Tag Archive: psychiatry


Irish best-selling writer, Marian Keyes, on how she survived her spell of poor mental health. And how life changed after it

Helen Walsh, the youngest of Marian Keyes’ fictional Walsh sisters, is a brave, scrappy, wasp-tongued slip of a thing who works as a private investigator, dates a “beautiful Viking” called Artie and is “abnormally, almost psychotically contrary”. She is also highly depressed.

On a Skype call from Ireland, Keyes explains why it was Helen, heroine of her 2012 novel The Mystery of Mercy Close, who had to wrestle the black dog. “People have been asking for a book on Helen, but I didn’t think it was possible,” says the best-selling author, whose books are, “always about women who go through something unpleasant and emerge different”. Therein lay the problem as far as Helen was concerned. “Helen has a core of steel. Nothing frightens her and I couldn’t imagine her heart being broken by a man. So, there had to be something almost outside of her that would be her story.”

Then, by the end of 2009, Keyes encountered crippling depression that lasted almost four years. “When I wrote the book, I was going through my own spell of horrible mental health, and it suddenly seemed right that Helen would be dealing with this, too,” she says. By February 2011, she had hit an all-time low, “an 18-month spell where everything plunged”.
Being Marian

On being a feminist
I am very aware of the power imbalance between men and women. And every book I have written, has addressed it in some way or another. I suppose I was a feminist without knowing that I was one.
On the Walsh family
We are five siblings with big personalities like them. And yes, Mammy Walsh is similar to Mammy Keyes.
On the book she is working on
I have just started a book about three brothers and the women in their lives. They all have secrets, something happens and many of the secrets unravel one evening. Hopefully, it will be received with warmth and people will laugh.
On creating flawed protagonists
I think absolutes can exist only in an unreal world. There are no entirely good people and no entirely bad people. We all do things that clash with our core moral values.
On writing
My writing connects me to people. I feel very lucky to have found what I was meant to do.

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Simply herself

Marian Keyes always loved reading and storytelling, but she never thought she could make a career of it. “Also, I thought because I was Irish, nobody would want to hear my stories. I didn’t think we were interesting enough,” says Keyes, whose soft, lilted voice gives away her Celtic roots.

Instead, she went on to study law and accountancy and take up a series of jobs, none of which gave her much pleasure. Alcohol seemed to, instead, and she soon developed a dependence on it. “I always felt different, like a bit of an outsider. But when I drank, I felt the way normal people feel all the time,” she says.

By 30, she was alcoholic and ended up having to check into rehab, like Rachel Walsh, protagonist of her second novel, Rachel’s Holiday. “I thought it was going to be very glamorous and full of massages and treatments and yoga. Instead, it was overcrowded and I had to peel potatoes,” she laughs.

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Not just Irish Blarney

It was around this time that she started writing. “I do think the two were connected — I started writing in September 1993 and got sober in 1994,” says Keyes, whose first book, Watermelon, came out in 1995. A dozen or so more novels about other “ordinary women who go through extraordinary stuff”, soon followed. happily-ever-after ending, leaves you feeling all warm and happy.

“It is the way I was brought up, a very Irish thing,” says Keyes. Laughing at something painful, once you get a distance from it, is healing, believes Keyes. It is also a way of knowing how well you have gotten, “when you look back at something terrible and can raise a smile”.

Saved by cake

Keyes says that she tried a number of things including medication, mindfulness and exercise but help came from the strangest of sources: cake. Her book Saved by Cake: Over 80 ways to Bake Yourself Happy, a chatty, colourful recipe book of sorts, also offers glimpses of her struggle with depression and explains how embarking on this new hobby — baking — kept her going. “It is impossible to overstate how important it was; it literally kept me alive,” says Keyes. Weighing butter, sifting flour, mixing things together, working with colour and icing was an exercise in mindfulness, she remembers. “It was the only thing that calmed me back then.”

