I didn't like Chris Rose's column, "To Hell and Back",
which everyone else seemed to admire
. The first time I tried to read it, I couldn't even finish it because it annoyed me so much. I tossed it aside and read other articles and columns. But then I saw the positive response to Rose's piece on the internet, so I read it again, assuming I had missed something. My reaction was the same, though. I still
didn't like it.
I got to hoping that a reliable malcontent like Jeffrey
would criticize it and piss everyone off, and I could then simply agree with his post, and escape most of the heat... But, no dice.
So, how can I put this? "To Hell and Back" irritated the philosopher in me.
Anxiety, dread, suicide... staring into "the abyss", undergoing "midnights of the soul"... these are not only medical conditions, they are philosophical
conditions. Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Nietzsche (among many others) had some thoughts on these disquieting states of mind, as well as the inherent dangers and opportunities lying therein. They had varying recommendations about how to handle "the abyss", but none of them were neuropharmacologic.Oyster, you're sounding like a scientologist. Are you sure you're not a clam?
Well, no, that's not my intent. Though I'm NOT a fan of the Big Pharma cartel, I'm married to someone who has worked in a mental health hospital, so I do understand the need for meds. But Rose ultimately treated his personal hell simply as a medical problem, without even the slightest acknowledgement of an ontological component. And that's what got my goat (along with a couple other pretentious little things that I will also cite).
Here's a few selections from "To Hell and Back" that I'd like to excerpt and briefly discuss:
This is the story of one journey -- my journey -- to the edge of the post-Katrina abyss, and back again. It is a story with a happy ending -- at least so far.
My own darkness first became visible last fall.
I spent... several months driving endlessly through bombed-out neighborhoods. I met legions of people who appeared to be dying from sadness, and I wrote about them.
I was receiving thousands of e-mails in reaction to my stories in the paper, and most of them were more accounts of death, destruction and despondency by people from around south Louisiana. I am pretty sure I possess the largest archive of personal Katrina stories, little histories that would break your heart.
I guess they broke mine.
I am an audience for other people's pain. But I never considered seeking treatment. I was afraid that medication would alter my emotions to a point of insensitivity, lower my antenna to where I would no longer feel the acute grip that Katrina and the flood have on the city's psyche.
I thought, I must bleed into the pages for my art. Talk about "embedded" journalism; this was the real deal.
Worse than chronicling a region's lamentation....
Uggh. For me, the highlited phrases "err" on the side of self- importance. Rose appears to say that he felt forced to write about post-Katrina N.O., and he did it so effectively that thousands of people inundated him with their stories, and Rose nobly refused to seek treatment so that he could feel Katrina's "acute grip", and "bleed it into the pages" for his art. And his art is our art, the art we must respond to, but our response is so overwhelming and painful that we might kill the artist with our sadness... so Rose was almost the sacrificial lamb for the city's pain...etc.
Granted, this is not the most charitable interpretation of Rose's words, but that's how they struck me when I first read them.
My case might be more extreme than some because I immersed myself fully into the horror and became a full-time chronicler of sorrowful tales. I live it every day and there is no such thing as leaving it behind at the office when a whole city takes the dive.
Then again, my case is less extreme than the first responders, the doctors and nurses and EMTs, and certainly anyone who got trapped in the Dome or the Convention Center or worse -- in the water, in their attics and on their rooftops. In some cases, stuck in trees.
I've got nothing on them. How the hell do they sleep at night?
Rose immersed himself "fully into the horror", yet doesn't understand how first responders or flood victims can cope. That query about how they sleep at night is an important one, and is worthy of more speculation and meditation than Rose allows. For example, has Rose asked any of the victims or responders how they get to "sleep at night"? Or does he merely write them off as less "sensitive" or "immersed" than he is-- the city's heroic artist, its chronicler of sorrow?
My personality has always been marked by insouciance and laughter, the seeking of adventure and new experiences. I am the class clown, the life of the party, the bon vivant.
I have always felt like I was more alert and alive than anyone in the room.
Oh, jeez. We've heard this before. In his prime, Rose truly "tripped the light fantastic"
like few others.
In his book "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness" -- the best literary guide to the disease that I have found -- the writer William Styron recounted his own descent into and recovery from depression...
Styron is a helluva writer. His words were my life.
Rose tells us that "the writer William Styron" (oh, that one!)
is... "a helluva writer". Well no shite, Chris. I'm glad one of the great writers of the 20th century gets your enthusiastic thumbs up.
