On Therapy

This is a surreal image of the woods entangling a woman. I've used this because the woman - who looks distressed - embodies a mental illness sufferer, while the woods is the therapy that only enslaves her more. My essay is about anti-therapy and pro pure medication approaches to treating people with disorders.

I’ll never understand the purpose of therapy. It doesn’t work because the therapist isn’t you. Ezra Pound said that a person doesn’t truly understand a book unless he’s lived at least part of its contents. I believe that. And applying that logic here, I’ll extend it and say that you can’t grasp the complete essence of something that isn’t you because you aren’t it. The same goes for therapy. The therapist will never truly understand a patient’s conflicts. An example is a Christian approaching a Hindu therapist because of fears of hell. Now, the therapist may have read the Bible, but his immediate inclination will be to merge the two religions and try to console the patient. But monotheism and polytheism can’t be united. They are two radically different ways of perceiving God. So, this will lead to frustration, and the therapist will next hit at the patient’s rationality; saying that he isn’t logical. But what the therapist doesn’t realize is that this is a grave insult against the person’s belief system. So, you see the dilemma. Now, say the same patient goes to a Christian psychologist. Now this man will have a Biblical framework of dealing with a patient’s conflict, but he’ll never understand the schemas of the sufferer; he’ll never understand the paroxysms of angst that seize the patient because he isn’t him. Even if the psychologist has seen some degree of despair, he can’t existentially battle with the patient’s pain because each experience – regardless of how harrowing it is – differs in context, degree and how a person perceives it. So there is no framework – regardless of how flexible it is – that can guide a therapist. So therapy fails in the end.

Now, many will argue, saying that therapy does help a lot of people. My answer to this has two points. Firstly, therapy helps create a ‘sustained placebo effect.’ The patient doesn’t truly get better, but his belief in the system makes him think that he’s better, thereby making him euphoric. It’s like a football player who completely relies on his coach’s belief in him. The ‘C’mon son, you can do it!’ Works him into a frenzy and he’s thrown into a simulacrum of motivation. Say the management replaces the coach tomorrow, and the new coach has a different philosophy of motivating his players; the footballer will not perform well. And if the new coach doesn’t believe in him, he’ll hate the coach and himself and stop performing at a professional level altogether.

Secondly, therapy helps create ‘masochistic slavery that masquerades as optimistic self-sustenance.’ The therapist may be kind, sweet and not authoritarian like the others, but he’s saying the same thing: ‘ Dear patient, you are now in a Orwellian Room 101 which will expose your deepest fears and rob you of your individuality. The only way out is to listen to me. I have the power. I have the control. I have the authority. You have nothing.’ The patient thus listens, and the therapist instills in him a love for his framework and rules; the patient becomes the therapist’s slave. Even if the patient argues with the therapist and the therapist is patient, ultimately – if the patient continues with the therapy – his individuality is castrated. He becomes a slave to a blueprint. A programmed robot who monotonously imbues rules and regulations. His identity is gone, but he starts functioning in society and leading a healthier life, and this makes him herald therapy. But say the conflict in him (which was never really resolved) deepens tomorrow, and the blueprint the therapist gave him doesn’t provide answers anymore, then he’ll suddenly and rapidly regress. Then say, he goes back to the therapist, then he’s trapped in a vicious cycle. The therapist’s module initially gave him motes of false optimism. The therapist’s ‘doctrine’ gave him a ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ to therapy. But now, he can’t handle the stress anymore, and he’s infuriated and despairing over the fact that therapy robbed him of his individuality because he’s suddenly developed insight (which you often do, during periods of acute depression) and he’s worse than he was when he first visited the therapist. He’s like a drug addict who’s thrown into rehab, only to return in a worse state, because the core issue that makes him inject himself was never solved.

