More or less the same can be said for Art Therapy, which is organized infantilism. Our class was run by a delirious young woman with a fixed, indefatigable smile who was plainly trained at a school offering courses in Teaching Art to the Mentally Ill; not even a teacher of very young retarded children could have been compelled to bestow, without deliberate instruction, such orchestrated chuckles and coos. Unwinding long rolls of slippery mural paper, she would tell us to take our crayons and make drawings illustrative of themes that we ourselves had chosen. For example: My House. In humiliated rage I obeyed, drawing a square, with a door and four cross-eyed windows, a chimney on top issuing forth a curlicue of smoke. She showered me with praise, and as the weeks advanced and my health improved so did my sense of comedy. I began to dabble happily in colored modeling clay, sculpting at first a horrid little green skull with bared teeth which our teacher pronounced a splendid replica of my depression. I then proceeded through intermediate stages of recuperation to a rosy and cherubic head with a Have a Nice Day smile. Coinciding as it did with the time of my release, this creation truly overjoyed my instructress (whom I’d become fond of in spite of myself), since, as she told me, it was emblematic of my recovery and therefore but one more example of the triumph over disease by Art Therapy.
The hospital was a way station, a purgatory. When I entered the place my depression appeared so profound that, in the opinion of some of the staff, I was a candidate for ECT, electroconvulsive therapy—shock treatment, as it is better known. In many cases this is an effective remedy—it has undergone improvement and has made a respectable comeback, generally shedding the medieval disrepute into which it was cast—but it is plainly a drastic procedure one would want to avoid. I avoided it because I began to get well, gradually but steadily. I was amazed to discover that the fantasies of self-destruction all but disappeared within a few days after I checked in, and this again is testimony to the pacifying effects that the hospital can create, its immediate value as a sanctuary where peace can return to the mind.
The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the
distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
“The World Health Organization has defined addiction as ‘A state, psychic and sometimes also physical, resulting in the interaction between a living organism and a drug, characterized by behavioral and other responses that always include a compulsion to take the drug on a continuous or periodic basis in order to experience its psychic effects, and sometimes to avoid the discomfort of its absences....
Although addiction is harmful in certain respects [both to self and to others], in other ways, some positive things can come from it and it can be seen as a form of spiritual path. In this respect, it can lead one to make many useful realisations. There are at least three ways in which it can be useful. Firstly, it can lead to a realisation of the need for non-attachment, a greater indifference to the world and greater moderation in ones habits. It can therefore lead one to a deeper realisation of the fleeting, transient [impermanent] nature of the world and of the mind, and their twin engagement. This is an important Buddhist realisation to make and which addicts of all types can apprehend. Likewise, it leads to an understanding of the way desire leads only to pain.
The depression that engulfed me was not of the manic type—the one accompanied by euphoric highs—which would have most probably presented itself earlier in my life. I was sixty when the illness struck for the first time, in the “unipolar” form, which leads straight down. I shall never learn what “caused” my depression, as no one will ever learn about their own. To be able to do so will likely forever prove to be an impossibility, so complex are the intermingled factors of abnormal chemistry, behavior, and genetics. Plainly, multiple components are involved—perhaps three or four, most probably more, in fathomless permutations. That is why the greatest fallacy about suicide lies in the belief that there is a single immediate answer—or perhaps combined answers—as to why the deed was done.
Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with
linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait.
Stamm, B.H. & Pearce, F.W. (1995). Creating virtual community: Telemedicine applications for self-care. In B.H. Stamm. (Ed.), Lutherville, MD: Sidran Press.
The inevitable question, “Why did he (or she) do it?” usually leads to odd speculations, for the most part fallacies themselves. Reasons were quickly advanced for Abbie Hoffman’s death: his reaction to an auto accident he had suffered, the failure of his most recent book, his mother’s serious illness. With Randall Jarrell it was a declining career, cruelly epitomized by a vicious book review and his consequent anguish. Primo Levi, it was rumored, had been burdened by caring for his paralytic mother, which was more onerous to his spirit than even his experience at Auschwitz. Any one of these factors may have lodged like a thorn in the sides of the three men, and been a torment. Such aggravations may be crucial and cannot be ignored. But most people quietly endure the equivalent of injuries, declining careers, nasty book reviews, family illnesses. A vast majority of the survivors of Auschwitz have borne up fairly well. Bloody and bowed by the outrages of life, most human beings still stagger on down the road, unscathed by real depression. To discover why some people plunge into the downward spiral of depression, one must search beyond the manifest crisis—and then still fail to come up with anything beyond wise conjecture.
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass
all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women
my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap'd stones, elder, mullein and
Pearlman, L A. & Saakvitne, K. W. (1995). Treating therapists with vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress disorders. In C. R. Figley (Ed.), , 150-177. NY: Brunner/Mazel.
The storm which swept me into a hospital in December of 1985 began as a cloud no bigger than a wine goblet the previous June. And the cloud—the manifest crisis—involved alcohol, a substance I had been abusing for forty years. Like a great many American writers, whose sometimes lethal addiction to alcohol has become so legendary as to provide in itself a stream of studies and books, I used alcohol as the magical conduit to fantasy and euphoria, and to the enhancement of the imagination. There is no need to either rue or apologize for my use of this soothing, often sublime agent which had contributed greatly to my writing; although I never set down a line while under its influence, I used it otherwise—often in conjunction with music—as a means to let my mind conceive visions that the unaltered, sober brain has no access to. Alcohol was an invaluable senior partner of my intellect, besides being a friend whose ministrations I sought daily—sought also, I now see, as a means to calm the anxiety and incipient dread that I had hidden away for so long somewhere in the dungeons of my spirit.
Depression afflicts millions directly, and many millions more who are relatives or friends of victims. As assertively democratic as a Norman Rockwell poster, it strikes indiscriminately at all ages, races, creeds, and classes, though women are at considerably higher risk than men. The occupational list (dressmakers, barge captains, sushi chefs, Cabinet members) of its patients is too long and tedious; it is enough to say that very few people escape being a potential victim of the disease, at least in its milder form. Despite depression’s eclectic reach, it has demonstrated with fair convincingness that artistic types (especially poets) are particularly vulnerable to the disorder—which in its graver, clinical manifestation takes upward of 20 percent of its victims by way of suicide. Just a few of these fallen artists, all modern, make up a sad but scintillant roll call: Hart Crane, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Arshile Gorky, Cesare Pavese, Romain Gary, Sylvia Plath, Mark Rothko, John Berryman, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Diane Arbus, Tadeusz Borowski, Paul Celan, Anne Sexton, Sergei Esenin, Vladimir Mayakovsky—the list goes on. (The Russian poet Mayakovsky was harshly critical of his great contemporary Esenin’s suicide a few years before, which should stand as a caveat for all who are judgmental about self-destruction.) When one thinks of these doomed and splendidly creative men and women, one is drawn to contemplate their childhoods, where, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, the seeds of the illness take strong root; could any of the m have had a hint, then, of the psyche’s perishability, its exquisite fragility? And why were they destroyed, while others—similarly stricken—struggled through?