1000 Words a Day

Podcasts and workouts. Perfect, like oysters and champagne. Get your head into something else and that thirty-minute elliptical workout just flies by, well, not really but it does go a little bit faster when the mind is occupied.

Lately I’ve been listening to writers talking about writing, something most people would find about as interesting as golf on the radio or your uncle’s Orlando vacation photos. But I can’t resist. I don’t learn much but I do get to feel like part of the club, experiencing many of the same frustrations and satisfactions. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and every once in a while it feels good to connect with other writers in this virtual group. Real writing groups are not for me, I prefer my therapy one-to-one.

These interviews do give you some sense of the writers and, when they respond with generosity, I’m more inclined to want to read their books. Debut novelists usually see the interview as a great opportunity and respond enthusiastically, veterans often find it a chore and grudgingly impart clichéd answers to standard questions. Certainly not a reliable indicator of talent but you need some way to work your way through the incredible number of volumes published daily.

The interviews usually begin with the writer describing the genesis of the book, then move on to discuss the elements that most interested the host: “Why did you decide to set your book in this tiny town in France?” “Because I live there.” One of the standard questions concerns the value of the MFA, a hot issue in literary academia: “It was a wonderful experience and it worked for me, but certainly it’s not for everyone.” Or, “No I didn’t take an MFA, but these programs have produced many wonderful writers, but we won’t get into names.”

The conversations usually end with the host asking the writer if she has any writing advice for listeners like me and, while there’s some variation in the wording, the message is almost always the same: just write. It’s a job and it’s hard work and you have to keep at it. Write in a Starbucks, or complete solitude; maybe mornings are best for you, or not; maybe you make an outline, or have no idea what comes next; write for three hours a day, or one thousand words, or just as much as you feel like; whatever methods you employ only work if you keep writing. You learn by doing it. You improve by revising it. And then you do it again, until someone thinks it’s worthy of publication – or not. At which time, you’re already at work on the next book. Success may bring confidence but it also brings the knowledge of just how hard this is.

In a different vein, the New Yorker fiction podcast is a wonderful way for any reader to occupy an hour.

A writer chooses a story (not his own) from the magazine’s archives, reads it to us, and then discusses it with New Yorker fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. Very different than a writer discussing his own work, it’s fascinating to hear two intensely focused and perceptive readers analyze a piece of short fiction, revealing to even casual listeners why it works and what went into making that happen. This is the big leagues.

No need to count, this piece is only about 560 words.

©2015 Ron Scherl

Poker

Back to work on Novel Two, which means relearning all the acronyms and trying to remember the factions they represented in the Spanish Civil War. So I took time out from multiple flavors of socialism to have some fun imagining a poker game that might have taken place in the Hotel Florida in Madrid sometime in 1937. Madrid was still in Republican hands although the Nationalist bombing campaign had begun. The characters are Robert Capa, Chim (David Szymin), Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ernie Pyle, Ernest Hemingway, and Richard Lenoir, who is a young, entirely fictional French journalist. The game is five-card stud.

 

Chim: “We don’t have all day, André, Franco’s planes are due any minute.” Chim, who had changed his name from Szymin to Seymour but was known to everyone as Chim, refused to call Capa anything but André, although that wasn’t his birth name either. His parents called him Endre Friedmann.

Pyle: “It would be more accurate to call them Hitler’s planes. The Condor Legion is leading the raids.”

Cartier-Bresson: “That’s not exactly comforting.”

Hemingway: “Your king bets, Capa. What do you say?”

Capa: “I need a minute, where’s Gerda?”

Lenoir, who is not playing, answers: “I think she went upstairs to edit photos.”

Capa: “Lenoir, can you ask her…No, wait. Can you loan me 100 francs?”

Lenoir: “Sorry, Bob. I don’t have it.”

At that moment the concussion from the bombing was close enough to rattle the windows.

Cartier-Bresson: “That does it. I’m going to the shelter.”

Hemingway: “You can’t leave, Henri, Capa has to bet.”

Cartier-Bresson: “I fold. Now I can leave.”

Pyle: “You can’t fold. It’s Capa’s turn.”

Capa: “Henri, if you’re out, you can loan me 100 francs.”

HC-B: “To be returned when?”

Capa: “When I win, of course.”

HC-B, walking away: “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Chim: “I’m beginning to think the war will end before this hand, and neither ending will be pretty.”