Therapy – regardless of the kind – is ruled by hypothesis and not fact. And is hence self-defeating. Freudian notions, Jungian archetypes, May’s existentialism, Frankl’s tragic optimism, Cognitive behavior therapy, Exposure Response Prevention, types and theories of personality are all hypotheses. They aren’t proven facts. They are like literary theories that keep evolving over the decades and view literature from myriad vantage points. But that’s all they do. They are simply perspectives. So, how can something unprovable prove to help someone? That very notion is self-defeating. Instead of using a valid medical E=MC2 to treat a person, therapy uses a medieval E=Truth because E=Truth, even if E doesn’t exist to help people. The outcome, therefore, is one of emotional superstition and cognitive dissonance. Like people in the middle ages believed that an odd old woman is a witch because she’s a witch, without using any valid argument and cruelly executed her with impunity and then celebrated the act; we think that some Freudian notion of sexual attraction towards a mother is frustrated, and hence the person is not functioning well, and thus needs treatment in line with a Freudian framework and celebrate when he succumbs to slavery masquerading as optimism. But we don’t think that our Freudian notions don’t have any proof. E=? is being used to, unfortunately, treat people. And the same is true for all kinds of therapy. A genius conceives an idea, and devout followers promote that idea to the truth. It’s like the Charles Manson cult. The cult of personality is so powerful that it completely inundates the therapist who indoctrinates his patient. It isn’t different from religious fanaticism, or jingoism. So, in that sense, psychology based on hypotheses is pseudo-science. It’s a tool used to subjugate conflicted individuals. It’s a means of power. It’s no different from fiery preaching that scares a person into belief. But it operates clandestinely and subtly and cleverly. It may or may not use fear, but it nonetheless overpowers the person and takes his control over his life from him.

Moving on, how do we treat people then? The only way is to use neurochemistry. Medicine and facts are the way to treat people suffering from disorders. But the problem is that we haven’t evolved enough. We haven’t reached a stage where medicine without side-effects can cure people completely. But we do know things like using SSRI to treat depression. Or using mood stabilizers to treat Bipolar disorder, or using anxiolytics to prevent anxiety or antipsychotics to cure psychosis. Drugs – irrespective of a person’s love or hate for them – help because they alter brain chemistry. They change a person’s mood, thought process, personality, perception, and insight. Now, that last word – ‘insight’ – is a crucial word. Without insight, you’ll never get better if you’re mentally ill. Now, this is a subjective statement, but I’ve noticed that insight comes from experience and medication certainly helps. I’ve deleted at least fifty Facebook accounts and twenty blogs. My capricious mood enslaved me for seven years. I struggled and struggled with Bipolar Disorder, and no amount of therapy worked. I’ve finally reached a stage where I’m erratic but productive. I know that a lot of people think I’m dangerously mad because of my emotional whims. Recently, someone accidentally waved at me on Facebook but then blocked me on messenger because they were scared I’ll respond. I’ve posted obscure statuses, confessed my sins, written garbage, written poem after poem; I’ve vehemently hated people, posted the most damnable statuses against God; I’ve had sudden bouts of religiosity, followed quickly by a death metal phase. I’ve sought help. Therapists have yelled at me. Therapists have asked me if I’m rational. My parents institutionalized me because of psychosis. There, I lay, given injections and almost thrown in a halfway home. I had to argue with the psychiatrists in an assertive way to make sure they didn’t chain me forever. People on Facebook don’t accept my friend requests. People on Facebook ignore me completely. They don’t want me around, and I live a lonely Kafkaesque existence. But medication keeps me going, and I’ve reached a deeper insight because of suffering and experience. No framework or blueprint robs me of who I am, and I have my personal identity and my freedom of choice. Sure, I’ve put on weight, I have what psychologists call periods of ‘low self-esteem,’ but I have a life ahead of me. I’m starting to make long-term goals and work towards them. I’m no longer posting trash. My writing has substantially improved. I see. Yes, I see clearer. Perhaps people think I don’t. They think I’m this clown who’s ‘wasted his life.’ So, I now say to them: ‘No, my friend, you’re wrong. My life is only starting. I’m writing, and I love it. I’m reading, and I love it. Soon I’ll be studying and then working, and I’ll love it.’

