work out. Except it's not, is it? Our epidemic of antidepressants and other medications would be the biggest sign of that. I was at a training a couple of years ago that really opened my eyes to the problem. The presenter - a psychologist who happened to also be a lawyer - gave us the stat that one of the biggest areas of growth in prescription medications was in 2-3 year old children who are being given psychostimulants for deficits of attention. Now, I don't know how much you know about 2-3 year olds but they are most definitely the poster child for deficits of attention and they're supposed to be.
That doesn't say to me we have an epidemic of children who *need* medication, bad parents, or bad doctors. It says that as a society, we have no idea about whats normal development, and we put unrealistic expectations on a wide range of people starting around age two, it seems. We're also putting unreasonable expectations on the parents - toddlers are messy and can be loud and busy and they should be. If we medicate away what's normal, especially in a brain that's developing and changing that quickly, what harm might we be doing? And these poor parents have no idea where to turn - they just know that they have the "bad" kid, the one who doesn't fit the model and they don't know what to do so they turn to the experts. It's a pretty sick system. Instead of worrying we're missing the 1 kid who might really need some pharmaceutical help, we've cast such a wide net that a statistically significant number of families and kids have been caught in it.
Where's the harm? Well, even if we know that the medication isn't altering brain function in a substantive way (something research has proven not to be true but I won't get into that here) the fact is that for me, this puts the onus back on the person as a flawed individual. It's not that each individual is inundated with messages that they can't possibly live up to, it's that something is wrong with you as a person. You're flawed and in need of help except that you're not. Much like a teen who is torn between the values of family, their social group, media pressure, and school, I'm seeing more and more people unsure and scared they'll mess up.
And you know what, they're right. Life is messy people. We all step in the muck from time to time.
It's not stepping in the muck that's the problem, it's how we stay in it until someone comes to get us out. If no one comes then what? The fact is, most of us have the tools to get ourselves out, we just need some elbow grease and we can do it. The biggest hurdle I'm seeing is that no one wants to walk around with muck on their shoes but we've all got some. Sometimes it's more, sometimes it's less but no one of us are immune. Some of us can buy new shoes and hide each mucky pair in the closet but eventually, the closet fills up. We forget too that muck serves a purpose - it's cleansing, its fertilizing, without it we don't grow.
So, embrace your muck, believe in yourself, and start having faith that you know more than you think. The Powers That Be will only take care of you for as long as they get something out of it but that's ok, you don't need them. You just need to believe in yourself, rely on the people you have real relationships with, and don't fear the muck._