Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas...

Christmas Eve... may I wish everyone a really happy Christmas festivities and a wonderful New Year in 2008. I shall be back blog-writing very shortly...


Monday, December 3, 2007

Permission to cry, please!

I've never been one - both in my columns and with my friends - to dismiss the helpfulness of medical support for emotional issues. Sometimes, you just need to take the tablets.

On the other hand, I've always maintained that tablets should take second place to the emotions themselves. Most times, it's much more helpful to cry, to sob, to grieve or to rage.

So I was delighted to see the publication of a new book, The Loss of Sorrow: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder (Allan V. Horwitz and Jerome C Wakefield, Oxford University Press). It does exactly what it says on the cover - makes the point that society has pathologised normal sadness until experiencing it has become a cause for embarrassment, then shame, then treatment. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

To say - as some medical diagnostic tomes do - that a person who is still suffering more than two months after a bereavement are therefore clinically depressed is not only misguided, it is actually harmful. The same goes for smaller traumas - relationship breakup, job loss, illness. If one has a loss, one is meant to grieve. It is what nature intended us to do - not only to physically relieve stress, but also to enrol others in supporting you through that stress. Failing to do so means one gets stuck at the grieving stage, unable to move on, unable to start recovering.

Not realising this point underpins so many of the problems with which my readers write to me, readers who - six months after an unexpected breakup worry that they still miss their partner of twenty years, or twelve months after a vicious divorce feel guilty that they are still finding it difficult to form a relationship. Of course they are. Of course we all would be. This is Nature's way of helping one recover, lick wounds. One wouldn't deny a person with a broken leg a crutch to walk on until the leg was healed; emotions are the heart's crutch and should be fully felt until they are no longer needed.

Yes, some people get stuck in emotions - mostly because they are not getting support from those around, or because they are truly mentally ill; and then, of course, professional help may include medication. But most folk, given space and time and permission, will do what any normal two year old does - scream their heads off for a while, accept a cuddle from a nearby grown-up - and then toddle off again, mind and heart clear.

Instead of telling people to pull themselves together, therefore, I recommend that we actually allow them to completely to fall apart. If we did, then people might be a lot happier - and human beings would be a lot healthier - than they are now.