Jan 17

“Fearless”: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

It’s been about 30 years since the movie Fearless (1993) first took flight. Fearless was adapted for the big screen from the novel by Rafael Yglesias (who also wrote the script) and was directed by Peter Weir. It offers a cinematic view of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that’s pretty realistic and definitely worth seeing.

A 2016 study, among others listed here, found “that health care providers need to be aware that survivors may be at risk for PTSD or depression, regardless of the objective severity of their physical injuries” (PubMed).

What we know in the beginning of Fearless is that a commercial airplane is about to crash. In the final moments before it happens, married architect Max Klein (Jeff Bridges), a passenger with a fear of flying, seems to accept his imminent demise and turns toward comforting others. When he actually survives the disaster, he’s in total shock and disbelief.

Post-crash, Max is changed big-time. While now feeling personally invulnerable and godlike, he’s also emotionally distant from everyone and everything from his former life.

Are his changes related to PTSD? David J. Morris, author of The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, declared in 2018 that “the best movie about PTSD isn’t about war,” it’s this one. From TaskandPurpose:

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Fearless is its systematic demolition of virtually every PTSD cliché. It’s almost as if the filmmakers went through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the bible of psychiatry) and looked for ways to subvert the modern medical view of post-traumatic recovery.

The airline provides Max with a psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Perlman (John Turturro). Although he specializes in PTSD, he ultimately feels unable to get through to Max.

Perlman decides, therefore, to pair Max with another survivor, severely depressed and guilt-ridden Carla Rodrigo (Rosie Perez), whose infant son died in the crash. He explains this to Carla’s husband:

Dr. Bill Perlman: He and your wife are the only survivors I can’t reach. She won’t talk and he won’t admit the crash was bad.
Manny Rodrigo: Is that right? He says it was good?
Dr. Bill Perlman: Says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

While Max tries to help Carla, he also continually exhibits highly risky behavior and in one situation places her in harm’s way as well. Other life changes: “He’s robotic in his unfiltered truth telling. He’s burdened with nightmares and flashbacks, which his ‘invincibility’ barely masks. He’s stopped working productively as an architect, obsessed instead with visually recreating the ‘divine light’ he saw mid-trauma. His intense rapport with Carla and Byron has displaced attention to his own wife and son” (Lincoln Andrews, OnlySky.media).

Ultimately, Max and Carla build a strong friendship, each helping the other heal. And Max starts to learn that miraculously making it through one life-threatening and devastating experience doesn’t mean he can live the rest of his life fearlessly.

Jan 10

Physical Exercise As Therapy: “Joy” and “Medicine”

Two books on the benefits of physical exercise are Exercise Is Medicine (2020) by Judy Foreman and The Joy of Movement (2021) by Kelly McGonigal.

I. The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal

“Movement offers us pleasure, identity, belonging and hope. It puts us in places that are good for us, whether that’s outdoors in nature, in an environment that challenges us, or with a supportive community. It allows us to redefine ourselves and reimagine what is possible. It makes social connection easier and self-transcendence possible.”

Physical exercise isn’t just about losing weight or being fit or being athletic, maintains author Kelly McGonigal. Simply put, moving your body in various ways is better than not doing so. And it’s great not just for one’s body but also for one’s state of mind.

As reported by Megan O’Neill Melle in Parade, there are six cited mental benefits of exercise, paraphrased below:

  1. Stress-busting: Not eliminating stress, but improving one’s management of stress.
  2. Social connection: Due to certain brain chemicals released, moving along with others strengthens one’s ability to enjoy time with other people.
  3. It offers hope: “Hope molecules” inject healing properties.
  4. Brain boosting: For example, protection against Alzheimer’s and relief from depression.
  5. Increased happiness: In a phenomenon known as “collective joy,” there’s an increase in such things as optimism and social connection.
  6. It works with music: Music helps exercise to occur and links to memory in ways that help stimulate such feelings as “strength, energy, courage or happiness.”

II. Exercise Is Medicine by Judy Foreman

In Exercise Is Medicine: How Physical Activity Boosts Health and Slows Aging, health journalist Judy Foreman concludes that physical exercise is “by far the most effective, and safest, strategy for promoting a long, healthy life.” Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can be significantly improved, for example, via regular physical movement.

Publishers Weekly: “The penultimate chapter is especially helpful, covering topics such as what happens when one stops exercising, and the relationship between excessive weight and fitness, and beta-blockers and exercise. Throughout, Foreman includes ‘Inspirational Tales,’ research studies, and boxed sidebars covering chapter-related topics.”