By 2014, however, the depression went away, just as suddenly as it had come. “The clouds parted and I could feel like I was coming up from a dark, dark place,” she says. She still thinks of it as an illness that both came and left very suddenly. “I never thought I would feel normal again. And that is why I love to tell people — anyone who is in the black hole now — to hang on.”

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She is immeasurably better today, she says, adding, however, that “it is impossible to have come out of something as huge as this and stay the same”. She backs out of stressful situations, for instance, refusing opportunities or cutting back on work and travel if needed. “Earlier, I was always exhausted because I pushed myself. Now, I live my life and have more fun; I see the beauty and happiness in the small things,” says the writer. “My mental health is more important than anything else and I value feeling normal.”

http://www.thehindu.com/society/a-strangeness-in-our-mind-a-bipolar-journalist-asks-what-is-sanity/article20103052.ece

Madness is miserable, yes, but it makes sanity an ideal. Dialogue, I learnt, is more effective a cure than discourse

It is precisely this separation of the personal and the political that further exacerbates the despair of those afflicted by mental health disorders. By reducing internal turmoil to a set of physical symptoms, commentators like Joseph make it harder for patients to exceed their suffering.

Only sanity can help one transform the terror of madness into delight, but sanity, I would argue, can only be found in an embrace of the other. Confinement, when solitary, does not afford levity or reconciliation.

Jung and other picks from brainpickings

Excerpt from What the Psychology of Suicide Prevention Teaches Us About Controlling Our Everyday Worries  

Two surprisingly simple yet effective techniques for ameliorating anxiety. We must gain victory, not by assaulting the walls, but by accepting them, wrote James Gordon Gilkey in his 1934 guide to how not to worry. “Don’t worry about popular opinion … Don’t worry about the past. Don’t worry about the future. … Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you,” F. Scott Fitzgerald advised his young daughter. And yet we do worry — we worry about money, we worry about whether our art is good enough, we worry that we’re all alone in the world, we worry about almost everything. For Kierkegaard, anxiety was the hallmark of the creative mind, but for most of us mere mortals, worries are more of a crippling than a crutch.

In Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception (public library) — which also gave us this fascinating explanation of why time slows down when we’re afraid, speeds up as we age, and gets warped when we’re on vacation — BBC’s Claudia Hammond explores the psychology of mitigating our worries:

Ad Kerkhof is a Dutch clinical psychologist who has worked in the field of suicide prevention for 30 years. He has observed that before attempting suicide people often experience a period of extreme rumination about the future. They sometimes reported that these obsessive thoughts had become so overwhelming that they felt death was the only way to escape. Kerkhof has developed techniques which help suicidal people to reduce this rumination and is now applying the same methods to people who worry on a more everyday basis. He has found that people worry about one topic more than any other — the future, often believing that the more hours they spend contemplating it, the more likely they are to find a solution to their problems. But this isn’t the case. His techniques come from cognitive behavioral therapy and may sound remarkably straightforward, but they are all backed up by trials.

‘My Wheel of Worry’ by Andrew Kuo, depicting his inner worries, arguments, counterarguments, and obsessions in the form of charts and graphs.

Click for details.

Hammond makes appreciative note of the fact that Kerkhof “does not make grand claims for his methods.” Rather, he offers the open disclaimer that his techniques won’t forever banish any and all worrying — but they do offer a promising way to cut down the time we spend worrying. Hammond offers a practical exercise based on the technique:

If you find yourself awake in the middle of night worrying, with thoughts whirling round repeatedly in your head, he has several strategies you can try. This is where imagery comes in useful again. Imagine there’s a box under your bed. This is your worry box. As soon as you spot thoughts that are worries, imagine taking those individual worries, putting them into the box and closing the lid. They are then to remain in the box under the bed until you decide to get them out again. If the worries recur, remind yourself that they are in the box and won’t be attended to until later on. An alternative is to choose a colour and then picture a cloud of that color. Put your worries into the cloud and let it swirl backwards and forwards above your head. Then watch it slowly float up and away, taking the worrying thoughts with it.