Capa: “I raise a hundred.Henri will cover it, but it won’t be necessary. ”

Pyle: “I don’t think I want to know. I fold.”

Chim: “Me too. It’s up to you, Papa.”

Hemingway: “I’ve got to call your ass, Capa. How many of those aces do you have?”

Capa: “Two. That ought to be enough.”

Hemingway, revealing three nines, “Not quite.”

Capa: “Let’s have a drink. Lenoir, can you buy us a drink. What’s that you’re reading, a letter from your lover? Is that a smile. I’ve never seen him smile before. Is he happy?”

“Hard to tell,” Chim said. “That might be a smile on his face, I’m not sure.”

“I don’t think it’s a smile, maybe it’s a rueful smile. What would you call it, Papa?”

“Photographers, totally useless without a camera. You don’t know how to interpret or even describe, you can only record what your machines allow. It takes a writer to truly understand another man. The young man is trying to be happy but that is only part of the picture. When you study him, you see sadness behind the smile, which is not rueful at all. He does not regret; he hasn’t yet done anything wrong, in fact he hasn’t done anything at all. His sadness is not full of remorse, it is empty, unfulfilled. It is the sadness of a man who thinks he knows what he wants but cannot have it. Yet the possibility remains, it might still happen, but he cannot make it happen. He must wait for events to run their course, so he is frustrated, but his love has given him reason to hope. He is still in the running, if not yet in the lead. Gentlemen, our young Lenoir is in love, although he has not yet been able to make love to the woman he desires. He is trying to compensate by devouring, again, and again, the words that give him hope. But it is not enough. Il est triste, oui, but he is also very horny.”

That brought a great roar of laughter and cheers from the assembly of journalists.

“Bravo, Papa.” they shouted, and produced a round of drinks.

Lenoir looked up from his letter. He was not smiling: “Fuck you, all of you. Especially you, Hemingway.”

Papa roared: “Bravo Lenoir, not exactly eloquent, but the only appropriate response.”

©2015 Ron Scherl

 

 

 

Reboot

Ending the silence. My mother’s horrible death left me exhausted and more in need of repair than sharing, more than I knew, which for a time took what remained of creative inspiration. Finally, I encountered another detour, this time an opportunity to get my photographer hat out of the closet, ironically as the result of the illness of a former colleague. Now the job is done, mom is gone, and I begin again.

Angle of Reflection is currently resting with an agent who has promised to read it within a reasonable amount of time. That was about a month ago, so we’re probably about half way to any reaction. This agent had read an earlier draft more than a year ago and offered positive feedback and suggestions for change, but ultimately said no. This is a very different book: darker in tone, closer to the bone, probably not at all what she expects. Of course, I can’t decide if that’s a good thing but it does help shape my anxious waiting. My fingers are crossed, which is probably why it’s taking so long to type this. (Nervous laughter).

I’m about ready to get back to work on the next novel. It’s a much more ambitious project and had to wait until I felt I’d exhausted the possibilities I’d launched with Angle; of course I realize that should anyone want to publish it there will be more work to do, but until that happens, I’ve taken it as far as I can and it’s time to move on. I see Angle as the book that taught me how to write a novel, a much more difficult process than I ever imagined. It was about two and a half years of writing, considering, assessing, and revising, a very different process than making photographs. Doing it – and having a completed novel be the result – has taught me what works for me and what I can anticipate in the next book. It’s very hard work, more difficult than anything I’ve done before, but it also required a very intense emotional investigation that only came in small increments. Each draft dug a little deeper, each step went a little further. Then, in the middle of the process, I decided to quit using antidepressants and my path to the truth seemed much smoother. I didn’t know when I started this book that I was also launching an exercise in self-therapy.

The photo job was an effective jump-start. It wasn’t a creative opportunity, but it got me back out in the world. The need to work and interact with others got me out of the house and out of my head and, as a result, seems to have reignited the spark needed to get my butt back in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard.

Adieu

“Ruthie’s gone. Ruthie’s gone. Ruthie’s gone.”

-Evangeline Finlay, her caregiver

They took mom’s body and left a rose on her bed.

She just stopped breathing, after eleven days without food or water, eleven days with her family waiting for the end, she just stopped breathing. Her heart continued beating for a few more minutes then slowed and stopped. It was over. Just like that. It was over.

