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)

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)

Prayer

This is a black and white picture of nature. I've chosen it because it augments the bleak, nihilistic tone of my poem. But I specifically chose nature since the poem ends on a hopeful petition.

I

As the mist sheathes the mountainside
like a scabbard its sword,
and the only sound heard is the
distant allegro of a street dog barking,
as the musty odor of half-smoked cigarettes
bleeds from the ashtray,
as the cold lingers outside this antediluvian
cottage, knocking, knocking and knocking
some more on the discolored door,
as the stars in the sky lower their choruses
to mere whispers,
as we lie under separate quilts
divided by oceans of guilt with their
white gushing waves of sorrow,
I ask you, is it fate or chance that
turned us on each other?
Our stories don’t have happy endings
and knowing that it’s bleak ash and brimstone
that meets us, while we flail and weep,
thrash and never sleep
in abysses of tomorrow only
augments the very substance of this pain
we hold, enmeshed with our soul,
scattered through our selves
like the lights in a kaleidoscope.

II

God, I pray that somehow our souls you’ll keep
and though we’ve wandered far from grace, your keep
you’ll spare us the rod, the ever-restless sleep
holding us through fear in blissful sleep.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

India (An opinion)

i feel like an anachronistic,
anomaly trapped in
your cultural complications,
complexities,
apartheid of a deeper tone:
casteism, classification,
a maelström of labels,
tearing down the creaky
gate of the chapel, the shrine
of offerings, the emerald palace,
and individuality sacrificed
for a superficial semblance of
collectivism, and I won’t deny,
that some gatherings
with choirs, carols, chimes
seemingly invigorated me
until I realized that it’s (Hyper?)
Calvinistic
fundamentalism instigating,
unsettling, unnerving,
spewed using a Pharisaic
hypocrisy, but it’s the same…
the same…everywhere, everyday,
“Oh, he has a beard! He’s dangerous!”
Or, “Oh, so you’re divorced,” said
slyly with a lopsided repugnance, or,
“Remove your slippers please,” said
with a plastic smile, teeth like fucking
Chiclets, struggling, but betraying
that you’re beneath their dignity,
and now blood, while puppets,
charlatans dangling on
strings of political injustice,
the hounds from hell
without a leash
bark, bite, chew, chomp
no, I’m not from the West,
I’ve never been there,
I’m brown-skinned to the bone,
and I haven’t said it
directly because of
the other camp that pitches it tent
with crude sticks, and a saffron
too bright, checking if I smoke five…
ten…twenty cigarettes…
a little too conservatively,
and what of my poetic influences:
holding Olds’ eroticism and Pamuk’s
ode to Turkey together, a contrast,
a juxtaposition, in the same mind which
isn’t a matrix, but uncanny
perception?
what of the love I make to an older woman?
the neo-classical
shredding without a sitar I like?
and Snarky Puppy that’s playing
now, as I write these lines, odd-time,
no 4/4, free flow, rhyme with
no structured beat?
what of it? Some understand,
but most need a one-dimensional
(thought) dissection, which is
why I sometimes take my vacation,
because the peaks don’t speak,
squeak, seek and definitely
don’t sneak.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2017)

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A portrait

Well, I’ve known him from school and I’ll admit that he was natural. He did win a writing competition besting me with the sharpest prose. But later, he quit writing altogether and took to another field that never suited him. A field filled with theocratic therapists and pseudo-scientists trying to decipher cryptogenic minds with cryptic jargon, and abstract laconic sentences: Wrestling with creativity and trying to stuff it into a box, before crumpling it and tossing it into a wastebasket of indifference. I guess that got to him, because he couldn’t fit into one particular genre of ‘thought’ and he eventually quit, picked up a pen and started writing again. But doggerels of years, forced him to re-learn all that he’d forgotten, and I guess in that sense he taught himself how to write. The irony was that he sat in the patient’s chair, listening to a therapist prescribing him with machine gun doses of anti-depressants, anxiolytics, mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics. He initially speckled his poetry with the softest tears of naïvety, but I’ve learned now that he is his biggest critic, his biggest judge and that might be both an axe and a box of treasures. He eliminated his writings once he got popular, tried getting off the medication, and tried religion, but a certain doctrine from Geneva haunted more than it ever saved. And then began a period in his life which no hermeneutic will ever explain. I mean, if you need a guide to try to decipher the Cantos, then books or quotes will never suffice interpreting him! The last we met, I was balding, struggling with similar side-effects (albeit to a lesser degree) and I tried setting him up with a girl who was seven years older. He said, “I’ll think about it,” and that right there is the problem. He did date her eventually, but he probably thought twice before making love to her, and wondered if passion will lead to something that lasts or if it will fizzle out. And so, he gave up on her, and thought about everything, except when he wrote, because then something strikes like lightning, and it just spills on a page, a verbal vomit that strangely has structure, but I guess it’s better if he thinks and pours out syllables on a page, stringing together alliteration, drawing from every other eclectic source, and the suicidal aspects of his own life, because when he ghosts away, that’s when he suffers the most. I mean that’s when he gives into utter madness. He once walked on the street at two in the night, tried gouging out his eyes, stepped on thorns, and came back home completely befuddled and disoriented. He thought it was penance. Fortunately, some slight wand of fate always prevents him from going the distance. And then he’s back to writing, stitching together pieces, and it seems like each time he disappears and comes back, he gets better at what he does. I always thought sorrow is the muse that makes a few, but I guess I’m wrong; it’s inner torture. And from what I read, I thought his writing parallels Perrin Aybara’s life, very moralistic and will go to any length for art, but it doesn’t. It’s definitely not Matrim Cauthon because you won’t find him frequenting bars and writing bard poetry, even though he says that’s his favorite character from the series. No it’s Rand, starting naïve, and then judging himself and letting his anger flare though each line, before finally struggling to break free, and walking into a new age. But then that’s a series. I think by now everybody knows that artistry and life are disconnected. But strangely you have Facebook pages devoted to pulling a quote out of context, with a picture of a person falling from the sky, and benighted criticism is something that the world now says, “Be Knighted!” But the truth is this, when you’re young and your writing is an imitation, the mature poets will pat you on the back, and when you’re good and flipping reality, they’ll hate you. I guess I’m flipping a quote out of context by T.S. Eliot myself! Anyhow, he’s back on his medication, and writing to survive, and I read from a distant land with a wife that I often hate, and a son that I love, and I’m glad as long as he thinks and reads and thinks, and then writes, because if he vanishes, I’ll have to call immediately and find out that he’s done something terrible to himself again, and I don’t want that.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2017)

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