Tag Archives: 2014

Depression and learning disabilities: Will you ever read anything like it?

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Andrew Solomon

“Stories are the foundation of identity. We forge meaning and build identity.”

Andrew Solomon

I am moving my eyes back and forth as I chase the words of enlightenment in Solomon`s book. Sometimes I glance up, look out the window and stare at moving cars or people. I let my feelings, awakened from a line beautifully crafted, circulate inside. I let the meaning of it touch me, and let the aftershock of new insights and hope explode. I want to inspire. I want to live.

The power of books, and the people writing them, can never be unappreciated. Instead of learning every lesson ourselves, we can let other words touch us by reading and listening to other`s experiences. The last week, I have either let my eyes rest on «The Noonday demon» or listened to “Far From the Tree “. Andrew`s two books feed you with experiences and knowledge from the first to the last page. The first digs deep into Andrew`s personal depressive demons, the other explores learning disabilities and challenging diagnoses like autism, schizophrenia and down`s syndrome.portable

Both books have a plethora of examples fitting the themes like a glove. They both blow life into theory, by letting us feel the people`s pain so we can also feel it. As psychological theories shows, you learn more when emotional. Another thing I like, is that my eyes never bumped into walls of bad writing, you simply float from page to page, only irritated by lack of time to devour everything at the same time (I have wished many times that I`d taken more time to learn to read faster, like I tried for a while).  

In addition to relevant stories from people with different types of problems, he writes about the newest research and even test many of the methods himself. He is not afraid of testing even alternative approaches that hasn`t been researched much. This is done in a balanced way since he manages natural skepticism blended with openness for new experiences at the same time (he liked EMDR).

I`m not sure how much time he`s used on the books, but I do know he`s been travelling all around the world (Bali, Africa, Europe and of course many states in USA) and investigated both medical and theoretical theories by reading and talking with professionals with diverse thoughts. He even tried to talk with America politicians (who sadly had their hand tied). It is clear he has taken the time necessary to write the book, even if he had to stop writing when Mr. depression knocked on the door.

Product Details

Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Solomon, Andrew (Feb 7, 2013)

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Another positive feature of the book, is the compassion towards people with a variety of conditions most of us would automatically turn our backs too. He is honest while describing his thoughts and experiences, and doesn`t try to walk on the water with the work he`s done. He has a down to earth attitude, also when it comes to the description of own shortcomings. He writes he can feel self-absorbed at times, and tries to look own motives in the eye if they walk next to him. Acceptance is mixed with curiosity, and the end-product is two of the best books I`ve read this year. He talks about the magnificent courage of the interviewees, but seldom points to his own. If he mentions it, he talks about how he should have written more.

I must not forget to mention how much knowledge he has managed to fit in between the stories of people who fight every day. He is capable of doing this in a very readable way. The emotions awakened after stories, make it easier to remember the facts.

He presents a cocktail of different treatment options, and is not judgmental if others chooses something different than himself. Once in the book he states that people can use the strategy they want, as long as it helps. This shows more than anything, that he writes (among other reasons) to help others who suffer.

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity  Sounds like a really interesting read, heard him interviewed on the CBC.

What touches me the most is his own insight about why he writes; Because it gives hope. He chose the stories of people who impressed him, which doesn`t mean that you won`t see the dark sides of depression or learning disabilities, because you will. It just means that he again uses his ability to balance different views with grace and style. In my opinion, if others find it too positive, this is one of the books qualities. We learn better if we realize that we can do something about it. That`s why they have anti-smoking advice on the cigarette packages. You can`t jump into the water if you don`t know how to swim. I could have written much more, but I`d rather just recommend it, and hope that people with interest in psychology and especially in depression or learning disabilities, will run to the next shop (or amazon internet store) and start their own trip to wonderland. 

The examined life

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My New Year has been punctuated by some wonderful reads.  My most recent literary exploration has taken me to  The Examined Life, written by the estimable Stephen Grosz.

Above from Amazon

It is as compelling as it is powerful. This books provides a truly wonderful insight into the human condition, which is all the more illuminated by Grosz’s accounts of the human experience through those he has a privilege to care for in analysis. And this care, this bond between analyst and patient, shines forth from each and every page.

As I finished the book and flopped back onto my comfy sofa, my mind whirring as it started to mentally walk through each of the cases Grosz shared, and as I pondered what it would be like to to be a psychoanalyst from Grosz’s description of the work, I picked up my pen and started to write.

This is what I wrote:

“It seems to me like psychoanalysis helps (in a similar way to CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) each patient to develop a form of self-awareness of their situation and, thus, empowers them to actualise some kind of catharsis (a means of processing or providing relief from strong or repressed emotions) through this knowledge.

From the many accounts Grosz gives, it looks like this catharsis is predominantly achieved through Grosz’s patients wanting to know they were not alone. They wanted someone to listen to them, and therefore demonstrate that they were worth being listened to. They are valuable and worthy of time and consideration.

For others, providing an explanation for their actions, providing them with words to account for their experience brings clarity from confusion, and again, enables them to clear the mental haze and see the road ahead, and the various routes open to them to embark upon.

This kind of piercing insight, analysis, is invaluable.

Much like slipping into a hot bath, it strips us of our shivering fears, isolation and anxieties and soothes our very beings as we are enveloped with with caring, careful clarity – a way of making sense of our dis-order, which too, is why interpreting dreams is such a powerful catharsis. However, whilst understanding the mechanisms behind each dream by placing the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together brings relief, all this really grants us is what we already knew. For Grosz, it was the fear of losing his son. I admit, there is great beauty in ordering and understanding our dreams, but as Grosz himself allows by sharing the sad case of one AIDS patient who acted upon Grosz’s insights by going on holiday (where he died from dysentery, rather than receiving the medication he needed), Grosz’s attempts to help this patient understand his situation, could not change the situation itself. It leads me to think something more is needed…

As Grosz notes the incident of an eminent American psychoanalyst (Ap) questioning him as to why he bothered helping another AIDS patient (Anthony) who could “expect to live for two years and hope to live for four” (p.199), the Ap asks, “Why are you wasting your time on this patient? He’s going to die. Why not help someone who’s got a future?” (p.201)

It strikes me that if what Grosz writes elsewhere in the book is true, namely that

The future is not some place we are going to, but an idea in our mind now. It is something we’re creating, that in turn creates us. The future is a fantasy that shapes our present” (p.157)

then, Anthony’s future is his present.

Grosz describes how this penetrating question felt cruel to him. After all, what was clear to them both was that analysis had helped Anthony to overcome his anxiety and depression (p.203). The reason, I wonder, Grosz found this challenge cruel was because his engagements with Anthony were meaningful. Not only was there purpose to the analysis, but it was yielding personal results in Anthony, even if these personal results did not change the ultimate outcome of his imminent death.

As I read on, I could not help but smile with joy when Grosz informs his audience that Anthony, twenty two years later, is in good health. It feels like an overwhelming victory. Not only was there evident contemporaneous meaning to Grosz’s meetings with Anthony, but, there is now ongoing life, too.

As joyful as this is, it does not really make up for “death’s finality” (p.210), which will ultimately visit Anthony. Perhaps I have oversimplified things, but it leads me to think something more is needed…”

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz really is one of those rare penetrating reads, which will not only help you to understand others, but quite dramatically, yourself. I thoroughly recommend it!

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