Nov 09

Group Therapy Saved Christie Tate’s Life

People who knew Tate probably didn’t see her as the sort who hoped that “someone would shoot me in the head.” Kirkus Reviews, regarding Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life

What’s it like to be in group therapy? Christie Tate tells readers about the importance of her own experience in her new memoir, Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life. “Tate sets a positive example by destigmatizing and demystifying group therapy, but she is careful never to present herself as an expert” (NPR).

How did she make the decision to try group therapy? At the time a high achieving law school student, Tate had hit a depressive low. A therapist recommended she enter one of his therapy groups: “Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: ‘You don’t need a cure, you need a witness’.”

An excerpt from Chapter One describes her mental state before making her decision:

In my journal, I used vague words of discomfort and distress: I feel afraid and anxious about myself. I feel afraid that I’m not OK, will never be OK & I’m doomed. It’s very uncomfortable to me. What’s wrong with me? I didn’t know then that a word existed to perfectly define my malady: lonely….

I was already in a 12-step program….Twelve-step recovery had arrested the worst of my disordered eating, and I credited it with saving my life. Why was I now wishing that life away? I confessed to my sponsor who lived in Texas that I’d been having dark thoughts.

‘I wish for death every day.’ She told me to double up on my meetings.

I tripled them, and felt more alone than ever.

From Publishers Weekly:

Tate delivers a no-holds-barred account of her five-plus years in group therapy in this dazzling debut memoir….[She] ended up in group therapy with Jonathan Rosen, a quirky but wise Harvard-educated therapist who insisted that his clients keep no secrets—neither from him nor the group (‘keeping secrets from other people is more toxic than other people knowing your business,’ he reasoned). Tate then unveils the intimate details of her romantic life….Through therapy, Tate found a sense of self-worth, and eventually a lawyer named John at work (‘I felt something I’d never felt with a man before: calm, quiet, happy, and excited’). Readers will be irresistibly drawn into Tate’s earnest and witty search for authentic and lasting love.

Selected Reviews of Group

Kirkus Reviews: “Tate documents her alternately loving and confrontational encounters with fellow group members, but most of the book focuses on her many attempts to find the perfect man.”

Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (see previous posts, “Therapist in Therapy” and “What Is Therapy?“) : “It takes courage to bare your soul in front of a therapist, but when you add six strangers to the mix, it becomes an act of faith. In Group, Christie Tate takes us on a journey that’s heartbreaking and hilarious, surprising and redemptive—and, ultimately, a testament to the power of connection. Perhaps the greatest act of bravery is that Tate shared her story with us, and how lucky we are that she did.”

Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can’t Sleep (see previous post here): “In this therapeutic page-turner, a boon especially to women struggling with loss, loneliness, or imposter syndrome, Christie Tate tells the story of how she overcame trauma and found love. Her hard-won strategy is as simple to say as it is tough to do: keep showing up.”

Mar 04

Friendship: Needed for Good Overall Health

On average, people have only four very close relationships, Denworth finds, and very few people can sustain more than six. But the effect of these few core relationships extends beyond our social lives, influencing our health on the cellular level — from our immune system to our cardiovascular system. Elena Renken, NPR, regarding Lydia Denworth‘s  Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond

Friendship is vital to our well-being, a fact often underappreciated, states Lydia Denworth in her new book. “Her focus ranges from animal behavior to neurobiology and from sociology to psychology and physiology,” according to Publishers Weekly. “After speaking with many leading researchers, Denworth draws several striking conclusions—notably that, having been found in an extensive variety of species, friendship has deep evolutionary roots.”

More, from Kirkus Reviews:

The evidence from brain scans, genetic studies, and other physiological data underscores how social connectivity has been built into our systems; we demonstrate a ‘need to belong.’ Denworth traces this need over the lifetime…Of special interest is a second major growth spurt in the brain that occurs during puberty and features rapid growth in the emotional sections of the brain. At this time, scans show that the mere presence of peers lights up reward areas of the brain—a possible spur to impulsivity and risk-taking. (Most teenage driving accidents happen when friends are in the car and not when the driver is alone.) The author also discusses social networks and social media (not likely to replace face-to-face friendships). In addition to examining the scientific underpinnings of friendship, Denworth capably demonstrates how loneliness, an increasing hazard as Americans age and lose friends and family, is truly a health- and life-threatening condition, and there are things to be done to avoid it.

Following are several quotes from Denworth’s interview with NPR:

Very few people understand that your social relationships can actually change your health. They can change your cardiovascular system, your immune system, how you sleep, your cognitive health.

…(I)t is actually a matter of life and death. And there’s this evolutionary drive to connect. People think all the time about competition and survival of the fittest, but really it’s survival of the friendliest.

