Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
I know that anxiety is considered a psychiatric condition these days, but I just have something to say about that. I remember a time in my life when I had no anxiety at all- I was married to someone who paid the bills, I had health insurance, I had it made. I could have done just about anything I wanted to. I had little motivation to do anything. While I was busy being relaxed, my life was falling apart behind my back. When I ended up divorced, I was anxious all the time. I had to figure out how to solve all sorts of problems I’d never dealt with. Suddenly, I found myself motivated and capable of just about anything. I was also not the slightest bit depressed, which I often was when I was married. The sense of anxiety hasn’t ever left me, I just use it as an impetus to get my ass in gear and take care of business. What if I’d gone on anti-anxiety meds when I got divorced? I shudder to think. What is your opinion on this whole “emotions are a disorder” phenomena that seems to be sweeping the country?
There are two different issues here. I will start with the smaller one. What you are describing is the normal anxiety that anyone would feel in a dire situation. This isn’t a psychiatric issue and shouldn’t be medicated. It is called being human and alive. However, a constant sense of dread and despondency that has no visible source or that is out of proportion to the environmental stimulus is another story. This can be a condition that benefits from medication. Unfortunately, in our culture most people seek medications for what are really just normal human emotions.
Anxiety, as you described it, is a necessary part of the feedback mechanism of the brain that tells you to say no, get out of there, or stop doing whatever you are doing that is making you ill. It is also part of common sense.
The bigger issue I see is the false advertising and unrealistic expectations that dominate the field of psychiatry today. It is the reason that everyone you know on some kind of psychiatric medication. The commercials on TV promise that pills will make problems go away. It’s a promise that can’t be delivered.
Psychiatric medications do not, in reasonable use, make you “happy” and can’t permanently erase your anxiety. Marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, and alcohol, are far more efficient than any psychiatric medication to either numb your emotions or cause temporary elation.
The purpose of psychiatry is not to remove your suffering or uncomfortable emotions, but to help you to transform those experiences into something meaningful and useful. Psychiatry is supposed to help you to provide context for your suffering, to help you see it as part of human existence and intimately involved with the meaning of one’s life. It is only in our modern thinking that we have come to expect a life with no suffering at all. But that is like asking to cease being human.
Be careful what you ask for- your modern psychiatrist will, at your request, keep medicating you to the point of oblivion. If that doesn’t work they will plug you into a wall socket and eradicate your memory. It is our current paradigm and the promise of an end to suffering!
Dr. Brilliant cliché
Granny says: wow, wouldn’t it be great if psychiatry really did help us to transform difficult feelings into something meaningful and useful? But as Dr. B pointed out, the current paradigm does not do that. Right now, psychiatry is symptom based and it seeks to erase those symptoms as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Absolutely everything in our economic system supports this idea, from the booming pharmaceutical companies, to the TV programs that need sponsors, to the sky rocketing fees for health care. It’s useful that the public is brain-washed by those commercials, because it sends them to their doctors to ask for a prescription. The doctor gets paid, the pharmaceutical companies make money, reality shows and police dramas continue and everybody’s happy. Another medication junkie enters the economic food chain.
I’m guessing that Dr. B did not intend to recommend street drugs and booze as an alternative to psychiatric medications. But sharing a glass of wine with friends after fighting the good fight all day is vastly different from being a boozer or pothead. I think that half the people who are on antidepressants or Xanax would do much better off if they could make do with the social imbibing that healthy normal people sometimes do. Unfortunately, many of those who are medicated can’t control any substance they use.
Quite honestly, I think that we are becoming depersonalized as a society and the over-use of psychiatric medications is part of a bigger problem. Too many people walk around staring down at some device, ignoring what’s going on around them, living through apps. But normal human emotions are not something we can process with an app or resolve through word symbols. I really think that most of us would prefer not to have emotions. They just get in the way of all this stuff we have to do whether we like it or not. I wish that I were joking. I fear that I am not.