Ninety-seven years. A long life. Eleven days. A long death. And then she just stopped breathing. I expected more. I expected a poetic moment. I’d read accounts of a profound change when the living spirit departed its container. Nothing. Perhaps it takes a soul more poetic than mine to see what I couldn’t. Or maybe a spirit more evolved than mine. Or maybe all those accounts were truly poetry.

Now we’re held captive by ritual. We cannot bury her during Passover, so we must wait until Sunday. She was a cultural Jew, not much on religion, but as a Jew she’ll be buried – after Passover.

They took mom’s body and left a rose on her bed.

I liked the men who took her body away. They were extremely respectful, wore ill-fitting black suits and white plastic gloves and their papers said they were from a removal service. They wrapped her in the sheet from her bed, covered it with a red velvet cloth and wheeled the gurney to the elevator and a waiting van. There were no witnesses. None of the residents, waiting their turn, were in the hall when she passed by. I thought the management might have closed the corridor but surely everyone would have known why.

They took mom’s body and left a rose on her bed.

Adieu mom.

 

Lord of the Flies

I watched Zorba the Greek the other night. I know, I know, I called this piece Lord of the Flies. Just bear with me. There’s a scene near the end where the old woman is dying and the village crones come into the house to wait for her end so they can ransack the house.
Now we’re doing the same. We sit and wait for her to die, but mom is not cooperating. When she’s gone, we’ll store her body and get rid of her things.

It feels like we’re the subjects of a sadistic social experiment: confine five members of a family and two strangers in a small space, subject them to a massive amount of stress and sorrow and see how they react. How long will it take for social norms to break down? Who gets drunk? Who flees in terror? What will distract them, make them cry, make them laugh? How do they cope? Lord of the Flies.

It’s been a week now, no end in sight. No one can say how long.

And what about mom? Breathing seems to take more effort today but her blood pressure is an enviable 120/60. She hasn’t taken food or water for eight days. The doctor who didn’t think she’d last this long has increased her morphine so she gets it every two hours now. She wakes when the nurse administers the drug and begins to moan. There’s a sign of recognition when a family member comes to comfort her and she’s able to lift her arms for a sort of hug. Her moaning increases because she cannot talk but the recognition of family seems to indicate some sense of awareness of her condition. She knows, but is as powerless as we are to change anything. She is trapped in a useless body. In any real sense, she is already dead.

Why do we allow this? When death is inevitable, when life holds nothing more, why do we persist in maintaining breath? Even people with faith in an afterlife, in God’s blessing, who believe in some reward for good behavior, do not agree to end life when it is no longer viable. Even when they believe they’re going to a better place. Suicide is a dirty word and to hasten my mother’s death would be murder. We’ve got it all wrong.

Waiting – Watching

All we can do is watch. She sleeps with her mouth open, a gaping void with three teeth, the two in front and one more after a gap. Her breathing is labored and noisy, currently about nine breaths per minute, but subject to change. One bulging eye is part open but blind, we think. Her skin, mostly purple now is so thin it barely covers the bones that protrude at the joints. Her legs, once her great pride now just pale sticks. My eyes trace the purple veins in her hands and watch the pulse still beating in her neck. She looks as if her still-working organs would be visible beneath the nightgown.

When she wakes she seems agitated, tries to speak but can no longer form words. She moans and stretches out her arms as if seeking a human touch and my embrace – hesitant from fear of hurting her or a lifetime of awkward affection – does seem to comfort her, or so I choose to think. We talk to her, not knowing if she can hear. We tell her we’re here, we love her and we’ll be all right when she leaves. Nothing that has gone before matters now. It’s OK for her to go now, we say, but she can’t agree. We give her permission but she has no more control of this than we do. Or does she? Is she fighting to stay alive, raging “against the dying of the light” Who can say?

It seems so unlikely, it was never a happy life, why fight to continue it? Because her lack of faith leads to fear of the unknown? Maybe.

There is a nurse from hospice and a full time aide. They watch “Ellen” with the sound off. They chart every event, record imperceptible changes. They will not leave her alone and they won’t leave us alone with the morphine. They will keep her comfortable but they won’t speed her journey. They say if we have private thoughts to express they will leave the room for a moment. I can’t think of anything I need to say.

They tell us to talk to her, reassure her, tell her it’s OK but I don’t think she can hear, or could understand if she had somehow regained the hearing she lost years ago. I think this advice is meant for us, to let us feel we are doing what we can, to comfort us. They tell us there may be moments of clarity, or not.

