My grandfather, the late Dr. Paul Chodoff, was a respected psychiatrist and eminent thinker in his field. He was beloved as a clinician – his patients thought the world of him – and much admired by his colleagues. He was also one of the smartest people I ever met. Infuriatingly, he knew just how smart he was. He’d tell you all about it.
In 2002, he wrote a paper titled The Medicalization Of The Human Condition in which he argued that the field of psychiatry had over-stepped its mandate by relying too much on pharmaceutical remedies for mental issues. He suggested that some of the concerns that patients sought treatment for – anxiety, depression for example – didn’t always rise to the level of chronic and therefore were better treated with talk therapy and time than with medications. It was a thoughtful piece written based on his 50 years in practice as a psychiatrist.
And I am here tonight to tell you that I think he was wrong.
(Somewhere, all of my cousins and my sister are looking up from what they’re doing and thinking “I feel a great disturbance in the Force – as if someone said Pop-pop was wrong about something.” Fear not, cousins and siser. Pop-pop didn’t believe in an afterlife so he can’t seek retribution from the beyond without admitting he was wrong about that, too. I’m safe.)
So, here’s the thing I think my grandfather missed: the human condition sucks. It sucks so much that humans, for all of our history, have sought substances and activities that can distract us from the unbearable burden of living with a human consciousness.
Whether your low moments and negative feelings are chronic or episodic, they are low moments and you have to live within them whether you like it or not. Sheer force of will – your own or my grandfather’s – cannot blunt the effects of emotional pain. Eventually, we will all seek out a remedy. That remedy might be something as constructive as talk therapy, sure. Or it could be calling a friend to vent. It might be going out dancing. It might be binging really trashy tv. Some folks like religion for mental comfort. Others pick exercise, hobbies, art, or music. Some go for drugs and alcohol. Or! You could get a prescription for psychopharmaceuticals that fix mood issues like magic.
For the record, my grandfather’s escape mechanism was obsessive reading. He would not have considered it as such but the truth hurts, Pop-pop. And that’s the truth.
Anyway, the point of all of this is we all need help to get through life and no one should be ashamed of the help they get. As I have said before, mental health is an intersectional issue and it should be de-stigmatized and readily accessible for all of us.
Do what it takes to keep yourself operational and don’t let anyone tell you it’s weakness.