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A PATIENT'S PERSPECTIVE — ART BUCHWALD, a report on an interview 1 of Art Buchwald, Smooth Sailing, Spring 1997
For this year's "Patient's Perspective," Dr. Ray DePaulo interviewed renowned humor columnist Art Buchwald (who was kind enough to substitute for an ailing Margot Kidder). As they spoke, Mr. Buchwald frequently filled the auditorium with laughter.
In his introduction, Dr. DePaulo noted that several previous symposium interviewees had mentioned Mr. Buchwald's depressive illness, although he himself had been very reluctant to go public. That reluctance may have been related to a severe loss in early childhood: when he was four years old, Mr. Buchwald said, his mother was institutionalized after a mental breakdown, and she remained hospitalized for 35 years. Mr. Buchwald was hospitalized in 1963 for his first depressive episode, and he was in the same hospital where some of his relatives had been. He recalled his horror and despair; he was concerned that he would never be able to write again, and he was suicidal. He remembered being racked with guilt and sleeping very poorly, but he also recalled the kindness of the hospital staff who stayed beside him throughout a despondent night. Some "tricks" helped keep him alive; his wife left a picture of their children at his bedside as a reminder of hope. Jokingly, Mr. Buchwald stated that he really did not want to kill himself, because he was afraid his obituary wouldn't make the New York Times.
Summertime neighbors William Styron (author of Sophie's Choice), Mike Wallace (of 60 Minutes), and Mr. Buchwald became friends through their mutual experiences with mood disorders. Mr. Buchwald wryly reported his disappointment that Mr. Styron made money off his depressive episode by publishing a book about it, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, whereas he himself hasn't made a cent off his depression. Recalling his discussions with Mr. Styron, he said, "Bill and I used to spend time on his front porch arguing. He maintained that his depression was a 9.5 on the Richter scale and all I had was a rainy day at Disney World."
Mr. Buchwald strongly urged the audience to use the media to educate the public about mood disorders. He has been stopped in airports and on the street by people thanking him for his message of hope. He reminded the audience of the immensely popular mood-disorders segment of the talk show Larry King Live (CNN) that aired in February 1997. Mr. Buchwald, Mike Wallace, Dr. Kay Jamison (author of An Unquiet Mind), and Wynonna Judd (formerly of the country singing duo The Judds) spoke of their personal and professional experiences with mood disorders. This segment of Larry King Live remains the most requested video in the program's history.
Recalling another public appearance, Mr. Buchwald spoke of the time he talked about depression as a guest on Prime Time Live. He urged depressed viewers not to commit suicide, because their loved ones would have to live with the memory of it for the rest of their lives. Later, he received a letter from a woman saying that he had saved her life. She said that just after taking an overdose of pills, she had rolled over onto the remote control. Art Buchwald's face appeared on the TV screen, imploring her not to commit suicide. This sequence of events struck her as being a sign from God. She promptly forced herself to vomit up the pills.
Mr. Buchwald mentioned a helpful "trick" he had used to persuade a friend to take medication for a depressive episode: he likened the illness to a car that cannot move and likened the treatment to the pressure on the accelerator that will get the car (the person) moving again.
In response to a question from the audience about medication and creativity, Mr. Buchwald said that some people involved in the arts do not understand their talent or where it comes from. Some believe that their talent is derived from their illness and will disappear if they are treated, but Mr. Buchwald urges people with doubts to give medication a try. He believes that you can become a better person from the experience of recovering from a mood disorder.
1 An interview at a DRADA/Johns Hopkins symposium, Baltimore, Maryland, April 1997
by Frieda Vandegaer, R.N., M.S., C.S.
Smooth Sailing: Spring 1997
New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder, Fawcett, Jan, M.D., Golden, Bernard, Ph.D., and Rosenfeld, Nancy. Roseville, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 2000. Paperback, 333 pages.
A collaboration between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a writer-patient, New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder is written for the layperson and has basic, reader-friendly information about bipolar disorder. Like most books of this type, it provides a general overview of the illness, medications and therapies, and tips for living with the illness. Also included is a brief section on children and adolescents, a subject that was often ignored. Unlike Adult Bipolar Disorders, reviewed above, it mentions only two alternative medicines (supplements): St. Johnâ€™s wort and the omega-3 fatty acids.
This book claims to be an authoritative guide to bipolar disorder. However, the authors fall short of this goal, contradict accepted theories, and present complementary therapies not mentioned in other books on the subject. The dubious thinking of the authors is shown when they expound on â€śauthoritiesâ€ť who failed to handle the illness appropriately. Among these are Danielle Steel (ignorant of the danger in her sonâ€™s illness) and Judge Sol Wachtler (the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals who was ultimately convicted and jailed for his behavior). Chapter 8, entitled â€śOptimism, Hope and Transcendence,â€ť discusses the works of Czikszentmihalyi, Seligman, and Coleman (names this reviewer has not come across before in her reading), with their ideas on observing our emotions and thinking as strategies â€śto directly observe and alter our emotional life in a positive way.â€ť Most of the section on psychotherapy is devoted to cognitive therapy, although coping skills and problem-solving therapy are also mentioned. A final example of the bookâ€™s shortcomings is in the chapter on medication, in a brief overview of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). The authors state, â€śAlthough it is vastly safer and more humane today than it was in the past, it is still a controversial and seldom employed therapy.â€ť
Although the book is easy for the layperson to read, New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder falls short of the authorsâ€™ claims of â€śproven methods of managing your life & your work.â€ť In fact, the promised â€ścutting-edge treatment modelsâ€ť ignore many proven methods in use by practitioners.
By Marion Ehrlich