One of the many things I do in life that I’m not necessarily proud of is watching people on TV go through their deepest moments in life. I’m talking about reality shows like: interventionthat deals with families making last-minute desperate efforts to save a loved one from serious addiction; Couples therapywhere romantic partnerships are therapeutically tested in the crucial make-or-break phase; and last hoarderto immerse themselves in the worlds of those who obsessively accumulate things to extreme and debilitating proportions, regardless of their worth.
The reason I tend to treat these shows as my dirty secrets is because I am aware that there is a fine line between emancipation and exploitation; that highlighting general mental disorders such as addiction, depression and hoarding means exposing the most vulnerable in their defenseless form. And so it is easy as an observer to fall into a complacency that could not have happened to me, or to refresh oneself with glee from the misery of others.
But that’s what interests me about these programs – I’m fascinated by human nature. If I could end my life, I would definitely have chosen psychiatry as a profession, because the brain and how it manifests and manages emotions is infinitely interesting. As such, I view these programs as insightful social studies; Window into the countless possibilities of how we deal with and process pain. I don’t look down on these people.
I respect where they come from and why they adopted the coping mechanisms that they have. I am not appalled by their actions, I am compassionate – even empathetic. I cope with my pain my own way, and you cope with hers in another. Mine may not be visible to the naked eye, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
When depression hit me in my 20s, I realized that it is a debilitating force that shapes and overshadows all potential. For so long I didn’t want to let people see me in my depression or even acknowledge my neighbor for what I am suffering – and I got away with it. As a result, not many knew how to get down; how bleak and useless I could see the great gift of life. I believed that my pain was something to be ashamed of. It wasn’t until I started to acknowledge and share it that its grip finally loosened, its stigma loosened, and my authentic self emerged.
Others cannot easily hide their pain. I have interviewed many survivors of sexual abuse and other trauma and have found that they carry their pain outward for all to see. I had women declare that they became morbidly obese in order to protect themselves psychologically from further abuse; to put on physical armor as protection for their bodies.
I wouldn’t let people see me at my lowest point for that long.
The same goes for those who succumb to an addiction. Yes, they can often hide their pain from others, but rarely from themselves. I have never met anyone who was seriously addicted to drugs, alcohol, or gambling and who thought their coping mechanisms were healthy or curative. It’s a temporary escape from their pain, but never their antidote. Instead, it escalates, festers, and worsens their problems until the effects are potentially worse than the cause.