Her breath is shallow now and has fallen to seven per minute. “American Idol” with sound, kept respectfully low. A swab with water for dry lips causes her to close her mouth tight. She wants no more. She sleeps. Does she dream? Sometimes there is eye movement beneath the lids but does it signify a dream?

And she wakes and begins to moan. It’s too high pitched and scratchy to be a moan but it’s not a whine. It sounds like an old 78 recording of a soprano past her prime. It is the sound of anguish, of reaching, of need. The nurse administers morphine, Atavan, and Seroquel by syringe without needle in her mouth, then massages her throat to make her swallow. She sleeps again.

So we watch – and look for signs of change. Has her breathing slowed? Or is it faster? Have her feet turned purple? Blood pressure down but sometimes it rises before death. Pulse? There is no pattern, our deaths, like our lives are unique. And this is the one body process we cannot know from the experience of others.

The Today Show. No change.

Meredith

Divorce Court

Weight Loss Program Advertising and Bankruptcy Lawyers

One Life to Live

Local News

No change.

We are seven waiting for mom to die.

Her hospice nurse and aide

The three children

The two grandchildren

Waiting

No change

Her breath is a little slower now, maybe six per minute and the time between is longer.

Watching her breathe, ten or fifteen seconds between breaths is a lifetime. It seems too long. I think she’s gone but no, her chest slowly rises and falls again accompanied by a raspy moan.

It will be 83 degrees and sunny tomorrow.

©2015 Ron Scherl

Gateway to Understanding

Is emotion the gateway to reason or is it an obstacle to understanding?

I had always believed in the power of the intellect, that an educated intelligence should be sufficient to decode the clues and understand the opportunities and conflicts we all face. Now I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m pretty sure the opposite is true; it is only through emotional engagement that we can truly understand anything at all. How we respond to art offers a window.

Angle of Reflection contains a scene in a museum where Ben and Emma are discussing a Picasso exhibit. Ben is able to admire the technique and appreciate the results from an intellectual distance but maintains that Picasso never moves him. (Let’s assume he’s never seen Guernica.) Emma tells him it may yet happen and to beware of sealing his emotions in today’s opinion.

Later he reflects on a painting that moved him more than most: Vermeer’s, A Maid Asleep. “I couldn’t turn away. I was immediately and profoundly drawn into that world, I could walk into that woman’s dreams and imagine stories that explained all the elements Vermeer chose to include.” We can’t know whether the artist had the same stories in mind but it doesn’t matter, what is significant is that the emotional reaction to the image made the content knowable.

Here’s where we get back to the question of antidepressant medication: it is my contention that one of the severe effects of many years on SSRIs was a stifling of emotion, which led to a failure to understand what was happening to me. I couldn’t get to it because I couldn’t feel it.

I’m not the first to report this. “SSRIs also cause a multitude of troubling side effects. These include sexual dysfunction, suppression of REM sleep, muscle tics, fatigue, emotional blunting, and apathy. In addition, investigators have reported that long-term use is associated with memory impairment, problem-solving difficulties, loss of creativity, and learning deficiencies.” Robert Whitaker: Anatomy of an Epidemic, Broadway Books, Random House, 2010.

I’m beginning to feel that I’m nearing the finish line for Angle. Could be wrong, of course, I’ve thought this before, then I sent it to my editor. I began to wonder how you know when you’re done with a novel. There is no requirement for length, no facts that have to be explained, no rules to follow. Thinking won’t get you there. I suppose you can say that it’s finished when someone decides to publish it, but Fitzgerald was still trying to rewrite Gatsby as it was on the press. I asked a friend who is a wonderful painter how she knew when a painting was finished. She said: “I don’t know, I just feel it.”

Feels right to me.

©2015 Ron Scherl

Work

I’m beginning to understand how Donna Tartt could spend ten years writing a novel. I used to think it would be impossible to maintain interest in the same book over that long a time. I used to think you could rewrite and polish only so many times before it was perfect. But that was before I tried to write a novel, and before I hired an editor to help.

A few weeks ago I sent my latest draft to my efficient and perceptive editor, a draft that I had polished through the technique of reading it aloud, recording it, and making changes as I listened to the playback.

I was really pleased with it. I thought reading aloud had helped to make the dialogue flow better and cleaned up some awkward sentence structure. I had noticed that when reading I stumbled over inaccurate punctuation and fuzzy thinking. Any text that I wasn’t fully committed to didn’t read smoothly. I had discovered a way to get to the truth of the book.