Finally, a word to all closeted sufferers of mental illness. Seek help before your prognosis becomes poor. Take your medication, but develop insight through experience, and don’t succumb to worshiping a false god called ‘Therapy.’ Sorrow is a part of life. There is no such thing as total optimism because finitude cannot achieve anything ‘total.’ And for those, with extreme conditions with psychosis and without any insight – my heart goes out to you. My heart aches as I write this, but we haven’t evolved enough yet. Maybe one day science will help us treat mental illness like a common cold.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Brevity

This is an image of a train approaching; making its way through the mist. I've chosen it because it represents the brevity of all things, and the struggle that is life to me.

“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

― T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

I pass a graveyard on my way to work each morning,
a desolate place filled with scraps of putrid litter,
devoid of any being but a mangy mongrel
with chipped-off statued cherubs and unclean engravings.
The place is an anathema, infected with jinn,
a place where bones still rattle in decaying coffins.
I think of souls that never leave to paradise; damned
to haunt and own us; souls forever wandering; lost
with no respite each time I see the place, but then a
dissimilar thought takes control and I think – looking
at starless skies – if we indeed have souls or if it’s fable
concocted by robed priests to keep the masses senseless,
I wonder if the past and future have no meaning,
if an opaque void circumscribes existence, birth, death,
if only brevity is the hand we fiercely claw at,
if time meets no continuance, and even the present
is just a ball suspended in vitality that
fades, lessens till millennia and cycles are lost
forever, and all you and I have known disperses,
and worlds end with soft whimpers and never thunderous bangs.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

The tears will never flow again

This is an image of a bleak landscape. I chose it because it augments the tone of despondency in my poem which talks about failure and loss.

A Daughter song plays, making you nostalgic; teary-eyed
While you’re in your unhealthy room; the air so rancid and stale
Your friends have Masters; steady jobs with salaries and perks
They’ve cut through brambles of problems using scythes of constancy
You’ve wallowed in your doldrums; nailed to ashen, windswept walls
The whispers in your head are now echoes: grating, jarring, upsetting,
‘You’re a train wreck! An anathema so noxious! Fuck!’
Your little world that’s so deluded is crumbling and you don’t
Like watching as your placid waters roar and your skies turn red,
As your tranquil wood nymphs look with bestial stares and hate,
As trumpets blare and chariots of rage maraud the land,
As tigers of reality eat sheep of daft naïvety.
Your friends have found the lushest meadows after test and plague,
But darkness swallows you fully; tears at flesh and bone; sucks blood.
You’ll watch as dreams of you becoming an artist with books and poems
Also meets dust, and reduced to ashes you’ll try weeping,
But the tears won’t flow; the tears, they’ll never flow again

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Do I marvel?

This is a black and white image of the mountains covered in snow. I've chosen it because it suggests ambiguity like my poem which makes me wonder if I should marvel at God's mysterious ways or lament.

It’s as if God casts some unseen net on the lives of some,
Perpetually trapping them in cords of deepest grief,
Not even offering them glimpses of bleak, beaten skies,
Or ashen barks, or the discordant angry rooks who caw.

The wicked prosper while the good lie buried with their deeds –
Unknown to all, except those who did benefit from them.
Perhaps the Lord sees time in the eternal present, and past
And future belong to mortals who need strongholds in stories told,
And lessons learned in paroxysms of acute death pangs.
But still, this never tells us all we need to know and hear,
And blind faith doesn’t suffice despite few saying otherwise.

Look at Auschwitz where devils embodied men and God said, yes,
Look at farmers poisoning themselves because of debt,
Look at lynching and mob violence; children hanging on trees,
Look at hellfire and damnation for man’s sin and shame.

I’ve known a thousand roads of suffering and few of joy,
I’ve heard the sound of rasping waves assailing the timid shore
And the song of the melodious thrush that brings in dawn,
I’ve learned and learned more with a thirst for learning so much more,
I’ve studied the realms of meaning with intense adventure and lust,
But I’ll never know the ways of God and his disdain
Or love.

And must I praise, lament or leave it at Amen?

 

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

The skag-addicted bunny

This is an image of two bunnies with eerie grins on their faces. I've used it to augment my piece which is about an anthropomorphic drug addicted bunny suffering from withdrawal.