A blog post of Foreman’s that’s particularly pertinent for those who sit while at work is titled “Sitting Kills.” Opening sentence: “It’s not just that physical activity is good for you. It’s that a sedentary lifestyle, as a totally separate variable, is seriously bad.

Other excerpts:

Sitting too much  all by itself – can raise the risk of disease and premature mortality, even if you dutifully exercise.

If you want a short, sickly life, just sit there, for 13 hours a day, like the average American. (In Western countries overall, adults spend 55 to 70 percent of the day – 9 to 11 hours – just sitting.)

Replacing just two minutes of sitting every hour with a bit of moving around helps mitigate the risks of sitting. Better yet, don’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a stretch.

…“(S)edentary physiology” is now considered a separate field of research from the long-established field of “exercise physiology.”

…(P)hysical inactivity causes as many deaths a year globally as smoking.

Jan 02

“Bridget Jones” and New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are the cornerstone of both the 1996 novel Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding and its screenplay adaptation of 2001. Bridget Jones (played by Renee Zellweger in the film) starts off her year with good intentions toward making significant life changes–and a diary to keep track of it all.

The bestselling book by Fielding was based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the author has acknowledged. Primed by the novel, many flocked to see the movie when it came out several years later.

Stephen Holden (New York Times) describes the film’s lead: “Bridget Jones, in case you didn’t know, is a 32-year-old bachelorette who works in a London publishing house and frets with sad amusement about her increasingly iffy prospects for finding a long-term relationship. Summoning up her shaky willpower, she decides to adopt the usual self-improvement regimen to make herself more desirable. She will lose 20 pounds, cut down on alcohol, cigarettes and sweets, and land the boat of her dreams. Her diary entries are prefaced with meticulous records of her progress (and lack thereof) in achieving her stringent numerical goals.”

One of Bridget’s best features? States Holden: “…(E)ven when downhearted, she maintains a rueful sense of humor.”

(Incidentally, when my screenplay Minding Therapy won the Hollywood Script award in 2009, they called it “hip and relevant, with a Bridget Jones’s Diary kind of flavor.”)

Below is the film’s trailer:

In the end, although Bridget feels compelled to admit that she hasn’t made the changes she’d wanted and that her diary is “foolish,” there is a significant measure of progress–albeit against her own inclinations–in one specific area. She’s managed to stumble into a decent relationship.

And it’s this special man, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who says the key words to Bridget that might make all those earnest resolutions seem not so important after all: “…I like you very much. Just as you are.”

How does the film feel today, over 20 years later? As would be expected, there’s some obvious datedness. One notable dynamic that Bridget encounters at work with her boss (Hugh Grant), for instance, would now be a #MeToo problem, Rebecca Nicholson (The Guardian) points out.

Other issues of note are the fat phobia that pervades as well as what we could call singlehood phobia. But even if we’re somewhat smarter about these issues decades later, don’t they remain relevant? Don’t women in today’s world still appreciate Bridget’s struggles?

Indeed, at the 20-year anniversary of the film, Jenny Singer, Glamour, concluded it’s “perfect, just the way it is.”

Dec 27

“Dry January” Versus “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace

Dry January can be extremely positive or can actually reinforce the stronghold alcohol has on someone. Here’s why. When we give up something we feel is benefiting us, we feel deprived. While you might be able to get through the 31 days of January without drinking, there is a good chance that…you have actually created more of a desire for it. As soon as we tell ourselves we can’t have something we tend to want it even more. Annie Grace to Jess Cording, Forbes

If you’re concerned about your drinking and not sure about Dry January as a strategy, consider Annie Grace‘s book This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life. Grace has not only successfully worked on changing her own alcohol use but has also helped many individuals in similar circumstances.

Notably, Grace’s strategies are not for those who may be physically dependent on alcohol,  which can require a different kind of detox under a professional’s care. From Grace’s website: “It is strongly recommended that you seek professional advice regarding your health before attempting to incorporate any advice…Withdrawal symptoms due to a physical dependence on alcohol have the potential to be severe, and in some cases life-threatening.”

If you’re dealing with psychological dependence, though, Grace declares, “I can put you back in control by removing your desire to drink, but be forewarned, getting rid of your desire for alcohol is the easy part. The hard part is going against groupthink, the herd mentality of our alcohol-saturated culture. After all, alcohol is the only drug on earth you have to justify not taking.”

Want to broaden your horizons? Consider reading her blog or listening to her podcast. Join her support community. Or all of the above.