I was also weaning myself from antidepressant medication and was sure I was seeing the effects of clarified thinking and emotional access in my writing. I was right about that, especially in the passages dealing with relationships, but I was missing the bigger picture. In the process of stripping down some characters trying to get to the truth I wanted to convey, I lost some objectivity and allowed reality to overwhelm the fictional narrative resulting in a loss of pace, tension, and structure.

In other words, in finding some truth about myself, I managed to lose my reader. My editor had no trouble pinpointing the problems: “I think what’s missing in this chapter is an emotional hook that will compel the reader to care…As a reader, I feel unsure of what the book is about and therefore unsure of what I should care about, and why.”

Ouch!

I was surprised and disappointed.

When we talked she was quick to apologize for being so blunt, then added: “but isn’t that what you’re paying me for?”

She’s right, her comments and suggestions are enormously helpful, and I’ve gone back to work with enthusiasm, understanding the task is to fictionalize the narrative while retaining the emotional truth.

Not a problem, this is only year three of this book.

©2015 Ron Scherl

Mom

Mom is 97 years old, suffering from severe dementia; her mind is no longer connected to reality, yet the burden of her body continues. One dark, unseeing eye bulges out of her head; the other struggles to focus through a cataract. She cannot hear much. Her arms are covered with purple bruises, her legs bandaged to cover skin too thin to protect her. She is tiny, except for a severely bloated stomach that houses the tumor that refuses to kill her.

Her thoughts are trapped somewhere between disappointment and fantasy, in a world that never existed. It was never a happy life and that it continues in this painful demented manner is a terribly cruel punishment. She lost her parents at the age of twelve: her mother died, her father sent her away. She never recovered. Such an unhappy life that refuses to end.

Yet there is nothing we can do. We cannot end her life. That decision is not for us to make. She is in pain, partially controlled by morphine. She is agitated: perhaps frustrated by growing mental incapacity, perhaps fearing death. Xanax helps a little. She is depressed, always has been, and there is Zoloft for that. This is maintenance, not life. We give her all these meds because she is demented and we fear she will succumb to the pain and despair and kill herself. What is rational behavior in this circumstance? Is it reasonable to preserve a worn out body by controlling a dysfunctional brain with drugs that render her senseless?

She can no longer make her wishes known to us, but this is consistent with a life-long pattern. In our family, no one ever makes clear what she really needs; we all persist in equivocating and deferring until we get what we want because some decision had to be made, or, more frequently, just move on, unsatisfied and slightly resentful. So mom wouldn’t tell us what she wanted when she was able, now she cannot.

She was frightened when we first arrived, not knowing my sister and I, perhaps thinking we were the ones who would take her away. I sat with her a while, holding her hand, offering what comfort I had to give. She became calmer. I wanted to will her to die. I told her to let go. She would fall asleep, I’d watch her breathe, wanting to make it stop. Then she’d wake with a small spasm, turn to me unable to see, not knowing who I was. Once she said she wanted to go home and I thought she really wanted to die, but it may be that she was still looking for a place for herself that she had never been able to find.

We were going to take her away, we came to move her to a home for people with dementia, but there’s not enough left to move. She is beyond the attention they would give her, more dead than alive.

There is nothing to be done. She has an aide who bathes her, feeds her, changes her diapers, and laughs at her plight in the kindest way. “That’s what they do when they get old,” she says, and then cleans up the mess. She makes her comfortable and mom kisses her hand in appreciation.

We don’t handle death very well in our culture, partly because we have huge industries manufacturing drugs and services whose sole purpose is the preservation of life, regardless of the quality of that life. We crucified Kevorkian and only a few states allow a person to choose the time and manner of death. We consider suicide to be insane. We need to rethink our priorities and reimagine our death. There comes a time, as in mom’s case, when preserving a useless body is the truly irrational act.

 

ANGER

From Angle of Reflection:

“Ben wanted to see Michel’s organic vineyards and chemical neighbors again. It wasn’t far. He couldn’t look at these two plots of land without believing the absence of intrusive chemicals just had to be better for everyone, for the entire ecosystem of the vineyard, including the people and animals who worked there. So why was he introducing foreign substances into his own body to alter the natural balance? Anti-depressant medications were unnatural and they worked in subtle and insidious ways: reinforcing harmful behavior by making you comfortable with it, reinforcing passivity by making it seem acceptable behavior. Depression is difficult, but rounding off the edges doesn’t help. It just makes it worse. He had made his decision.”

