Mar 26

“Blue Dreams” by Lauren Slater: Psychotropic Drugs

Thanks to psychiatry’s drugs, I have a mind that can appreciate the beauty around me, but on the other hand, thanks to psychiatry’s drugs, I am dying faster than you are. Lauren Slater, Blue Dreams

Psychologist and writer Lauren Slater, knows all too well the benefits and disadvantages of taking psychotropic drugs—she’s done it for 35 years. Diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, she’s not only been on Prozac (she authored the bestselling Prozac Diary in 1998) but also various other medications over the years. She believes there are physiological tradeoffs to taking these.

Her new book, Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds, is the result, in part, of a personal desire to find out deeper details about the drugs she’s taken and the possible effects on her body; and also, to find out what lies ahead in the field of psychopharmacology, not only for herself but for everyone.

On the science behind the category of antidepressants, for example, Slater notes that it’s iffy—though not marketed that way. Consumers are told about chemical imbalances and low serotonin levels that need correcting. “’There is no proof that a depressed person has a chemical imbalance,’ Slater writes. ‘When you choose nevertheless to put that person on a medication that will alter neurotransmitter levels in his or her brain, then in effect you are causing a chemical imbalance rather than curing one'” (Parul Sehgal, New York Times).

Research, on the other hand, does show that current types of antidepressants, such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), work about two-thirds of the time, as did the older tricyclic antidepressants.

“The drug Slater relies on is called Zyprexa,” states Sehgal. “Curiously enough it’s the same drug Andrew Solomon described taking almost 20 years ago, in his National Book Award-winning history of depression, ‘The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.’ He writes of the relief and anguish the drug brought him with eerie similarity, of having to choose his mind over his body.”

What may bring hope in the future are the psychedelics, such as LSD, MDMA, and “magic mushrooms,” believe it or not. As Slater expresses to Olga Khazan, The Atlantic:

The beauty of them is you can take them just once or twice. You get a significant mind shift from that. That can be curative, especially for things like addiction, where you can take a psychedelic and realize on the psychedelic that you are ruining your life and the lives of those around you. You can have that kind of deep realization and then deep commitment to change, which can work.
That’s what you’re trying to do in psychotherapy. You’re trying to shift a person’s paradigm, or a person’s plot they have of their life. My life is terrible, I hate my jobMy spouse and I are always arguing, my house is a mess. This is a story that a person tells themselves about their life. Psychedelics blow that story open and suddenly there’s room for a new narrative. I don’t see anything coming along that’s going to be quite as powerful as what those drugs have to offer.

In addition to the psychedelics, Slater says that in the future there will be “neural implants that provide a ‘malleable and reversible form of psychosurgery’” (Publishers Weekly).

Could this or the psychedelics really prove to be reliable alternatives to psychotropic drugs? That remains to be seen.

Mar 23

“Love, Simon”: Closeted Teen Story Finds Hollywood

“Love, Simon” is a universal story, even if you’re not a gay teenager. The challenge of figuring out who we are and standing comfortably in that identity might begin in high school, but often lasts a lifetime. As Simon so aptly says: “No matter what, announcing who you are to the world is pretty terrifying.” Sandy Cohen, The Advocate

Adapted from a YA novel by Becky Albertalli called Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Greg Berlanti‘s Love, Simon is the first Hollywood-type film to present the struggles of a closeted gay male adolescent while aiming at mainly a teen audience. Not only that, its reviews are generally positive, often citing its humor, warmth, and kinship to John Hughes (1970-2009) flicks.

David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, sets up the plot below:

… the story of a sweet-natured 17-year-old named Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), the elder child in a picture-perfect family that includes a dad (Josh Duhamel) who’s a loving and lovable doofus, a therapist mom (Jennifer Garner) who’s as nurturing as Bambi’s mother, and a younger sister (Talitha Bateman) who dotes on her older brother and enjoys cooking. They live in an ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ house in a charming suburb where Simon goes to high school and hangs around with three other kids, including Leah (Katherine Langford), his best friend since he was four.

Simon is gay but hasn’t come out yet. He begins a growing but anonymous online friendship with another closeted guy at school. The closer he gets to Blue, the closer he gets to coming out, especially to his friend.

Watch the trailer:

According to Jude Dry, IndieWire, “Most LGBTQ youth will see more of themselves in Ethan (Clark Moore)…the school’s resident flamboyant.” Simon’s process, on the other hand, reveals a type of  internalized homophobia common to those insecure about their orientation:

Observing Ethan being bullied, Simon says: ‘I wish he wouldn’t make it so hard on himself.’ The movie is full of these kinds of rigid gender stereotypes…In one sprightly fantasy dance sequence, Simon imagines his future life as an out gay man. When the fantasy ends, he says: ‘Okay, maybe not that gay.’ When Martin cleverly dresses as a Freudian slip for Halloween, Simon tells him ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have worn a dress. You look like a drag queen.’ Clearly, Simon could use a gender studies class…

Gay critic Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, takes the analysis further:

Queer pundits will no doubt take ‘Love, Simon’ to task for being too white, too cisgender, too heteronormative. And they won’t be wrong. But even if this is ‘Call Me By Your Name’ through the lens of the Disney Channel, there’s a place in the culture for adolescent gay kids to enjoy the shiny, shallow, pop-song-infused coming-of-age stories that their straight peers consume on a daily basis. The first one out of the gate always plays it safe; the trick now is to keep the gate open.

