Tuesday, August 16, 2011

So. . . what kind of eel is that?

This video proves that sometimes the ridiculous is. . . sublime.

Why Carrie Fisher scares me

"I had ECT yesterday, & the main thing that I remember about it is (other than hardly anything at all) that when they dragged me on my little gurney to its resting place beside Dr. Kramer and his machine that will electrocute me to adorable wellness………

Dr. Kramer gazed down at me and said, “Let’s see how much glitter you have on today!” But after studying me briefly, he noticed that I was virtually glitter free. “Am I to assume that this is a sign that you’re depressed? Should we shorten the time between treatments?”

The bottom line is that to ascertain whether or not I’m depressed these days, you no longer have to scrutinize my bummed out or beatific expression———just check and see how much glitter I’m sporting on my eye lids and such…………

I still haven’t un packed my bags and bags of glitter……….the glitter I used or didn’t use in New York———because I can’t imagine where I can keep it. So there it is, in bags and boxes, in my bathroom, waiting for me to make up my newly electrocuted mind."

This is a truly-authentic-reallyreallywrittenbyCarrieFisher blog post about her ongoing ECT treatments for depression. Like most people who aren't living in a cave, I found out about this several years ago, but I had no idea she was having treatments every six weeks.

It scares me.

I have to backtrack here. . . It was even more years ago that I saw her on 20/20 doing an interview about her "breakdown" (a term I hate more than washing machines, which it should only be applied to) and subsequent recovery. Carrie, a sort of latent bipolar who had flown under the radar, probably suppressing her symptoms with masses of drugs and alcohol, had exploded out of the container in a supernova of mania that was rather dreadful to behold.

But Carrie seemed to be having a great time talking about it. Her gestures were extravagant, her voice plummy, her eyes like pinwheels. In other words. . . she was still manic. On nine drugs or something, but still. I think people should at least wait to be well before doing these things.

A few years after that, she took the worst of her life's turmoil, funnied it up and put on a one-woman show based on her apparently-harrowing memoir (which I can't bring myself to read yet), Wishful Drinking. On the cover is a passed-out Princess Leia, braided buns perched on each side of her head like Kaiser rolls.

I have a problem here.

I have a problem when human pain is turned inside-out and transformed into a gut-busting ha-ha. Mental illness is NOT a ha-ha, and can't be treated as such without perspective (and perspective equals time plus distance). It can't be treated as a ha-ha until you get some sustained relief, get yourself back, find a true path of recovery and (the most important part) STAY ON IT.

Who am I to say that ECT every six weeks isn't the path? I'm not here to judge or play psychiatric expert. But the statistics I've seen on ECT and permanent brain damage are alarming.

Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist who wrote Talking Back to Prozac in the early '90s when Prozac was the sexy, new, revolutionary drug that would make everyone better (even people who weren't depressed), is dead-set against ECT in any situation. He speaks of subtle but cumulative neurological damage, particularly to short-term memory. Fisher laughs this off, which is an admission that she is indeed suffering from it. She says she can see old movies all over again and they seem like new.

He speaks of the denial of damage as a symptom of damage, which made my hair stand on end. If I was really brain-damaged, would I know it?

I don't know what got me on to all this: I guess it was the Stephen Fry documentary where he travels to Germany to explore his love of Wagner. That got me on to his program about bipolar (which I have only seen in bits on YouTube, because I find it hard and heavy going). He speaks to Carrie Fisher, of course, who in her usual flamboyant, even histrionic way makes her agonizing struggles into a kind of heroic comedy.

At the end of the interview when Fry speaks to the camera, he seems disturbed, his voice tinged with what sounds like pity. The camera did funny things during the interview, zooming in on tight closeups of her hands (I think she was wearing 37 rings or something) and bizarre little gee-gaws all over her house. The music had that disordered, slightly strange quality. It was obvious either Fry or the filmmakers had made up their minds in advance that she was cuckoo.

I don't know what to think about all this. When she began her alarmingly frequent ECT treatments, she gained a huge amount of weight and topped out at 180, so she pulled a Kirstie Alley and signed on with Jenny Craig. Now she's not just a poster girl for drugs; not just a poster girl for drugs and bipolar; not just a poster girl for drugs, bipolar and ECT; but a poster girl for drugs, bipolar, ECT and weight-gained-because-of-ECT. Soon she will be a you-know-what for the miracle of weight loss through the miraculous cult of Jenny.

