A while back – two years? three? – I was interviewed by a fellow who does a lot of interviews for the Sun. For those of you not familiar, the Sun is a literary magazine that also runs some of the most interesting interviews I have the pleasure of reading; I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before.
Anyway. It was winter and I was sick as a dog the day our interview was scheduled, but I’d already rescheduled once for other reasons, so I stuck with it despite wanting to do what I generally do when I get sick, which is curl into a fetal ball and moan incessantly while my family caters to my every whim.
I think I gave the worst interview of my life. I really do. My heart just wasn’t in it, my brain felt cotton-y and insubstantial (even more so than usual), and furthermore, I just didn’t get the questions I was being asked. It seemed to me at the time that my interviewer was trying to get at some really deep shit – these were BIG questions, about the meaning of life and whatnot – and truth is, I don’t do too good with BIG questions. I much prefer small questions of the sort that evolve into conversation; that’s how I generally approach interviews when I’m on the other side of the equation, and that’s how I’ve always preferred to be interviewed. Small questions. Just chatting. In my experience, that’s where the really good stuff comes from.
The interview never ran, and I understand why. I could tell my answers were disappointing to my interviewer even as I gave voice to them; hell, they were disappointing to me. I felt bad for the dude, having to go home and polish that turd. I’m sure he tried his best, just as I tried my best to put the whole sorry affair out of my mind.
I was reminded of this because there’s yet again another superb interview in the Sun that you all might read. It’s with a psychotherapist named Gary Greenberg, and it’s about mental illness and the state of the mental illness industry (my term). The whole thing is fantastic; I’ll leave you with just a couple of teasers.
“… I also think we are indebted to history – and not just familial history, but cultural history, political history, and economic history – for our understanding of ourselves. Comprehending the way we’re situated in the world helps us comprehend suffering, come to terms with it, and maybe relieve it.
Let’s say I’m talking to a young person who is struggling to figure out what to do with his life. I might talk about how that dilemma has changed over the last twenty-five to thirty years. I might let him know that the question didn’t always create as much anxiety as it does now. Success today requires a narrower set of skills and talents and temperaments. It’s gotten harder to establish yourself in a career. So his anxiety is not caused just by his nervous system being on overdrive. It reflects a changing reality in which we all have to work harder than the next person to have a satisfying, meaningful, comfortable life.
Here’s a different example: Somebody comes in who works in a defense plant making nuclear weapons, and she’s feeling depressed and anxious. Therapy wouldn’t typically delve into the moral quandary of spending her days making weapons of mass destruction, but maybe it should.”
“A drug company can’t just sell Prozac as a product that will make you feel better – let alone change your personality (even though that is pretty much what it does) – because it would violate our ideal of who we are supposed to be. But if you can persuade people that their malaise is an illness, a biochemical imbalance no different in some respects from diabetes, then you can also persuade them to take drugs for it without violating that tenet of self-reliance. This has profound implications, not only for how we understand our suffering, but for what it means to be human. The medical industry is using its power to shape us into not only consumers of drugs but also people who think of consciousness as a function of brain chemistry.”
It’s worth noting that Greenberg does not dismiss drugs outright; he’s merely wary of the extent to which we’ve come to rely on them, which itself relates to the ever-expanding list of diagnosable mental illnesses.
That’s all. Except for a couple more tunes for your listening pleasure.