Duralde compares Simon’s “dream parents” to those in Call Me by Your Name. Other Simon reviewers, however, have favored the earthier attitudes of the latter.

If you haven’t seen Call Me by Your Name, the following constitutes a spoiler reveal (from Kevin Fallon, The Daily Beast): Teen Elio’s father tells him “that he noticed the intense connection he had with Oliver. He doesn’t judge. In fact, he wants to make it clear that he accepts it. That he encourages it. That he may even be jealous that Elio has been able to find someone to feel so intensely about, regardless of gender.”

Provided in the article above, Mr. Perlman’s entire monologue might be viewed, states Fallon, as “wish-fulfillment for many gay people, who could only dream of being greeted with such unbridled love and understanding of who they are by their parents.”

Mar 21

“Marlon Bundo”: Same-Sex Bunnies Vie with Pences

With its message of tolerance and advocacy, this charming children’s book explores issues of same sex marriage and democracy. Sweet, funny, and beautifully illustrated, this book is dedicated to every bunny who has ever felt different. Publisher blurb regarding Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo

If you haven’t yet ordered your print copy of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, you’ll have to wait perhaps a few weeks while it’s being reprinted—it’s already sold out! Since its publication date of March 18th! Not only that, it immediately hit number one on Amazon’s best seller list.

Sponsored by political comedian John Oliver, authored by a writer for his show, Jill Twiss (along with “Marlon Bundo”), and illustrated by EG Keller, this parody with a meaningful message “about a Very Special boy bunny who falls in love with another boy bunny” is a children’s book based on Vice President Pence’s real pet rabbit falling for Wesley, another male rabbit. And they want to get married.

There’s also an audiobook version with a stellar cast of readers: Jim Parsons,‎ Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jeff Garlin, Ellie Kemper,‎ John Lithgow,‎ Jack McBrayer,‎ and RuPaul. A stink bug (John Lithgow) opposes the rabbits tying the knot.

Check out either betterbundobook.com or focusonthefurmily.com (get the reference?) for details about purchasing. (Mike Pence is affiliated with conservative organization Focus on the Family.) All profits go to two different organizations that help LGBTQ folks, the Trevor Project and AIDS United.

The point, in case you haven’t yet heard, of the same-sex bunny book was to counter Pence’s views and actions against same-sex marriage and for conversion therapy by competing with the Pence family’s book, Marlon Bundo’s Day in the Life of the Vice President. The latter, written by the Veep’s daughter Charlotte and illustrated by the Veep’s wife, came out a day later and hasn’t fared as well.

According to Wikipedia, the surprise release of John Oliver’s edition “sparked large numbers of reviews and comments on Amazon. While overwhelmingly positive, only a quarter were left by actual buyers of the book. A number of one star reviews with negative comments were left on the page of the Pences’ book by non-buyers, after which it was no longer possible to review the Pence book without purchasing it.”

Selected Amazon customer review excerpts of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo:

Yes, it took me less than five minutes to read it, and cost $12, but it is sweet, and silly, and has an AWESOME message, and the proceeds go to a great cause! Bunnies should marry whomever they want!

Mar 19

Social Anxiety: “How to Be Yourself”

Just be yourself!” You’ve likely heard this advice and thought “But how?” Ellen Hendriksen’s How to Be Yourself is for the millions of Americans who consider themselves quiet, shy, introverted, or socially anxious. Through clear, engaging storytelling, she takes readers on an inspiring journey: from how social anxiety gets wired into our brains to how you can learn to live a life without fear. This book is also a groundbreaking roadmap to finally being your true, authentic self. Susan Cain, author of Quiet

Clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen has experienced and dealt with social anxiety herself. In addition to devoting her clinical career to this condition, another way she wants to help others lessen its effects is through her new book How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.

Up to 12% of the population have reportedly dealt with social anxiety, which, incidentally, is not the same as introversion, though there can be overlap. The main differences between the two are outlined in an article by Hendriksen. Click on the link for details.

  1. Introversion is born. Social anxiety is made.
  2. In social anxiety, there’s a fear of being revealed.
  3. Perfectionism lays fertile ground for social anxiety.
  4. Introversion is your way. Social anxiety gets in your way.

