I like the way Victor Frankl defines success and the elusive nature of happiness:
“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue . . . Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
Today I am nearly finished writing a book about my day job. It's entitled Danger to Self: On the Front Line With an Emergency Psychiatrist. It represents a striving of balance in those psychiatrists who search for the middle ground between biomedical science and psychological theories. Those of us who are determined to do our clinical work somewhere in the great middle are still recovering from the extreme dogma of mid-20th Century Freudian psychoanalysis but now fending off the white-coated hordes of “biological” psychiatrists who seem more or less hell-bent on turning psychiatrists into pill-slinging technicians in the service of being more “scientific”.
To paraphrase an old maxim: “Just because you can measure it doesn’t mean it matters. And just because you can’t measure it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.”
I’ve come to understand that my work in emergency psychiatry has been a necessary part of the journey: that my temperament is well-suited to the work environment; that I am able to do some good in the world; that I am able to care for and serve society’s very disadvantaged.
I now see psychiatry and writing as representing two distinct but interrelated aspects of myself. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can be both at the same time and it’s okay. In the service of becoming a better psychiatrist and a better human being, I’ve endured seven years of individual psychotherapy. But I much prefer writing as a tool of self-discovery.
Sitting down to write and taking it seriously makes for a genuinely personal journey. It is literally a mission to unmask the inner workings of what I call the “capital S” Self. Don’t take my word for it. Take that of a Nobel Prize-winning author, Orhan Pamuk, whose Turkish-to-English translation of his 2006 Nobel Prize-winning acceptance speech published in The New Yorker magazine included these words of wisdom:
“A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is. . . .
As I sit at my table, for days, months, years, slowly adding words to empty pages, I feel as if I were bringing into being that other person inside me, in the same way that one might build a bridge or a dome, stone by stone. . . . For me, to be a writer is to acknowledge the secret wounds that we carry inside us, wounds so secret that we ourselves are barely aware of them, and to patiently explore them, know them, illuminate them, own them, and make them a conscious part of our spirit and our writing.”
I find it remarkable that William Carlos Williams arrived at much the same conclusion decades earlier, conveyed in The Practice, a chapter of his autobiography. While Pamuk gets to the truth of the human condition as an extension of his craft, writing, Williams, the poet, actually finds truth and beauty embedded in his chosen vocation of medicine:
“That is why as a writer I have never felt that medicine interfered with me but rather that it was my very food and drink, the very thing which made it possible for me to write. . . . I found by practice, by trial and error, that to treat a man as something to which surgery, drugs and hoodoo applied was an indifferent matter; to treat him as material for a work of art made him somehow come alive to me. . . . We are lucky when that underground current can be tapped and the secret spring of all our lives will send up its pure water. It seldom happens. . . . Do we not see that we are inarticulate? That is what defeats us. It is our inability to communicate to another how we are locked within ourselves, unable to say the simplest thing of importance to one another . . . That gives the physician, and I don’t mean the high-priced psychoanalyst, his opportunity.”
And, truth be told, it is the same opportunity given to any poet or writer. The journey occurs in the service of increasing one’s knowledge of the Self and, in turn, of the Selves of our fellow human beings.
This is what I would not call a day job, but a 24-7 job, one that gets under your skin, one you can never quit.
Causes Paul Linde Supports
San Francisco Family Service Agency
Noe Valley Ministry