14 October 2006

mythology and psychology

anthony done gone and did it again. it started with the maher post from yesterday, which spun into into anthony's fantastic exploration about meds in our culture. naturally, he touched upon a deep passion of mine, the psychiatric pharma industry. for many years i've been a self-directed student of western medicine's approach to psychological dis-ease and the implications of that on our culture and society as a whole. at the new school, in recently finishing my degree, i took as many courses as i could in the realm of psychology. i was introduced and re-introduced to some really revolutionary thinkers in the field, many of whom don't get much recognition in our "gimmee a pill quick" way of "healing," but have a message that we would be wise to at least entertain.

i'm hoping to eventually make my way to pacifica graduate institute to earn my phd in depth psychology. i have visions of grandiousity as well, of re-inventing our modern approaches to all things psyche. what is happening now in mainstream psychology, in my humble opinion, is a sham. doctors and insurance companies are reaping massive kick-backs for prescribing medications that do nothing more than "deal" with symptoms - symptoms that are presenting themselves for a reason. the mind and body have an amazing way of letting us know when something is out of balance - when there is something at play that desperately needs our attention and focus. trouble is, these meds can't and won't get to the root causes of the dis-ease. of course there are always legitimate needs for certain meds - but in this instance, a good majority of people are being handed, literally, bags of samples of anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medications when presenting to their family doctors with symptoms. worse yet, many are seeing television ads, self-diagnosing, and going in and asking for them. and getting them. without so much as a second thought.

without monitoring, without any level of talk therapy, this is a dangerous area in which to enter. these meds are intended to provide immediate comfort, not to be used regularly for years and years. once a patient is more "stable," the idea is to combine medical treatment with talk therapy to address the cause of the dis-ease in hopes of "dealing" with it and evetually weaning off the meds. it is extremely important to note here that one should never ever just stop them cold turkey. while many FINALLY carry a warning that they could actually cause suicidal thoughts and worsening conditions, it is far worse to just stop taking them. i can't tell you, the number of stories that i've heard about loved ones and friends being "misdiagnosed" only to find themselves without the meds they'd grown to rely on and taking their own lives. it really is tragic. i don't know that anyone really knows for certain how these meds affect different people, and much of it relies on trial and error in individual patients. but at what cost?

all i can say is, there's been a massive influx over the past 10 years of people being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. even children! i personally think it boils down to the emptiness of the culture. we work our asses off just to scrape by, and hope that we don't lose our jobs during the next round of cuts. we close ourselves off from one another and sit for hours in front of a television, afraid of what our neighbors may do to us. there are nukes being tested, wars being waged. children don't play outside much anymore and have replaced this vital part of childhood with video games. we don't read. we've lost our sense of community. we have jobs we hate and bills that don't get paid. we are all *this close* to being on the street. it really shouldn't come as any surprise that people are feeling extremely sad or anxious. if you don't at some point during the week, THEN something is wrong. we are taking very basic human emotions and labeling them as dis-orders. instead of asking what in our lives is making us sad or anxious, we aim to stop it. i hate to say it, but until those questions are explored, we will continue on this current path until every last one of us is numbed. talk about a threat to democracy, a threat to america...

it wasn't so long ago that bush talked about required mental health testing. i can't even begin to articulate how disasterous this could be. under the guidelines, we would all be suffering from some mental affliction and in need of rescue from the pharma industry. thanks, i'll pass.

so i bet you're wondering how mythology could possibly tie in with all of this. c'mon, kara! get to it, already!

i've been a longtime fan of joseph campbell, first finding him through bill moyer's famous interviews with him on the 'power of myth.' after years of sheer torture and nightmares surrounding the christianity question, i took great comfort in learning that every culture has their own version of myths as found in the bible. and that the snake has historically always gotten the bad end of the stick.

earlier this morning, i just happened to pick up campbell's myths to live by, a book that i've been meaning, for some time now, to devour. i flipped through and found an entire chapter on schizophrenia. campbell embarks on a fantastic journey into the mind of a schizophrenic, in mythological terms. he also provides a perfect example of the differences in perceiving what it means to be schizophrenic when comparing western medicine's approach to healing as opposed to that of many other different cultures in the world. deja-vu. i actually wrote a paper comparing the shaman experience to schizophrenia for a cross-cultural psych. course that i took last year. my prof. didn't "get" it, but i got an 'a' - so i didn't say anything (for once in my life). she thought that modern psychiatrist's role could be compared to that of the shaman's role. i kinda see her point (it could be, if they would only try), but i respectfully disagree. here's why.

western medicine would diagnose the patient with schizophrenia, prescribe meds, and adjust them as needed, to maintain a "normality" defined by the culture at the given time. so subjective. done.

a shaman on the other hand, would view this episode as a shamanic introduction. a journey inward. something that must be cultivated, not muted or medicated, in order for the person to become more fully aware. it is something that must be seen through in order to be healed. in many cultures, this is how the next shaman is "born." it isn't a disease. it doesn't carry a stigma of "wrong." it is what it is. and those 'afflicted' come out of it just fine. according to campbell, a shaman, in primitive cultures, is "a male or female who in early adolescence underwent a severe psychological crisis" that today would be called "a psychosis." he goes on to quote one dr. silverman as saying that in later years, he/she is "typically the one regarded as one with expanded conciousness" and is sought out for guidence and advice. he also notes that, " a schizophrenic breakdown is an inward or backward journey to recover something lost or missed, and to restore, thereby, a vital balance."

dr. peter breggin, in his book toxic psychiatry, relays several of his own experiences in speaking with those in mental institutions that were diagnosed with schizophrenia during his training years. these were all people that had been essentially locked away with no one being able to understand their speech, or actions, and were literally shocked into submission. frontal lobe labotomies were also popular means of treatment. breggin, on the other hand, knew there was something more to it and began to listen. he noticed patterns emerging. he speaks of one woman that all of the doctors and orderlies dismissed as "crazy." no family would ever visit her. she would sit for hours a day, making the same motions over and over with her hands. he began to draw her out in speaking with her. as his time in training at the institution was nearing the end, he found out that she had deeply loved a cobbler, and that he had left her, breaking her heart. he realized that the motions that she repeated so meticulously were that of her long lost love, as he would make shoes.

* it's important to note here that the diagnosing criteria of those with schizophrenia and those having a shaman experience are identical at the onset. (what we label as paranoid schizophrenia is an entirely different thing.) there are quite a few very interesting studies from the 60's that delve into this all more indepth. of course, lsd is also considered to be a substance that forces an experience much like that of the schizophrenic/shaman introduction. (campbell also mentions ties this in with hero mythology)

i can't help but think that there's a lesson to be learned in all of this. what appears to be so, may not always be - especially in the realm of the psyche and western medicine's treatments. we are currently doing a disservice to those diagnosed with psychological dis-eases - as well as many others that relate to health and well-being. if psychiatrists would only listen more, as opposed to hopping the medication train, imagine what could be uncovered - not just for those diagnosed with schizophrenia, but any mental or psychological dis-ease!

so, yeah, basically, i hope that someday i can actually do something about this. right now, the bebe stirs from his nap. i must run.

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