Instead of Dry January, try her 30-day Alcohol Experiment. Click on this link if the following five possible benefits, per Grace, interest you:

  1. clarity and focus
  2. your time becomes freed up
  3. better health and sleep, increased libido, reduced anxiety, no hangovers, etc.
  4. whereas failing is not possible, learning is inevitable
  5. mindful relationship with alcohol

Selected Quotes from This Naked Mind

Let me ask you, from a purely physiological perspective, how could alcohol possibly make you happy? The effect of alcohol is to deaden all of your senses, to numb you, to inebriate you. If you are numb, how can you feel anything, happiness included?

We’ve been conditioned to believe we enjoy drinking. We think it enhances our social life and relieves boredom and stress. We believe these things below our conscious awareness. This is why, even after we consciously acknowledge that alcohol takes more than it gives, we retain the desire to drink.

Ask yourself if you are happier than before. Ask yourself if you want to spend the rest of your life dumber, with your senses deadened, experiencing tunnel vision, and unable to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

The problem with alcohol is that once you start drinking you can’t judge the point where a little is good and a lot becomes a disaster. When you are making a fool of yourself, or when your conversation skills wane, you remain unaware. Even if you could gauge the exact amount to drink, booze doesn’t make you cleverer, funnier, more creative, or more interesting. There is nothing inherent in alcohol that can do this. 

But when you completely change your mental (conscious and unconscious) perspective on alcohol, you begin to see the truth about drinking. When this happens, no willpower is required, and it becomes a joy not to drink. This is the mystery of spontaneous sobriety…

Dec 20

“It’s a Wonderful Life”: Past and Present Views of the Film

Is It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), with one of its themes suicidality, really worth seeing again and again? It was panned from some of the major film critics of its time and bombed at the box office, yet it’s still going strong on our TV sets.

The Plot

As summarized by the late Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com, It’s a Wonderful Life “works like a strong and fundamental fable, sort of a ‘Christmas Carol’ in reverse: Instead of a mean old man being shown scenes of happiness, we have a hero who plunges into despair.”

The hero, of course, is George Bailey (James Stewart), a man who never quite makes it out of his quiet birthplace of Bedford Falls. As a young man he dreams of shaking the dust from his shoes and traveling to far-off lands, but one thing and then another keeps him at home — especially his responsibility to the family savings and loan association, which is the only thing standing between Bedford Falls and the greed of Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), the avaricious local banker.
George marries his high school sweetheart… settles down to raise a family, and helps half the poor folks in town buy homes where they can raise their own. Then, when George’s absentminded uncle (Thomas Mitchell) misplaces some bank funds during the Christmas season, it looks as if the evil Potter will have his way after all. George loses hope and turns mean… He despairs, and is standing on a bridge contemplating suicide when an Angel 2nd Class named Clarence (Henry Travers) saves him and shows him what life in Bedford Falls would have been like without him.

In the Unlikely Event You’ve Never Seen the Movie, Here’s a Trailer:

Some Modern Views About the Film

Ben Walters, Time Out“…the only Yuletide favourite to pivot around an attempted suicide.”

Gina Barreca, Psychology Today, notes that Bailey “realizes with misery and terror” that his wife (Donna Reed) would be single–and a librarian–had he never been born. “He concludes, therefore, that his life was meaningful, if only because he saved people from death, ruin, and the sheer misery of a single woman who is perpetually in circulation.”

George Michelsen Foy, Psychology Today, states that It’s a Wonderful LIfe “…was suspected by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of constituting ‘communist’ propaganda—though it was subsequently cleared. The movie reflects its time in other ways as well. The only African-American character in Capra’s film is a maid; women are mostly subservient housewives; the economic ideal it strives for is some kind of amorphous, semi-Christian charity.”

Some of the Film’s Themes and Messages

Rich Cohen, Salon, calls it “the most terrifying movie ever” and describes the gist of the movie as “the good man driven insane.”

George Michelson Foy, Psychology Today, admits that although he rewatches it regularly, he has to ask himself: “How can I be moved by a film that, in my view, so grievously misrepresents the truth?…In the film, George Bailey saves his bank and the town. In the real world, I would argue, Potter is winning.” 

Stanton Peele, Psychology Today, points out that what Clarence’s refocusing does to save George is what cognitive behavioral therapy can do for the rest of us.

…George returns home with a new appreciation for the small things around him – even the disappointments and stressors – as well as for his loved ones. This is the kind of awakening people often report after they nearly die. If only we could help depressed people crystalize such realizations without having them face death, then we’d have a therapy!
And we do. CBT helps people to learn these cognitive lessons so that they can create for themselves the same magic that Clarence performed for George. And Clarence’s demonstration of CBT is why ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ has stayed with us for what seems like, well, an eternity.