Dead Kittens and Prozac
The unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates
I was watching Craig Ferguson the other night, and he did something that really got me thinking. He apologized to viewers who had complained about a cartoon he’d aired of a kitten being eaten by a shark. As he did so, he shook his head and rolled his eyes a bit, not insincere so much as amazed that anyone could have a problem with a drawing of a kitten being eaten by a drawing of a shark.
I couldn’t agree with him more, edgy though such humor might be (and likely not very funny, either), but unlike him, I think I understand exactly why this would bother people; or some people, at least. It’s the same reason that antidepressant use has doubled in the last ten years and that antidepressants are now the most commonly written prescription in the United States. I’m going to call it the Prozac mentality.
Nobody ever wants to feel sad anymore. And with the “miracle” of modern science, people have come to believe they don’t have to. Countless times, I’ve heard doctors and other experts make statements like, “In this day and age, there’s no reason for anyone to not get help when they’re struggling with emotional issues.” Such statements almost never mean talking to somebody about your anxieties, even when made by psychologists or psychiatrists. By help, they usually mean antidepressants. Seeking medication for sadness is now the norm; in fact, it is considered tragic not to.
I doubt the original intention of these drugs was to turn sadness into a disease, but that is essentially what’s happened. When you seek help from a doctor and can be prescribed medication for what ails you, than by all scientific and medical standards, you have a disease; at the very least, you have a disorder, syndrome, or condition.
Yet despite what modern science would have us believe, sadness is not a medical condition; it is a human condition. It is the human condition. We all carry around grief and pain and hurt for no other reason than because it’s impossible to be alive and not have these things. This is not to say there aren’t circumstances in which people could benefit from a pharmaceutical boost, but these are temporary, such as while dealing with a tremendous loss or extreme stress. And this is not because these drugs make you happy, because they do not. What they make you is numb, but sometimes, numbness is preferable to what life is demanding of you. As a tool to deal with everyday feelings, though, these drugs (in my opinion) create far more problems than they solve.
The medication option has created a world where sadness is something to be avoided at all costs, something “no one should have to endure.” And kittens being eaten by sharks, even if those kittens and sharks are cartoons, are going to make some people sad. Such images could be deemed an unpleasant disturbance in a carefully constructed world, a world of sunlight and surfaces, pop music and comedy, because these are images with the power to jar people from their numbness and remind them of their own uncomfortable feelings. Nobody wants that, and doctors say this is perfectly fine, so people feel completely justified in complaining. Many people have a weird sense of entitlement now about avoiding sad or dark thoughts: “How dare he invade my thoughts with such images! I watch this show because I want to laugh, not cry!”
The Prozac mentality misses the point entirely, and it is an important point to be missed. Sadness is an unavoidable part of life, so the best we can do is deal with it on its own terms, not behave as though it shouldn’t be there. Antidepressants might numb you out enough that you don’t care anymore, but they will never cure sadness because there is no cure for sadness any more than there is a cure for anger or ambition or joy. In fact, a steady diet of medicated avoidance will only make the sadness worse by creating a vicious cycle of feelings that need more and more medication–and denial–to be repressed. It’s a terrible Catch-22, a terrible way to be stuck. And because you want to believe the professionals assuring that you’re not stuck, that you’re doing the right thing, getting unstuck can be very, very difficult.
The worst part of this vicious cycle is the awful disconnectedness from oneself that these drugs cause. It’s ironic, because you take them to feel better, but the way they make you feel better is to further disconnect you from what you so desperately need to re-connect with: your dark side, your fear, your grief, your anxiety, your rage. These dark feelings must be embraced, not dismissed, if you truly want to feel better. But because of the cultural sanction we now have to ignore anything unpleasant, nobody wants to do that anymore. So we end up getting more and more disconnected from ourselves, so much so that seeing something as innocuous as a violent cartoon when we weren’t expecting it has the power to outrage. The Keep on the Sunny Side house of cards is so fragile that we must be vigilant in protecting it from crashing violently down around us.
I’m sure the Prozac mentality isn’t the cause of offense for everybody bothered by the cartoon, but for many, I know I’m not far off.
People want to believe they can have all the ups and none of the downs. Doctors seem to believe they have the power to make this so. And pharmaceutical companies are making billions and billions and billions of dollars selling this delusion. But a delusion it is, because being up and being numb are two vastly different things, and ignoring the downs only creates a larger debt that eventually must be paid. Certainly, sadness is nothing to look forward to, but dealing with it honestly is the only way to transform into the whole person you are meant to be, good and bad, beauty and warts, happy and sad, all combined into the complex whole that makes us human. It will take longer, and it will require more effort, and it will probably change how you define terms like happiness and sadness, but when you see violent cartoons, you will have the capacity to accept them, as well as every other aspect of life, as part of the wonderful, complex dance that makes us who we are.
Categorised as: Depression