My psychiatrist asked me not to identify him in this story and I am abiding by that request.
What is the purpose of that sentence? Or this one:
The warning labels on anti-depressants are loaded with ominous portent, everything from nausea to sexual dysfunction and, without going into more detail than I have already poured out here, let's just say that I'm doing quite well, thank you.
Anyway, Chris Rose then discusses how he was skeptical of psychiatry, and how he (and his wife) were able to convince the shrink to give him pills in 1.5 sessions instead of four, and how the pills effected him "immediately", and how the "dark curtain lifted almost entirely" by day 4 when the drug wasn't supposed to have even started
working that soon. Chris names the anti-depressant and says within 4 days he felt like his old self and it was like a "miracle". Except for a relapse which scared Chris and prompted the shrink to increase his dosage, the medicine "worked".
Hopefully many people will be inspired to find help like Chris did, and get the "medicine" they need. But after only two months on the meds, Rose paints a very optimistic picture about what antidepressants can do for people. Despite a couple qualifying statements, the overall impression one gets from the column is that psychiatrists can be pressured into prescribing drugs that work quickly and successfully. And that annoyed me-- Rose made the ascent from hell to normalcy seem too quick and easy.
I'm happy for Chris. His "darkness has lifted" and he doesn't cry anymore (though he says he already cried enough for "two lifetimes" in the past year). It sounds like he did the right thing and is happy with the results. Medicine "saved him". He writes:
I hate being dependent on a drug. Hate it more than I can say. But if the alternative is a proud stoicism in the face of sorrow accompanied by prolonged and unspeakable despair -- well, I'll take dependency.
Is Rose's "proud stoicism" the only alternative, though? Or is this something of a straw man? That's worth mulling over.
I would just submit that confronting "dark abysses" can be an ontological challenge rather than simply a neurological one.
Last week, I got more out of this post by Ray, and the last paragraph of this post by Trina than I did from the entire Rose essay. I also watched a documentary about Pol Pot's reign of terror in Cambodia, which really puts life into perspective.
But what prompted me to write this post was Andrei Codrescu's column in this week's Gambit Weekly (not online yet). It's the only piece I've seen that has been (obliquely) critical of Rose's "To Hell and Back". Codrescu writes:
I'd just heard from a friend that he was depressed until he met the right drug.
If you really think about it, everybody is depressed, and you can't blame that on catastrophe and history... I was born with a rather dark view of the progress of human life because we were horribly poor in a small town at the edge of nowhere... The truth is pretty subjective. Only depression is real. There was an old slogan in the 70's: "Reality is for people who can't face drugs." Looks like now it's back to the other way around.
I don't totally subscribe to Andrei's view, but I will remind readers of Nietzsche's query which I included in my very first post
To what extent can truth endure incorporation? That is the question, that is the experiment.
And by "truth" Nietzsche might mean something like "the truth of untruth".... More at GS 110
---Judy has a link
to Michael Tisserand's article on Chris Rose.
Chris Rose has a byline. That's part of it or maybe a lot of it. Your point about the medical model trumping the psychological (ontological) is well made. That's the crux of the whole matter and has been since the dawn of psychoanalysis. "We've Had 100 Years of Psychotherapy and Things are Getting Worse" is a great dialogue and book about it.
I've been treated for major depression for many years, and I have some apparently unshakeable characteristics of PTSD. I read Rose's article like a veteran reviewing the report of a rookie. I thought it was valuable for it's explanation of how he had thought depressed people should suck it up, get it together and move on without drugs until it happened to him.
I thought the neat, "I'm cured" ending was misleading, because it's a daily struggle, with drugs or without. He didn't get into the more complicated things about depression, which can also be the most interesting. I've often thought that my depression sometimes allows me to see what the hell is really going on when many other people are busy admiring the bright, shiny package that it came in. Lacking the "proper" amount of wide-eyed hope, I don't sit around waiting for Jesus or Santa Claus to show up and make things better. Cynicism is the down side. Somewhere along the line, I started accepting the absurdity of it all and even encouraging it.
