Monday, February 13, 2006

Melancholy Monday: A Good Enough Woman

I spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of psychopharmacology on our understanding of what it means to be a person. More specifically, I tend to focus on how Prozac, and its specific advertisement campaign toward women stressed out with full time work and full time childrearing, impacts women. What is the line between being stressed out because too many demands are put on your time and having a "chemical imbalance?"

The latter phrase is, of course, meaningless. It is a phrase invented by Big Pharma to convince them that their symptoms and signs can be explained in terms of one, simple cause: serotonin imbalance. The fact is that we are chemistry all the way down. Eating too much twinkies or going too many sleepless nights or running for an hour changes our "chemistry."

Aside from the fact that I don't think much of the"chemical imbalance" phrase (what Antheia just wrote about), I do have a great deal of sympathy and concern for people who find themselves so overwhelmed by life that they are spiraling downward. Many women I know tend to hit a depressed patch when they find themselves utterly depleted by fulfilling their "feminine" duties of tending to the emotional needs of others and battling the competitive environments of work. Certainly both men and women are equally drained by their work life. But I notice, often, how much better my male colleagues are at closing their doors or saying "no" to requests on their time than women are. I myself find it almost impossible to close my office door when I am on campus (I know! If you are planning to lecture me on this, I already know it's crazy).

No matter how competent, tough and competitive women get in the workforce, social expectations that they be nurturing and self-sacrificing toward others do not seem to adjust.

I took a "day off" today to unplug from the frenetic and chaotic demands on my time. In the process of stretching out on the couch and reading a novel (!), my mind would turn to so many of the women in my life who I know are just tapped out. They are all walking a fine line between being stressed and depressed. I also thought about the magical belief that many of us hold that we will one day be able to find just the right system, the right advice column, the right therapist, the right diet, the right yoga or meditation class to finally get our lives under control. Geez. How many damn self-help gurus are out there trying to sell us a false view of life that we can actually conquer the all-too-human chaos of being human?

How many people do you know who go to therapy believing that they can identify the aspects of their personality, or the moments from their childhood, that contribute to long stretches of feeling out of control? Americans are problem-solvers. They want to figure out what's broke, fix it, and then move on. Our lack of willpower or "desire to change" is all that stands in the way of a fulfilling, admirable life. Give me a break.

I think the only smart insight that I had all day is that you can never fix what is broke. You can't go back and change what happened in your childhood, and you cannot finally get the right system that finally gets your chaotic world under control. We all have things about our personality that we don't love, but is it really worth it to perpetuate the false belief that we can actually totally remake ourselves into what is "perfect?"

How much of the stress, and the anxiety that it seems to precipitate in women, can be accounted for as a deep sense that they aren't able to get it all together? They cannot easily balance being a care-taker and a cocksure coworker. But the image of a woman who can is as damaging to women's sense of self as anorexic models on young girls.

Last friday my colleague told me about a book she read while her children were young that quelled her deepest fears of being an inadequate mother. It was callled something like the "Good Enough Mother." I think someone needs to write a book called the "Good Enough Woman."