Ben decided to change because he didn’t like the way he felt, or didn’t feel, and because he had come to believe in the need for man to live with, and work from what nature gives.

Now I’ve begun to look into the research on anti-depressant medication – something I should have done long ago – and what I’m reading is making me angry. Whether I would have had this reaction while still taking the meds is an open question, but I feel healthier just being able to feel the anger.

The first stop was the first of a series of NY Times opinion articles by a writer named Diana Spechler called “Breaking Up With My Meds.”

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/12/breaking-up-with-my-meds/?_r=0

Her condition would seem to be more severe than mine, but her description of some of the side-effects of the medication was similar.

Here’s the paragraph that hit home:

My thinking is slowed, my creativity stymied. When I work, I feel as though boulders are strapped to my brain. I’m constantly thirsty. I’ve lost my taste for exercise, a mood-enhancer I’ve long relied on, and become more sedentary than I’ve ever been. Perhaps most disruptive of all, depression still lies, dead weight, on top of me — a few hours here, a few hours there — and medicated, I feel less motivation to wriggle out from under it.

Embedded in the article was a link to a piece from 2011 in The New York Review of Books titled: “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?” By Marcia Angell, Senior Lecturer in Social Medicine 
at Harvard Medical School and former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine. She discusses three books on psychiatry and the use of anti-depressant drugs

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/

Here are the three books she discusses:

The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth by Irving Kirsch

Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America by Robert Whitaker

Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry—A Doctor’s Revelations About a Profession in Crisis  by Daniel Carlat

I don’t intend to summarize or criticize any of these works, read Angell’s article, but as always with this blog I want to explore my personal reactions to what is significant in my world and, specifically, how it affects creativity.

I feel so strongly that trashing the meds has enabled me to reach an emotional awareness that has, in turn, allowed me to write with a greater precision, clarity, and depth than ever before. That’s only my belief, but at this stage, it’s the only one that counts.

Kirsch has two major theses, both strongly supported by the data he presents. One: anti-depressant medications are no more effective than the placebos used to control clinical trials, and this fact is well known to the pharmaceutical companies, the FDA, and doctors who have taken the time to read the literature. It is easy to understand why nothing is done about it: the drug companies make a lot of money selling these meds, the FDA receives half its funding from the drug companies, and the doctors don’t have anything else to offer their patients.

Two: The marketing and prescribing of these meds is based on the theory that depression is caused by a chemical balance resulting in a deficiency of neurotransmitters in the brain. There is no evidence that this is true. None.

The meds are designed to increase the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain, thereby acting on a condition that is not proven to exist.

Here, from Angell’s work is the nut of the problem:

“…because certain antidepressants increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, it was postulated that depression is caused by too little serotonin. (These antidepressants, like Prozac or Celexa, are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) because they prevent the reabsorption of serotonin by the neurons that release it, so that more remains in the synapses to activate other neurons.) Thus, instead of developing a drug to treat an abnormality, an abnormality was postulated to fit a drug.

That was a great leap in logic, as all three authors point out. It was entirely possible that drugs that affected neurotransmitter levels could relieve symptoms even if neurotransmitters had nothing to do with the illness in the first place (and even possible that they relieved symptoms through some other mode of action entirely). As Carlat puts it, “By this same logic one could argue that the cause of all pain conditions is a deficiency of opiates, since narcotic pain medications activate opiate receptors in the brain.” Or similarly, one could argue that fevers are caused by too little aspirin.

That’s interesting and amusing, but here’s the real problem for me: once a person is put on a psychiatric medication, which, in one manner or another, throws a wrench into the usual mechanics of a neuronal pathway, his or her brain begins to function…abnormally.

So here’s the deal: these drugs (SSRIs) increase the level of serotonin in the brain, but there is absolutely no scientific evidence that my depression or anyone else’s resulted from a deficiency of serotonin. In my case, the result was an enormous dulling of emotions, loss of mental acuity and creativity, and an increase in passivity that kept me from trying to overcome the effects of depression. I believe it worsened over time but can’t say for sure; it may be that changed circumstances finally forced me to recognize what was happening all along.

For me, the only way past this was to quit taking the meds. I feel very strongly that this has resulted in reversing these debilitating conditions and that has, in turn, freed me to write the insight and clarity I was seeking. We’ll see.

©2015 Ron Scherl