You are right that every depressed person should get outside themselves and make it their business to learn about the places in the world where there really are monsters. What we have gone through here is terrible, but compared to the daily lives of MOST people in the world, our lives are enviable.
i lothe the death of psychatry in this era. i go to see someone who is ostensibly a psychiatrist every month, but as far as i can tell, in the 10 minutes he sees me, i receie nothing remotely resembling psychiatric treatment. they need to change all the titles to their specialty to "Psychopharmocology" as all they do is push pills. one pill after another. i've been on dozens of different pills. none of which has worked worth a darn in the long term. once the placebo effect of "ooh, i got a new pill, this will finally be 'IT'" wears off, i'm back to the same state i was before.
being a layperson, what do i know? but i feel that my treatment would work best with a combination of meds and some form of actual psychiatry/psychology... i.e. therapy. but the only way a poor person can get therapy is if they are a criminal, an alcoholic, or a drug addict.
i'm not as far gone as tom cruise, and i'm never going to be a $cientologist, but i can see how people who are in need of more than psychopharmocology can offer get sucked in. they at least give you a form of "therapy" in auditing. (unfortunately it also leads to brainwashing & worse).
i think it's a great kept secret that the drugs really don't work for long-term depression. and when they don't, there's a tendancy to 'blame the patient'. they act like there's something wrong with you, an attitude of "well, they work for everyone else!" to the point where they can convince severe chronic depression patients to undergo ECT! and that doesn't work long-term either! but the drs work so hard at convincing the patients that they're at fault, they'll try anything.
psychiatry seems to have gone in cycles. started out with talk therapy only, went to the medical model only, then went back to talk therapy, and now back to medical again. when on earth will some 'genius' say "gee, maybe we should try a combination?"
my new combination of meds that i've been on since about may isn't working again. but my psych just keeps on prescribing them, not listening to me saying that my temper is getting shorter, my depression getting darker, my apathy growing more overwhelming. every visit it's, "how you doing.. uh huh... (scrip pad ripping) here you go, see you in a month."
i like to hope that maybe people with who aren't disabled, who have money, and who have better than medicaid for insurance get better treatment... but i don't think so. i think the presciption pad method of psychiatry rules the roost now and nothing can unseat it.
It is truly a sad day when I have to agree with Codrescu, Mr. Self Appointed Laureate of New Orleans, but hey.
Actually, I was quite peeved by Rose... but got a little gun shy after seeing how many people were "moved" by it. I posted my objection in a comment on Dangle's blog.... and just never got around to writing the post I wanted to on it. Perhaps I've gone soft... will have to take steps to rectify this. Thanks for picking up the slack and saying something, though.
Of course he's self-important. He's a colomnist. Bloggers are self-important too. Anyone who puts their stuff out there has a case of self-importance. Why would we think anyone would want to read our stuff unless we thought we had something to say? After that it's just different shades of the same color.
You had some valid points but much of what you said seems like you are simply hating on Rose (as in the linked blog post). The others just seemed like nitpicking and not worthy of actually putting into words(the "sleep at night" part, the William Styron part). Or like you were lambasting him because so few others haven't.
You said, "the overall impression one gets from the column is that psychiatrists can be pressured into prescribing drugs that work quickly and successfully." Well, an impression is a singular thing. It wasn't the impression that I got from it. It wasn't the impression anyone I talked to got from it. I just didn't seem like the point Rose was making was that shrinks can be bullied and drugs make everything, ahem, rosy. It's just not a strong enough argument to bear mentioning. I thought the article was about someone finally admitting to themself that they needed help. and perhaps its intent was to cause others to consider it themselves. The effect of the pills were just an afterthought it seemed to me.
Rose gets all the criticism because his is an oft-read column. I didn't think his read on coming out of the Zoloft closet was one of his best (I always liked the angrier ones), but I also didn't regard it enough to become pissed off about it with a "How dare he!" tone. The article was just there.
I always thought Rose was on our side. I mean, we got assholes like this running around out there...
You put into words here what I could not. I agree with you whole-heartedly.
However, maybe the one good thing that will come out of it is that people will seek help.
Rose's point.. as it almost always is.. is that Chris Rose is a very important person. And no this is not the automatic subject of any columists' writing. Rose has been an exceptionally irritating writer from his pre-K celebrity gossip days to his post-K self-annointed patron saint of all that is flooded career. His columns are routinely peppered with the kind of cringe-inducing statements (i.e. "I have always felt like I was more alert and alive than anyone in the room.") that should embarrass the fuck out of anyone with any sense of perspective. It is likely this lack of perspective.. this over-inflated sense of importance that has led Rose to his current status of pill popping egomaniacal yuppie uber-douche. I wonder how much lower a man can actually sink... but I'm sure if anyone can discover this it will be Rose. That is.. if he doesn't move away within the next year or so.. which is still one of my pet predictions
Is this the first written uttering of Rose as a "pill popper"? Perhaps! Undoubtedly more to come I'm sure.