What has been surprising to evolutionary biologists is just how much friendship exists across species. They have found something that looks like friendship in dolphins, and elephants, and horses, and zebras, and hyenas and all kinds of species. Even fish…

I think of friendship now as a template for all your relationships, because if you think about the sort of basic definition of friendship — it makes you feel good, it’s positive, a long-lasting stable relationship, and it has some cooperation and reciprocity to it — that’s what you want to be striving for in your closest relationships.

The standard line is that women do friendship face-to-face and men do it side by side, meaning women spend their time talking and men do things together. And there’s truth to that, but when you ask men how much they value friendship, their answers are the same, for the most part.

Nov 13

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”: Real Writer Fakes It

The miracle is Melissa McCarthy, whose tortured portrait of disgraced celebrity author and convicted forger Lee Israel is the consummate performance of her career and the crowning achievement of her life. I have seen Can You Ever Forgive Me? twice, rubbing my eyes with astonishment and discovering something new and wonderful each time. This is my favorite film of 2018. Rex Reed, New York Observer

The thing is, film critic Rex Reed actually knew Lee Israel (1939-2014), the subject of Can You Ever Forgive Me? Below he summarizes her predicament, as presented both in her 2008 memoir subtitled Memoirs of a Literary Forger and this film:

Facing a mid-life career crisis fueled by writer’s block and the kind of boredom that drove her to a pattern of professional suicide, Lee was a drunk, a lesbian without love, and a cat lover who lived in filth without so much as a litter box for the droppings that piled up under her bed. Lonely and deeply in debt, with no tolerance for people, all of her old bridges burned behind her and no other skills to make a living, she starts going to parties to steal everything from rolls of toilet paper in the guest bathrooms to winter coats in the check room.

In addition, from Merryn Johns, Curve:

Even Israel’s own literary agent (Jane Curtin) detests her but nevertheless dispenses some sage advice at an elite Manhattan party: be nicer to people; write in your own voice—advice Israel dismisses to her own peril.

What the prickly Israel embarks on instead is a crime spree, “forging literary letters by prominent writers,” in partnership with gay friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), also an alcoholic. As Tracy E. Gilchrist (The Advocate) reports, this happened in Manhattan during the early years of an emerging health crisis in the community: “Jack, who would eventually die from AIDS-related complications in 1994, flippantly informs Lee early on in their friendship, ‘I haven’t got any friends, they’re all dead’.”

Essentially, notes Gilchrist, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is “a platonic love story between a gay man and a lesbian at a time when so many queer women answered the call to help their gay brothers.”

Many reviewers, though, emphasize the loneliness of the main characters:

Emily YoshidaVulture:

Loneliness, onscreen at least, tends to be a vibe, a #mood, a way of looking off into the distance as a certain kind of melancholy tune plays. In Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s screenplay, it’s a physical reality, a stench you live with until you are both used to it and loath to escape it.

Benjamin Lee, The Guardian:

It is rare to see a film led by two gay characters over the age of 50 and there is a specific friendship they share; both are implicitly aware of the alternate routes they have taken in life partly as a result of their sexuality and both more explicitly aware of the loneliness that now hangs over them.

Linda Holmes, NPR: “Israel is driven by a sense that the world should not treat her this way because it should not treat anyone this way, as if they are invisible, forgotten, unimportant.”

Watch the trailer below:

Oct 30

“Maniac”: Not-Real Drugs to Cure Mental Illness

If you like quirky fantastical stories that happen to involve the possibility of curing mental illness, Netflix’s Maniac might be for you. As summarized by Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe:

Directed and co-written by the visionary Cary Joji Fukunaga (‘True Detective,’ the next Bond movie), it follows two troubled people, played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, who take part in a pharmaceutical drug trial led by Justin Theroux’s cutting-edge doctor. She’s a depressed, lonely soul, and he’s the son of wealthy New Yorkers whose vivid hallucinations leave even us, the viewers, unsure of what is real. Is the drug trial actually occurring, or is it just another one of his delusions?

Watch the trailer here:

The Pharmaceutical Experiment

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com: It “attempts to do what therapy so often cannot—pull apart the issues that define and confine them. And they have some issues.”

Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter, says “the end goal is to erase things like mental illness and unhappy memories, and rewire patients’ brains with three pills (labeled ‘A,’ ‘B’ and ‘C’).”

Willa Paskin, Slate: “It’s therapy in ingestible form, with each pill resulting in a vivid genre-based delusion. Annie and Owen find themselves inexplicably linked as they make their way through personalized drug trips that resemble an ’80s action movie.”

Further Plot and Characterization

Episodes of this 10-part mini-series eventually, says Tallerico, “explore the issues at the core of Annie and Owen’s psychological problems with different characters, settings, and tones.”