Carrie Fisher scares me. Whatever hobgoblins are pursuing her, she's running from them, with all sorts of things that seem OK, with humour, with one-woman shows, with books, and with controversial psychiatric treatments that shoot electricity through your brain so you don't remember anything (and don't remember that you don't remember anything). What bothers me most is that there is no way in the world some people WON'T consider (or reconsider) ECT because of what Carrie Fisher has said about it. She is beginning to reduce the fear around it. But should she?

There is a cost to everything, but our culture doesn't want to hear about it. It's hooked on quick fixes. Nobody seems to remember the huge fuss about Prozac in the early '90s: it has all been forgotten. Prozac was the future, and it was going to revolutionize society. No one would be passive any more. We'd all be aggressively confident, extroverted firebrands. None of the pathetic introspection that makes people paint or write poetry.

Not only that, but this was the first antidepressant that was virtually side-effect free! This was proclaimed after the usual few weeks of trials with a very small sample of patients.

The guy who wrote the Bible on Prozac was named Peter Kramer, which just makes me wonder about the name of Carrie's doctor. Just a coincidence? Anyway, when the first few awful side-effects trickled in, they were vehemently denied as atypical or even psychosomatic. According to the trials, only .01% of people had sexual dysfunction from Prozac, something called "delayed orgasm". But eventually, the numbers settled out at something like 40%. (The other 60% were too embarrassed to report it.) And as for that "delayed" thing, it was delayed until sometime next Friday. 

Then came, oops, more problems. It seems a lot of people couldn't sleep on Prozac because they were constantly hyped-up and wired, necessitating adding another drug which kind of rendered the Prozac ineffectual. Eventually a new phenomenon was born called Prozac Poop-out, and it had nothing to do with your bowels.

Meantime, other new drugs were flooding the market, so Prozac was more-or-less swept away in the flood. It's not used at all any more, considered ineffective and far too bothersome in its side effect profile (the very thing that was used to sell it in the '90s).

OK then, what's this near-diatribe really all about? Unfortunately, someone who is in the grip of a psychiatric crisis is generally unable to make wise decisions for themselves about treatment. They are extremely vulnerable and will grasp at anything that seems to make sense, up to and including the advice of a famous, charismatic but very damaged middle-aged actress. So: let the sufferer beware. Most especially, be aware that Carrie Fisher may not be the best role model for mental health. To be honest, I think she's a burnout trying to stay afloat, and it's not funny. I'm scared for her.

And she scares me, too.


Arieseni,muntii apuseni

Tromba: ay, caramba!

Whoa, boy! What do we have here?  Yesterday I started digging around for info on medieval/baroque instruments. There were some lulus. Crumhorns, which look like you're playing a cane and which produce a sour, whoopee-cushion-like sound. The rackett, which is an incredible-looking object, a big round oxygen-tankish thing with holes all over it. People liked edgy sour honky sounds then, or else they had not figured out how to produce anything better.

Way leads on to way, as Robert Frost once said, and I kept digging out more and more obscure things. I knew a little bit about all those alp-horn-type instruments, but I didn't know they were a form of communication for the village. They could signal births, deaths, coming storms, and other occasions/approaching dangers. Kind of the social networking of 1000 years ago. There are whole ensembles made up of these endless things, which I saw an example of in Switzerland, and they play with such mellowness that I just don't want to hear 'em. No, give me the authentic honky ones, homegrown music played with lusty abandon by amateurs.

But then I found this "thing". I had no idea what it was, elongated but squared-off, not like any horn I'd seen or heard of. It made the most incredible sound, like a garage door opening. After a while I found out it wasn't a horn at all, but a stringed instrument called a tromba marina. Looked like one of those failed attempts to develop the cello or bass. I found very little repertoire for this thing, thank God, and I would imagine just schlepping it around would be torture, trying to get it into a 15-foot case or folding it up or something (the travel-size tromba marina?).

The instrument has a range of three notes, not even as good as a cigar box with rubber bands wrapped around it, but that's not the only problem with it. When I tried to find more tromba marina videos, I got these Spanish things with pictures of storms, tornados and stuff. So I guess it means something else in Spanish, or else it's already in Spanish and has a double meaning? Approaching danger to the eardrums?

I could not help but be reminded of the old Ricola ads: but to my horror, I could only find a very brief clip of the original ad from British TV. THE RICOLA AD ISN'T ON YOUTUBE???????!!! There are a hundred stupid variations, none of which seem to be on TV where I live, but I am not interested in those. They're daft. I want the guy with the horn and the lame singing.