Of course,I have always reserved that name for people strung out on painkillers or mood-enhancers and filling out fake prescriptions. But now that I know it includes doctor-prescribed anti-deppresents, I'll be sure to address my mother that way when I call her tonight. I'll leave at the uber-douche part though.
Yes, "I have always felt like I was more alert and alive than anyone in the room" is a retarded thing to say. No doubt about it. Takes real arrogance to say that. Especially if I am in said room! >:)
But I just don't see how self-importance applies to only him and not any other opinion writers and, for that matter, bloggers. One can't undertake a venture like a blog or a column without some thought that your words have value and worth. And once that happens, you become self important. A+B=C. His only crime is he lacks the judgement to hide his. Or maybe he just lacks the humility.
Either way, we shouldn't try to hide ours either.
Thanks for all the comments. I actually expected there to be more folks "taking me to task" on this, like varga.
I don't think anyone would argue that blogging is a somewhat self-absorbed, self-important thing to do. But, in my case, it's a good alternative to yelling at the TV.
And there are ways of doing it that are less insufferable than others.
I think we have to seperate out the Chris Rose we all love to hate from the story, which is always a difficult task with a columnist. I would argue he's done a service if he sends someone to the pill mill as an alternative to, say, drinking ones self to death.
The failings of psychiatry and psychology aren't Rose's, even if his his unthinking embrace of a psychotropic solution is different in degree and not kind from Mr. Cruise's views on the subject.
What I want to know is what meds (if any) is his editor on? Why didn't they turn him as a reporter (something which most columnists are presumed to have done in their life, and retain some skills from) to talk to first responders and others who stayed or came, to talk about the Elephant (the best thing he wrote I think, back about a year ago now).
Rose is a friend...I'll get that out of the way. (at least he was before i wrote this.) While I would tell him this face to face, I know he wouldn't give a damn what I thought of the article.
I'll admit I didn't like the article either. I sense a degree of cheap sentimentality in it. I read it thrice and it grated me more every time.
I think in the days and months immediately following the storm, Chris was "unconscious" in his writing. I think he tapped into what all writers and artists aspire to...his mind turned off and he was merely channeling the muse.
But with a Pulitzer nomination, I think he has become keenly aware that his audience is no longer local. Read the article again and ask yourself, "Is he relaying this information to New Orleanian's or to someone else?"...that was the biggest problem I have with the piece. He is no longer unconscious...he is now very conscious of who he is writing for and it's pretty transparent in this article. I wish he would start writing to us again...to his own city. I think when he's "on", he's as good a writer as anyone out there, his insight can be brilliant and he takes risks...but when he's "off", it's just not....well...on.
I don't doubt the sincerity of his angst...I just doubt the sincerity of the article itself.
I would relate it to a comment I heard Ace Frehely make on a VH-1 documentary about KISS. He was talking about the Grunge movement and the whole angst thing. I'll have to paraphrase: "I never got that. Yeah, your life sucks...so does everyone else's. Now shut the fuck up and play some Rock n' Roll before you die."
I think that's kind of how I feel about this piece. Ok you're in a funk, you got some good meds....so get on with it, man and fucking tell us something we need to hear.
I guess my ultimate response is that Michael Chertof is still in charge of Homeland Security and here we are debating the integrity of Chris Rose. Rose isn't our villain and shouldn't be treated as such. I am sure he has his flaws but I'm not so sure douchbaggery is one of them. Michael Brown, William Jefferson and yes, Ray Nagin seem like bigger douches to me.
But,Varg, Chris Rose is more in the average public eye than Michael Chertof,etc. Remember, not everyone is so politically oriented. Many people work all day everyday and don't keep up with politics but they do read the T-P.
I have been a CR fan but this particular post smacked of self-importance to me - intuitively I found it insincere. Maybe I'm wrong - I hope so.
BTW - I like your blog. :)
You're citing Nietzsche!? to question Rose's focus on the chemical nature of depression? Jesus. Heidegger and Kierkegaard I'll accept, but the syphillitic, misogynistic little bugger is no model for exploring the dark night of anything other than a brothel. The right pharmacology would have saved us all a lot of beautifully written but sad, souless, empty blather from the Superman.
I love your blog, but jeez. Nietzsche. Bleh.
Citing Nietzsche is nothing...Dambala cited Ace Frehley! Long live the Spaceman!
