Nov 24

“After Life”: If You’re Wondering About That Therapist…

I recently finished both seasons of the British TV series After Life, a dramedy conceived by and starring Ricky Gervais. A  review excerpt from Jyotsna Basotia, meaww.com, feels like an apt setup:

Ricky Gervais has hit the right chord with his latest show on Netflix, ‘After Life’, which is packed with a pinch of sarcasm and dollops of humor. The series revolves around Tony Johnson, who is depressed after his wife’s death. Soon after he loses the love of his life, he adopts a devil-may-care attitude and calls it his ‘superpower’. He decides to do what he wants and say what he feels with the final plan to kill himself when he gets tired of it all.

Warning: this post is particularly for those who are interested in major spoilers.

Therapy scenes are plentiful in both seasons of After Life. In Season One Tony knows the psychiatrist (played by Paul Kaye) is totally insult-worthy but hangs in there anyway, painfully too long. It’s such a relief when Tony eventually decides to fire him. Indeed, by the end of the first season, our protagonist “finally finds out that even simple conversations with Anne, an older widow, and Emma, his father’s forgiving nurse, have better healing powers than his traumatic sessions with the therapist.”

But then in Season Two it’s another main character who regularly meets with this shrink! The writer at What Culture makes a sharp observation:

As odious and offensive as Tony’s psychiatrist was last season, there could be an argument made for his existence because at least he served a purpose. The egotistical narcissist was a sounding board for Tony, yes, as the grieving man could tell him how he was feeling about the world, why he hated people and, in the process, ultimately realise that the man sitting in the chair opposite him was one of those people.

The funniest thing about the character was Tony’s bewildered reactions to the dreadful stuff he spouted, so the mind really does boggle as to why he needed to return for the second offering when Tony had left him behind.

This time, he’s paired off with Tony’s brother-in-law Matt and the result is far less appealing, resulting in boring monologues with offensive commentary that might (at a stretch) have been funny in the first episode. We didn’t need the five that followed.

So, what exactly are this psychiatrist‘s transgressions? Dan Peeke, Screen Rant, lists ten areas of fault, spanning both seasons. They include the following:

  • not paying attention
  • describing “a brutal description of exactly what he would do to Hitler if he had the chance”
  • telling Tony “just stop feeling sad” and Matt (dealing with marital separation) “don’t worry about it”
  • prescribing “sleeping around” to help the grief process
  • no apology or remorse when he gets the axe from Tony
  • open and crude obsession with sex
  • breaking confidentiality

Basotia (meaww.com) also takes on the “clumsy and dim-witted” shrink in her piece titled “Paul Kaye may be funny, but here’s why he’s everything Tony’s therapist should NOT be.”

Furthermore, critic Matt Roush, TV Insider, labels this unappealing guy “the world’s most inappropriately vulgar psychiatrist,” and Allison Shoemaker, Rogerebert.com, nails it when she says he’s “one of the worst mental health professionals in television history.”

Other than After Life‘s off-the-charts caricature of the therapist from hell? Actually, this poignant series is well worth seeing. (And earns an 8.4 on IMDB.)

Apr 27

“Reasons to Stay Alive”: Matt Haig’s Still Here

The recent news report that deaths from suicide have been on the rise highlights the need for increased prevention efforts. Author Matt Haig hopes his 2015 book Reasons to Stay Alive, based on his young-adult experiences with severe depression and anxiety, is a resource that can help. British novelist Haig, now 40, has learned how to survive.

An excerpt from Haig’s Guardian article called “As Therapy Shows, Words Can Be Medicine” gives some important background to the writing of Reasons to Stay Alive:

On the inside, your head can feel crushed under a raging psychological tsunami, but outwardly you can look like a healthy 24-year-old man. Even when I got a little better, I found that reading and talking about depression could be hard.
But then a trusted friend told me to write about my own experiences, and feeling a now-or-never moment was upon me – 10 books into my career – I did. I imagined writing to myself at 24, when I very nearly tried to solve my life by throwing myself off a cliff…

According to Kirkus Reviews, in Reasons to Stay Alive Haig has written “brief, episodic vignettes, not of a tranquil life but of an existence of unbearable, unsustainable melancholy. Throughout his story, presented in bits frequently less than a page long (e.g., ‘Things you think during your 1,000th panic attack’), the author considers phases he describes in turn as Falling, Landing, Rising, Living, and, finally, simply Being with spells of depression.”

Entertainment Weekly: “…(H)e addresses the guilt and shame that comes with clinical depression—especially for men, who are disproportionately more likely to take their own lives—and the ways its symptoms can be misunderstood and dismissed by even the most well-meaning outsiders. (The 21-item list in a chapter called ‘Things That Have Happened to Me That Have Generated More Sympathy Than Depression’ includes ‘consuming a poisoned prawn,’ ‘breaking a toe,’ and ‘bad Amazon reviews.’)”

On the issue of what helps, “Haig…assesses the efficacy of neuroscience, yoga, St. John’s wort, exercise, pharmaceuticals, silence, talking, walking, running, staying put, and working up the courage to do even the most seemingly mundane of tasks, like visiting the village store. Best for the author were reading, writing, and the frequent dispensing of kindnesses and love. He acknowledges particularly his debt to his then-girlfriend, now-wife.”

Lettie Kennedy, The Guardian: “Medication is discussed briefly; notable by its absence is any discussion of therapy, presumably an avenue Haig did not himself explore. Among the most affecting passages in the book are three ‘Conversations across time’: dramatised exchanges in which ‘Now Me’ reassures ‘Then Me’ that the fire in the brain will burn out and life will once again be full of promise.”

A Few Notable Quotes From Reasons to Stay Alive:

You can be a depressive and be happy, just as you can be a sober alcoholic.

Things people say to depressives that they don’t say in other life-threatening situations:

Come on, I know you’ve got tuberculosis, but it could be worse. At least no one’s died.’
Why do you think you got cancer of the stomach?
Yes, I know, colon cancer is hard, but you want to try living with someone who has got it. Sheesh. Nightmare.
Oh, Alzheimer’s you say? Oh, tell me about it, I get that all the time.
Ah, meningitis. Come on, mind over matter.
Yes, yes, your leg is on fire, but talking about it all the time isn’t going to help things, is it?
Okay. Yes. Yes. Maybe your parachute has failed. But chin up.

The key is in accepting your thoughts, all of them, even the bad ones. Accept thoughts, but don’t become them. Understand, for instance, that having a sad thought, even having a continual succession of sad thoughts, is not the same as being a sad person. You can walk through a storm and feel the wind but you know you are not the wind.