Beyond Blue

Awhile back I ran an article that psychiatrist Ron Pies penned for The New York Times on grief and mental disorders and posted his article on Psych Central on the same topic. I find Dr. Pies to be a compassionate doctor fighting on our behalf. Here is an excerpt from his most recent article posted on Psych Central, “Having Problems Means Being Alive.” You can find it in its entirety by clicking here.

As a psychiatrist, I am usually focused on helping people overcome their emotional problems. So are most of my colleagues in the mental health profession, and that is as it should be. People come to us with various crises and in various states of suffering and incapacity. We do what we can to help them get back on their feet. But with the exception of some who practice an existential form of psychotherapy, we rarely teach our patients the spiritual value of having problems — which is to say, the value of the ineffably precious and fleeting gift of life. 

In the Jewish tradition, there is a folk saying: “When a Jew breaks his leg, he thanks God he did not break both legs. When he breaks both, he thanks God he did not break his neck.” This is not quite the same as being thankful for one’s problems, but it does acknowledge, with gratitude, that one’s problems could be much worse.

In Islam, the well-known declaration usually translated as, “God is great!” — the takbir — is spoken both at times of joy and on occasions of mourning. And the German Christian monk, Thomas a Kempis, taught that, “…it is good to encounter troubles and adversities, from time to time; for trouble often compels a man to search his own heart.”

Let me be clear: I am in no way endorsing the misguided notion that clinical depression is somehow “good for the soul”, or that it is represents a state of heightened spiritual or artistic awareness. This myth has been thoroughly debunked by my colleague, Dr. Peter Kramer, in his book Against Depression. But I am saying that when we find ourselves dealing with everyday problems, we can find a measure of consolation in the fact that we are troubled only because we are alive — and life is something we must never take for granted. Just as the philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that the awareness of death allows us to live a more intense and “authentic” life, I believe that the embrace of our problems leads us to a deeper appreciation of our pleasures.

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