This piece by Amanda Mull is important. Two excerpts:
Now, in apparently quitting his psychiatric medication for the sake of his creativity, West is promoting one of mental health’s most persistent and dangerous myths: that suffering is necessary for great art.
Esmé Weijun Wang, a novelist who has written about living with schizoaffective disorder, has experienced that reality firsthand. “It may be true that mental illness has given me insights with which to work, creatively speaking, but it’s also made me too sick to use that creativity,” she says. “The voice in my head that says ‘Die, die, die’ is not a voice that encourages putting together a short story.”
Take your medicine. Work with a behaviorist. Get your shit done. You can do it.
Medicine does not blunt the tools. It frees you up to actually use them.
I’ve been considering John Milton’s Nativity Ode anew this Advent. Today, I saw a tweet from The New York Review of Books quoting from Milton’s Paradise Lost about the blood lust of the pagan god Moloch and the gruesome terms of his worship, child sacrifice.
I clicked through to the piece, which you can read here. The gun, says Gary Wills, is our Moloch. Maybe so. But if so, our collective and willful ignorance of America’s mental health crisis is something of an original sin from which we haven’t come close to working out or making right.
Wills reminds us that in Paradise Lost, “Milton represented Moloch as the first pagan god who joined Satan’s war on humankind.” Yes. And in Milton’s Nativity Ode, Moloch is among the first to flee his seat of power at the birth of Christ, the coming of the Holy Child.
I left this comment at NYRB:
“To continue the Milton and Moloch theme, on the Third Sunday of Advent, we remember that Moloch only flees with the birth of the Holy Child. I don’t offer that as a bit of religious imperialism, but as a comfort to those who will find comfort in it, and as a point of literary irony worth considering in the larger context of the extended metaphor.”
There’s something fundamentally profound about the juxtaposition of the reign and flight of Moloch with the coming of the Prince of Peace as an infant, as a child. I’m not offering a positivist religious fatalism, here. I’m saying that Wills makes one of the best arguments for pacifism you’re likely to hear if you bear mind 1) the Mennonite insistence that the crucifixion of Christ was God’s clear condemnation of violence as a means of ending violence 2) Milton’s liturgical resister in Advent, and 3) Milton’s insistence that God’s overthrowing of idols happened not only at Christ’s death but also, fundamentally, in his birth.
In the Nativity Ode, Milton struggles with the now-and-not-quite-yet nature of the Prince of Peace’s reign. I struggle with it, too. The child Jesus would grow up to say “The Kingdom of God is here!” but few and far between are the kinds of communities that prove the claim. Few and far between are the leaders who lead and live like Jesus, few and far between are churches with progressive witnesses for peace and mental health commitments.
Think what you will about guns. But it’s hard to argue that with our wars, our drones, our violent entertainment and our voyeuristic gaming, we’re not sacrificing children to the grim god Moloch, to the military-industrial complex, to big businesses and lobbyists and other interests. All the while spending a comparative widow’s mite on the nation’s mental health crisis. That’s idolatry any way you cut it. That is injustice, that is sin, that is, frankly, evil.
It turns out this was too much to ask for in 2013. And 2016. And 2018. We have to do better.
The candidate I’ll vote for in 2016 will be the one with an ambitious and progressive plan to fight our nation’s dirtiest open secret: we face a monumental public mental health crisis the likes of which have never before been seen.
Mental health benefits for the poorest Americans are being lost left and right as states trim budgets. In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth decided years ago to shut down mental hospitals as a way of saving money, yet we pay more now per year per homeless mental health consumer than would have had the hospitals stayed open. This is not to mention all the other societal costs. This is not to mention the kinds of things none can put a price on: healthy communities where everyone is safe and everyone is cared for according to their need. In 2013, is that really too much to ask?
Paul Krugman Mellencamp has finally uttered the words. We’re in a Depression. His Sunday NYT piece, “Depression and Democracy,” is here.
Elsewhere, Leonard Cohen has shared about Depression and Depression:
LC: Well, you know, there’s depression and depression. What I mean by depression in my own case is that depression isn’t just the blues. It’s not just like I have a hangover in the weekend… the girl didn’t show up or something like that, it isn’t that. It’s not really depression, it’s a kind of mental violence which stops you from functioning properly from one moment to the next. You lose something somewhere and suddenly you’re gripped by a kind of angst of the heart and of the spirit…
– Leonard Cohen, French interview (trans. Nick Halliwell)
It’s hard to be hopeful about the world economic situation. But Cohen’s kind of depression — God, he’s right on, isn’t he, about there being different kinds? — the kind of mental violence, the kind that stops you from functioning properly from one moment to the next, the kind that grips you and won’t be shaken off without time and effort and help…maybe you see yourself in that. Unwanted thoughts, irrational compulsions, excessive guilt.
For years, I looked to Cohen’s quote and thought, well, shit, this is the condition of artist. I found out later that it’s also the condition of millions of people who, in addition to being sensitive, winsome, and artistic, also happen to not produce enough serotonin on their own. For many, such is the biology of general anxiety, OCD, and other depressions. If that’s you, please know there is help. If you don’t know if that’s you, please see a trusted physician and find out. A friend of mine said it best: “no one should have to suffer because of their biochemistry.” We’d never suggest a diabetic go without insulin. We’d never expect a diabetic without the right help to function in healthy ways, let alone thrive. Any physician worth her salt will tell you it’s the same with the way our brains process the presence or death of chemicals our bodies are making as best they can. Beloved, God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. A righteous mind.