I'm quite annoyed by a lot of people treating Katrina as the worst thing that has happened to humanity. Jeez, think about all of the people who went through Auschwitz, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Southeast Asian quake and tsunami and the Pakistani earthquake and don't even know what a therapist or antidepressant is.
America is too medicated. Sure, I've been on a mild anti-anxiety drug for a couple of years now and understand chemical imbalance and the sorrow it creates in the face of tragedy like Katrina, but ...
Chris Rose, shut the fuck up and leave the real victims with some shred of dignity!
Thanks for the comment.
Yes, I'm a fan of Nietzsche, and I can separate the misogyny from the other stuff, much of which I'd not term "empty". Section 110 from the Gay Science, in my opinion, is worthy of serious contemplation.
Nietzsche also had some serious physical and mental, er, challenges, that finally overwhelmed him. But I think he dared to stare into some personal abysses. Substitute whoever you wish for Nietzsche, though. (As you know, it's certainly not a perfect example.) My bias is towards 19th century continental philosophers, but it's clear that Chris Rose could do some more "serious" reading. Or watching. I saw a film called "What the [bleep] do we know" last night that I think Rose, and everyone, could benefit from.
(Heidegger was a Nazi who basically formalized Nietzsche's thought into a metaphysic, but I notice that you found him acceptable. Rightly so. If a great thinker like Hannah Arendt can separate Heidegger's philosophy from his objectionable biography, I think we can make the same effort.)
Jeffrey, you are working on my last medicated nerve with that pill-popping comment. Don't MAKE me open up a 32-ounce can of existential whoop-ass on you, boy.
Rose's writing, while sometimes very funny and clever, has always run toward the maudlin. I suspect that's why he didn't win the Pulitzer Prize. Almost every NOLA blogger is a deeper thinker than he is, even Adrastos.
Oy, oyster. We'll just have to disagree over philosophy and the daily news. I think you gloss over Nietzsche's syphillis and madness by calling it a health problem. I stop romanticizing (heh, little 19th c. joke there) that period after hitting 30. Fair enough, though, calling me on Heidegger. I agree it's possible to detach the philosopher from his ideas, but I don't think it's a given. In any case, I stick by my argument that Nietzsche has little to offer a person in need of staving off suicidal impulses. There's no virtue in plumbing our depths when chemicals are part of what is out of whack. Science trumps subjectivism sometimes. We actually know a lot about how we work; more than our 19th century forebears did.
"What the [bleep] do we know" struck me as borderline cultish, not enlightening. But what the fuck do I know?
Rose is no deep thinker; on that we agree. But he has matured from a skeezy entertainment writer obsessed with Britney to a man at least trying to aware that he has depths. That transition started with a column he wrote a few years ago after the death of a friend following childbirth. Meanwhile, I don't expect a newspaper columnist to navel gaze over 19th century philosophy that is pretty much of interest only historically. I'll look to other journals for that. I'm just happy he's not pulling out a Chicken Soup for the Flooded self-help book.
"My case might be more extreme than some because I immersed myself fully into the horror and became a full-time chronicler of sorrowful tales."
That would make most of the bloggers' cases more extreme, but they don't seem to perched on the edge of the abyss or some such.
Rose doesn't know anything about menstrual cycles and the existential crises they generate around the same couple of days every month.
Heh.. "Chicken Soup for the Flooded" makes a decent alternnative title to "One Dead in the Attic" if you ask me. I like it.
Well, he's a helluva dead writer now...
From the New York Times...
"William Styron, the novelist from the American South whose explorations of difficult historical and moral questions earned him a place among the leading literary figures of the post-World War II generation, died today in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where he had a home. He was 81."
I thought I would move this discussion over from my blog to your blog.
If Rose’s column sends a message that it is OK for people who feel bad to seek help, take medicine or just to simply understand that they are not alone, then what is the harm and what is the reason for the criticism?
You ask and “state” to me:
"Your criticism (and the criticisms from others) and the necessity to share and document your criticism was necessary for what reason? Your premise that it was "necessary" is a very weird assumption. What blog posts are "necessary"? We vent, or vomit, or converse, or clarify our thoughts... there's no "necessity" to it."
End of quote
Oyster, if not out of necessity, then for what reason, purpose, intent and/or motive?
To “vent, vomit, converse or clarify our thoughts”, as you say, one must have reason, purpose, intent and/or motive. Reason, purpose, intent and/or motive are derived from one’s necessities, be they conscious or subconscious, selfless or selfish, overt or covert.
The intention of my post on Oct. 31 was clear. You got it.
The intention of your post remains unclear. I still don’t get it.