The skag-addicted bunny couldn’t find his fix
And Snowflake (his dealer) wasn’t working the usual spot,
He certainly didn’t want withdrawal’s ticks
And so, he rummaged through his damnable rot

He sniffed each corner with deeply addled brains
And ruffled clothing; looked beneath his cot,
But found nothing that would soothe his veins
The place was only littered with turd and snot

Hours later, frantic and in deep despair,
He tore at the grass in the neighbor’s empty plot,
He screamed at God, said, ‘Do you bloody dare!’
Cried, ‘You took everything, even the pot!’

‘I hate you! I hate you!’ The bunny caterwauled,
‘Ah need some skag awright!’ He yelled in Scots
And plucked his hair until he was slightly bald,
Until he lay writhing, seeing colored spots.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Shoeshine Timmy

This is an image of a man pushing a boulder while he's climbing a steep slope. I chose this image to parody optimism and herald realism. My poem does the same.

Shoeshine Timmy lived in a brownstone
near vacant parking lots, and a street lamp
that sputtered measly light on potholes
riddled with garbage and acid rain.

He lived beneath black starless skies;
prayed to a god who’d jilted him
and thought of Carla who’d married his brother
in the summer of ninety-eight.

‘Be thankful for each blessing,’ a thought said
‘Wake up, seize the day!’ Another yelled
‘Fight! It’s a new day!’ A third whooped
And Shoeshine Timmy muffled his cries
And listened to the same encouraging lies
And I doubt he’ll stop until he’s dead.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Life finds provenance and meets Death cradling Grief

‘Will things get better Ma?’ I’d ask her, once a fractured identity, found its cast of maternal iron and grit, determined to see the boy through shoves that split ears open – red drops of anguish finding an emotionally ramshackled Gethsemane – though he was too young to pray, to plead and to say sorrowfully, ‘If it’s your will, take this cup,’ and desperate to see him uphold integrity and become the antithesis of the man, who – when she had an early hysterectomy because blood and nearing death finds its provenance in sorrow and ashes: the grime of you’ll never be good enough as a wife, lover and a person – beat the boy on the way to the hospital for leaving a textbook in school. ‘God! God! You and your mother chant! Where is your God!’ He screamed trying to smash his face against the car’s dashboard. ‘You’ll fail your bloody exams, and even if you were to find your textbook don’t you dare tell me that you said so, you little bastard.’

‘Will things get better Ma?’ I’d ask her after they’d finally separated and she took the gamble and said, ‘I’d rather be on the streets with my son than watch him grow, wearing his father’s skin.’ She’d seen the rebellion, the blows delivered in the parking lot, but some shared idealism of knowing worse kept them. He’d pinned her to a bed when the boy was still five and tried killing her, and as innocence slowly left the boy’s soul and he let out a primal scream, he slapped the boy. ‘Shut up!’ He countered with feral ferocity and slapped the ground and shouted, ‘See I’m hurting myself too!’

‘Will things get better Ma?’ I’d ask her after disappointments on the football field and the wrong woman, who was never the yin to my yang, never the destiny, the truth or true love because these things find their birth in collective pain and strength to both wear and bear it. The girl had known pain but she suppressed it and marched to Hypocrisy’s parade: a salute and a stand at ease when Society barked on his platform held together by man’s strained, crooked limbs and knock-kneed stance. ‘Rip the veil and see,’ I’d tell her, but the traumatized often either worsen or slam the iron maiden shut on others like them, or swing, unsteadily somewhere between, where there isn’t darkness or light; just the false lull of addiction.

‘Will things get better Ma?’ I asked her, holding her frail limbs and bellowing, a sudden car crash of recollection. ‘Stay! Tell me! Please!’ And after years of separation and my relationships with worse women and flings with alcohol, she smiled a smile of togetherness, but it wasn’t a bittersweet ending for me; just a spear cracking skin, breaking arteries, piercing my organic core and rushing out from the other side.

‘Will things get better?’ I ask myself in this small town where the petrichor supposedly enlivens, the birds chirp, and Autumn tosses orange scarves as she drifts slowly in her gown of bristles and thorns, with ripened halitosis – a dethroned Empress, and she stares at me, never knowing where I’m heading, bleeding from the rocks of Reality thrown, and says, ‘Godspeed. I hope things get better,’ with a sad idealistic smile.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Originally published in Morality Park