…………………………..Instead Kerkhof recommends the opposite. Set aside 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening to do nothing but worry about the future. Sit at a table, make a list of all your problems and then think about them. But as soon as the time is up you must stop worrying, and whenever those worries come back into your head remind yourself that you can’t contemplate them again until your next worry time. You have given yourself permission to postpone your worrying until the time of your choice. Remarkably, it can work. It puts you in control.

Iconic Psychiatrist Carl Jung on Human Personality in Rare BBC Interview

“Man cannot stand a meaningless life.”

………………….Though famously accused of having lost his soul, Jung had a much more heartening view of human nature than Freud and memorably wrote that “the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” On October 22 of 1959, BBC’s Face to Face — an unusual series of pointed, almost interrogative interviews seeking to “unmask public figures” — aired a segment on Jung, included in the 1977 anthology C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters (public library). Eighty-four at the time and still working, he talks to New Statesman editor John Freeman about education, religion, consciousness, human nature, and his temperamental differences with Freud, which sparked his study of personality types. Transcript highlights below.

Echoing Anaïs Nin’s meditation on the fluid self from a decade earlier, Jung confirms that fixed personality is a myth:

Psychological type is nothing static — it changes in the course of life.

He advocates for psychology as the most potent tool for understanding human nature and thus saving humanity from itself:

We need more understanding of human nature, because the only danger that exists is man himself — he is the great danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man — far too little.

But perhaps most timeless and timely of all is the interview’s concluding question, the answer to which arrives at the same conclusion that Viktor Frankl famously did:

FREEMAN: As the world becomes more technically efficient, it seems increasingly necessary for people to behave communally and collectively, now do you think it’s possible that the highest development of man may be to submerge his own individuality in a kind of collective consciousness?

JUNG: That’s hardly possible. I think there will be a reaction — a reaction will set in against this communal dissociation. You know, man doesn’t stand forever, his nullification. Once, there will be a reaction, and I see it setting in, you know, when I think of my patients, they all seek their own existence and to assure their existence against that complete atomization into nothingness or into meaninglessness. Man cannot stand a meaningless life.

Happy Birthday, Agnes Martin: The Iconic Painter on Art, Solitude, and the Secret of Happiness

by

“Doing what you were born to do … That’s the way to be happy.”

Martin makes a case for finding your purpose and doing what you love:There are so many people who don’t know what they want. And I think that, in this world, that’s the only thing you have to know — exactly what you want. … Doing what you were born to do … That’s the way to be happy.

Adding to history’s famous definitions of art and echoing Susan Sontag on music, Martin observes:

Art is responded to with emotion … and the best art is music — that’s the highest form of art. It’s completely abstract, and we make about eight times as much response to music than any of the other arts.

She admonishes against the egocentricity of the artist:

The worst thing you can think about when you’re working is yourself.

Seconding Maira Kalman on the value of the empty brain, Martin professes:

I’m an empty mind. When something comes into it, you can see it.

She echoes Hemingway’s insistence on solitude:

The best things in life happen to you when you’re alone.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/12/28/richard-dawkins-letter-to-daughter/ – love

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/12/14/how-to-avoid-work/

The greatest satisfaction you can obtain from life is your pleasure in producing, in your own individual way, something of value to your fellowmen. That is creative living!

Actually, there is only one way in this world to achieve true happiness, and that is to express yourself with all your skill and enthusiasm in a career that appeals to you more than any other. In such a career, you feel a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement. You feel you are making a contribution. It is not work.

No matter what your age or condition or experience, the sooner you find out what you really want to do and do it better, for that’s the only way anyone can avoid work.

DSM-5

The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : In search of a revolutionary road. –   The American Psychiatric Association (APA) will release the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) in May 2013.