Another list of four is Hendriksen’s types of social anxiety (see her website Resources):

  1. Physical appearance self-consciousness
  2. Physical symptoms (fear of them showing)
  3. Diminished social skills (fear of their obviousness)
  4. Worry one’s personality is “fundamentally deficient”

Curious about how badly social anxiety affects your own life? Take Henriksen’s online quiz.

As for how to lessen the impact of “self-consciousness on steroids,” i.e., social anxiety, A. Pawlowski, Today, repackages the author’s advice in the form of six steps, the details of which are excerpted and/or paraphrased below:

  1. CHALLENGE YOUR INNER CRITIC: What are you afraid of? How bad would that really be? What are the odds this will happen? How will I cope?
  2. LET GO OF SAFETY BEHAVIORS: “To lessen anxiety in social situations, people often stare at their phones, wear sunglasses to avoid making eye contact, hide in plain sight, say very little or leave the room.” These just make social situations worse.
  3. REALIZE IT GETS BETTER AFTER THE FREAK OUT PERIOD
  4. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE SMOOTHEST PERSON IN THE ROOM: Just be your human self.
  5. ACCEPT THE SHENANIGANS OF YOUR ANXIOUS BODY: “Embrace your racing heart and sweaty palms without judgment, Hendriksen said. A bit of self-compassion will help put some space between you and the anxious thoughts.”
  6. YOU’LL FEEL LESS ANXIOUS BY LIVING YOUR LIFE: “Patients often tell Hendriksen they want to be less anxious first so they can finally go out and do things they’ve been avoiding like traveling, seeing friends or dating. But that’s actually backwards. Doing those very things now builds confidence, leading to less anxiety down the road, she said.”

Not ready to buy the book? Another of the resources offered via Hendriksen’s website is a free 7-day course to get you started toward decreased social anxiety.

Mar 15

“Golden Exits”: Heavy on Interpersonal Communication

The title refers to the tides on which people move in and out of each other’s lives, and the constant, maybe futile hope that there will be a perfect, mutually beneficial opportunity… Emily Yoshida, Vulture, regarding Golden Exits

Now available for home viewing, Golden Exits (2017) is set up below by Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

‘Love, jealousy and deficiency’ would make a fitting alternate title for ‘Golden Exits,’ the latest from the writer-director Alex Ross Perry. These words are spoken fairly late in the movie, which traces the emotional and psychological architecture of two intersecting groups of men and women. For the most part, they make an absurdly comic, at times pitifully narcissistic assembly — you laugh at them and then you cringe. White and mostly comfortably middle-class or bourgeois adjacent, they have nice homes, jobs and people they love and some they scarcely tolerate. They also have a lot of time to talk about themselves and their discontent, which eats at some and all but consumes others.

Elizabeth Weitzman, The Wrap, on a key premise every critic points out:

‘I feel like people never make films about ordinary people who don’t really do anything,’ sighs…Naomi (Emily Browning…), and she has arrived in Brooklyn from Australia only to find herself fetishized by a group of ordinary people who don’t really do anything.

More about the plot and some key characters from Weitzman:

Nick [Adam Horovitz] is an archivist, currently tasked with making sense of his father-in-law’s life. His wife, Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny), wants to believe that he hired Naomi for her skills, but Alyssa’s sister Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker) is skeptical. And rightfully so: not only does Nick have a vaguely referenced history of infidelity, but he almost immediately shows up at Naomi’s door drunk, at night, wheedling for some company.

Of special interest to this blog is Alyssa’s occupation. As described by Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, she’s “a morose therapist who hasn’t forgotten or forgiven her husband’s earlier dalliances.”

Rounding out the main cast of characters are Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), his wife Jess (Analeigh Tipton), and Jess’s sister Sam (Lily Rabe).

Richard Brody, New Yorker, on the themes of Golden Exits:

…a story of sibling rivalries and family heritage (artistic and material), of fragile marriages and bitter solitude, of solidarity and betrayal, of the possibilities of youth and the limits of encroaching middle age, of work as passion and work as burden, of the intimate relationships that develop through work, that nourish work, and that threaten work. It’s also the story of a small business—akin to a low-budget production office—which the tangled web of personal and professional connections turns into a splitting nucleus of emotional fury.

Maybe the music is one of the film’s best features, notes Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter, who isn’t the only critic to notice:

As you wait patiently — or perhaps you don’t — for something to actually happen, it slowly dawns that, as is often true in books but not in films, what’s really happening lies not in physical action but in the clogged but still beating hearts of all the characters. And it’s left to DeWitt’s brilliant score to expose all this. You barely notice the music at first, so discreetly is it layered onto the soundtrack. But it’s there, almost constantly, quietly roiling and churning, ebbing and flowing in an exceptionally beautiful way that becomes more noticeable with time but never distracts or calls attention to itself. It’s hard to think of another recent example of a strictly instrumental score that was so intrinsically linked to the artistic essence of a film.

You can see the trailer for Golden Exits below: