U.S. Intellectual History Blog

"My Psychopharmacologist and I"

I’m planning on doing a section on psychiatry and psychology in the United States for my US Intellectual History survey in the spring. I haven’t decided yet whether to make it a theme that we touch on a few times throughout the semester or whether it should be a separate week or two. My plan right now is to start with James, move to Terrible Honesty and Freud in America, then show a Woody Allen film (probably Annie Hall), then talk about the current debate over the effectiveness of anti-depressants (there is a nice opinion piece with responses in last week’s NY Times). The title of this post comes from an amazing musical titled Next To Normal that is about a woman with bipolar disorder and the weight of her disease on her family. I’ll probably play the song “My Psychopharmacologist and I” for the students. I agree more with the New York Times opinion piece about the importance and effectiveness of pharmacology and psychiatry, but I find the emotions of Next to Normal intensely powerful. The lyrics are after the jump:


DAN
Who’s crazy, the husband or wife?
Who’s crazy to live their whole life
Believing that somehow things aren’t as bazaar as they are?

Who’s crazy, the one who can’t cope?
Or maybe, the one who’ll still hope?
The one who sees doctors or the one who just waits in the car?

And I was a wild twenty-five,
And I loved a wife so alive.
But now I believe I would settle for one who can drive.

DR. MADDEN
…The round blue ones with food, but not with the oblong white ones.
The white ones with the round yellow ones, but not with the trapezoidal green ones.
Split the green ones into thirds with a tiny chisel, use a mortar and pestle to grind…

DIANA
My psychopharmacologist and I.
It’s like an odd romance:
Intense and very intimate, we do our dance.

My psychopharmacologist and I.
Call it a lover’s game.
He knows my deepest secrets.
I know his… name!

And though he’ll never hold me
He’ll always take my calls.
It’s truly like he told me
Without a little lift, the ballerina falls.

CAST
Do doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.

DR. MADDEN
Goodman, Diana: Bipolar depressive with delusional episodes.
Sixteen year history of medication.
Adjustment after one week.

DIANA
I’ve got less anxiety but I have headaches, blurry vision, and I can’t feel my toes.

CAST
Ahh, ahh, ahh, ahh.

DR. MADDEN
So we’ll try again. Eventually, we’ll get it right.

DIANA
Not a very exact science, is it?

CAST
Zoloft and Paxil and Buspar and Xanex, Depacon, Chronaphin, Ambien, Prozac,
Ativan calms me when I see the bills.
These are a few of my favorite pills.

DIANA
Ooh, Thank you, doctor, Valium is my favorite color. How’d you know?

DR. MADDEN
Goodman, Diana: Second adjustment after three weeks.
Delusions less frequent, but depressive state worse.

DIANA
I’m nauseous and I’m constipated, completely lost my appetite and gained six pounds, which, you know, is just not fair.

CAST
May cause the following side effects, one or more:
Dizziness, drowsiness, sexual dysfunction,

GROUP 1
Headaches and tremors, nightmares and seizures.

GROUP 2
(unknown), constipation, nervous laughter, palpitations,

BOTH
Anxiousness, anger, exhaustion, insomnia, irritability,
Nausea, vomiting,

DIANA
Odd and alarming sexual feelings

CAST
OH! And one last thing:
Use may be fatal.
Use may be fatal.
Use may be fatal.

DR. MADDEN
Goodman, Diana: Third adjustment after five weeks.
Reports continue: mild anxiety and some lingering depression.

DIANA
I now can’t feel my fingers or my toes. I sweat profusely for no reason.
Fortunately, I have absolutely no desire for sex.
Although, whether that’s the medicine or the marriage is anybody’s guess.

DR. MADDEN
I’m sure it’s the medicine.

DIANA
Oh, thank you, that’s very sweet, but my husband’s waiting in the car.

DAN
Who’s crazy, the one who’s half gone?
Or maybe, the one who holds on?
Remembering when she was twenty, and brilliant and bold.
And I was so young, and so dumb.
And now I am old.

DAN
And she was wicked and wired.
The sex was simply inspired.
Now there’s no sex, she’s depressed
And me, I’m just tired, tired, tired, tired
Who’s crazy
The one who’s uncured
Or maybe the one who’s implored
The one who has treatment, or the one who just deals with the pain

DIANA
And though he’ll never hold me
He’ll always taken my calls
It’s truly like he told me
Without a lift the ballerina falls.
My psychopharmacologist and I…
He’s at every sight I lie
Without you I die
My psychopharmacologist and I

DAN
They say love is blind…
But believe me, love is insane.

DR. MADDEN
Goodman, Diana: Seven weeks.

DIANA
I don’t feel like myself. I mean, I don’t feel anything.

DR. MADDEN
Hm. Patient stable.

**Picture from the NY Times Review of Next to Normal

9 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Lauren: A section on psychology should be fruitful. You might check out some of Philip Rieff’s work on psychology since Freud, such as “Triumph of the Therapeutic.” Rieff was incredibly influential to Christopher Lasch, who heaped scorn on psychiatry and the other “helping professions.”

    I am much more inclined to the view of Marcia Angell, whose two “New York Review of Books” essays–devastating critiques–prompted the Kramer op-ed in the NY Times (which you link to). In terms of thinking these issues in relation to issues of academia, I recommend Nemo’s post at PhD Octopus.

  2. I wish I had a course like this when I was in school!

    You might want to have a look at this post from Concurring Opinions, especially the comment by Professor Daniel Goldberg (of Medical Humanities Blog): http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2011/07/auditing-studies-of-anti-depressants.html

    And see my comment here: http://www.legalethicsforum.com/blog/2011/07/making-lawyers-like-good-compare-psychopharmacologists.html#comments

    And I’ll send along my bibliography for “Freudian and Post-Freudian Psychology,” as it may have some titles of interest for you and/or your students.

  3. Why is it a fail? It would be the same thing as “My husband and I were locked in a strange dance.” The whole thing is the subject of the verb, so I is in the nominative case.

  4. Nice idea, Lauren. I’ve included a section on psychiatry and the therapeutic ethos in my grad seminar on modernity before, and you’ve given me ideas on how to beef that up for next time. I’ve kept discussion to the historical when I’ve done this; I think I’d be wary to tread into recent controversies, such as the Angell/Kramer debates. I’ll be eager to see how it goes for you! These are deeply personal issues for people, and serious and potentially fatal diseases like depression, bi-polar, and schizophrenia often appear for the first time in late adolescence. Your class discussions could thus get pretty heavy, and/or you could have students react very strongly to some of the academic dismissals of mental illness in ways that could have negative consequences for them. That you’re sympathetic to Kramer’s view could help temper some of that, but then the flipside is that you could have students coming to see with you their VERY personal problems.
    That said, I’d love to include more of this material in my courses, so I will certainly be checking in with you!

  5. Great idea! In an intellectual/cultural history survey I took in college, my professor tracked a chronology of psychology — in which the “therapies” in the Victorian era gave way to Frudian analysis as part of that whole modernism bag, and later the (continuing) self-help movement — by locating the changing conception of the individual across time. (Victorian self-control/denial to the constantly evolving self-fulfillment of the modern era, etc.)

    Also, I reckon people here would already be familiar with it, but I especially like Louis Menand’s piece about the conflicting science on the causes of and treatments for depression. Admittedly, I did not read the piece closely enough to position it in a particular intellectual or interpretive camp; I just felt that Menand was exceptionally even-handed about something that is so contentious.

    Lastly, while I think Annie Hall is a great choice, it might be worth noting that the book that popularized the already critically acclaimed Philip Roth — and further brought analysis into the mainstream or at least the public discourse — was his 1969 novel, Portnoy’s Complaint. Then there’s his literary forebear, Saul Bellow, in whose wonderful Seize the Day (great for a discussion of individualism/success) psychology plays a role. Published in 1956, Seize the Day reflects the ascendance of psychology/psychiatry at the time, while also commenting on or appraising the field. In Bellow’s view, at its best, psychology has legitimate insights into the human condition to offer; at its worst, there simultaneously exists the danger to fall into quackery (or manipulation).

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