In one episode, Owen and Annie are an ‘80s Long Island couple trying to steal a lemur with a storytelling style reminiscent of the Coen brothers. In the next, they’re attending a séance in the ‘40s, replicating the playful dialogue and character beats of a classic mystery film. And yet each of these ‘short films within a show’ reflect themes of the real Owen and Annie, whether they be family problems, low self-worth, distrust, or a growing sense that maybe these two were meant for each other for some reason. Even Sally Field appears as, well, you’ll have to wait and see.

Well, you don’t really have to wait at all if you want a little spoiler: she plays Dr. Manterlay’s mom, a pop psychologist/author. And those two have issues too.

Prominent Themes

Troy Patterson, New Yorker: “At once a self-help drama about personal faith and a wry metaphysical mind-bender, ‘Maniac’ is about world-building—about giving an inner life a semblance of coherent narrative, about the stories we tell ourselves in order to get by.”

Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter: “There are core existential themes…mental illness, unhappiness, loneliness, the constraints of family and the notion of the pursuit of happiness as an illusion — that, depending on your response, are either adequately and entertainingly mined or get a little lost under the impressive visual mayhem on the surface.”

Willa Paskin, Slate: “…ultimately about how the only real cure for endemic loneliness, alienation, and sadness is time, effort, and—above all—friendship. For better and worse, it’s like a psychedelic Hallmark card: gorgeous, clever, weird, but maybe you’ve heard the sentiment before.”

Selected Reviews

Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter: “Your results may vary depending on how important it is to you to have mental illness, grief, unhappiness and other important Big Ideas fully explored via characters you come to love.”

Allison Keene, Collider: “When Maniac is good, it’s funny, affecting, and fascinating; when it’s not good, it’s like having a conversation with a student in a Psych 101 class who wants to tell you about a dream they had last night and what it might mean.”

James Poniewozic, New York Times: “In an age of desiccated puzzle-stories, ‘Maniac’ puts emotion first, even at the risk of sentimentality. It’s a heart-shaped Rubik’s Cube, a funny, consistently surprising fable of broken machines trying to reassemble themselves.”

Jan 30

“Her”: A Man Falls Romantically for His Operating System

Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and written/directed by Spike Jonze, has created quite a stir, including among those who find it spoof-worthy, as in a recent short film by SNL starring Jonah Hill and Michael Cera.

The plot is summed up pithily by IMDB: “A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.” The OS is Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

Peg Streep, writing in a Psychology Today post, points out that the film takes place in a context in which the majority readily accept Theodore’s relationship status:

The ease with which everyone accepts the relationship as ‘real’ is reminiscent of how quickly the culture has accommodated itself to the ‘new normal’ of living in the digital age, where seeing a couple eating dinner together while texting other people no longer seems strange or ‘friending’ people you don’t know so you can get more attention or feel better about yourself is okay.

Significant Plot Points

Tom Shone, The Guardian, sets it up:

…(T)he film is half in love with the loneliness it diagnoses…and for the first hour the conceit is unveiled beautifully, via a brisk series of gags, most of them in the periphery of the main plot. Theo’s workplace is a website called BeautfulHandwrittenLetters.com, where he sits in office composing personal notes for those who can’t be bothered…while a neighbour, played by a curly haired Amy Adams, designs video games in which mums pick up ‘Mom points’ for feeding the kids or beating the other mothers to the carpool, or else face the ignominious charge ‘You’ve Failed Your Children!’

Theo

Alonso DuraldeThe Wrap: “His own emotions…remain a mystery to Theodore; he’s been in a serious funk since breaking up with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), to the point where his old college pal Amy (Amy Adams) invites him for a night out with friends but specifies that she’s asking the ‘old, fun’ Theodore to come.”

Samantha

Scott FoundasVariety: “Lack of physical presence notwithstanding, Samantha at first seems close to the male fantasy of the perfect woman: motherly and nurturing, always capable of giving her undivided attention, and (best of all) requiring nothing in return.”

Below you can watch the trailer:

Selected Reviews

Dana Stevens, Slate: “It’s a wistful portrait of our current love affair with technology in all its promise and disappointment, a post-human Annie Hall.”

Anthony Lane, New Yorker: “What makes ‘Her’ so potent is that it does to us what Samantha does to Theodore. We are informed, cosseted, and entertained, and yet we are never more than a breath away from being creeped out. Just because someone browses your correspondence in a mood of flirtatious bonhomie doesn’t make her any less invasive; and just because you have invited her to do so doesn’t mean that you are in control.”

Christopher Orr, The Atlantic:

By turns sad, funny, optimistic, and flat-out weird, it is a work of sincere and forceful humanism…

Indeed, by the end of the film, the central question Jonze is asking seems no longer even to be whether machines might one day be capable of love. Rather, his film has moved beyond that question to ask one larger still: whether machines might one day be more capable of love—in an Eastern philosophy, higher consciousness, Alan Wattsian way—than the human beings who created them.