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Hi there, and welcome back to the Monthly Missive. You can save anything in her to read later in Pocket, and email me at sophie@sophiebenjamin.com. 

ON A THEME


WHY AND HOW IT ALL GOT SO UGLY
I've spent my Christmas airport time catching up on my own Pocket queue, which had a heap of essays from Meanjin in it. Katherine Murphy is Guardian Australia's political editor but saves her longform big-picture pieces for Meanjin. Unsurprisingly, her work this year has focused on how Australia's parliament could be reformed to make it more representative and less awful for everyone. The rise of the psychopathic professional politician is a big problem, and Murphy has explored the idea of bringing in a citizens legislature for a dose of "real world" wisdom. Getting smart and good people to sign up for a life in politics is another problem altogether -- the job is horrible for physical health, mental health, family life and being able to have space to actually think. 

Worldwide, everything in 2017 seems to have been turned up to 11. Umair Haque's essay on how the world got so extreme in 2017 is very clear-eyed and draws parallels between now and the world in there 1930s. History repeats etc. 

🎶YOU THINK THAT I DON'T KNOW ABOUT DEPRESSION AND EMOTIONAL PAIN? YOU'RE INSANE / BUT I NEVER THOUGHT YOU'D BE A JUNKIE BECAUSE HEROIN IS SO PASSE 🎶
Dr Phil McGraw (of Dr Phil fame) has not been a registered psychologist since he let his registration lapse in 2006, and has a doctorate in psychology -- not a medical doctorate. The fact that his "Dr" title is shonky is the least despicable thing about McGraw and his show, as this investigation by the Boston Globe's new medical publication STAT shows. Basically, his production staff treat addicts irresponsibly and exploitatively and then funnel them off to a treatment centre owned by McGraw and his cronies. Because the US healthcare system is so cooked, people keep signing up to go on the Dr Phil show because it will basically guarantee them access to rehab that they couldn't afford to go to themselves. 

Speaking of which, this is a very good read on the family whose company is responsible for the rise of Oxycontin and its subsequent rise in abuse. Fentanyl seems to becoming the newest drug to inspire media panic, and you know what? It's probably justified, particularly when people are overdosing on it because they think they are actually using heroin instead. It's impossible to be a responsible drug user when you can't confirm the origin and quality of the drugs you are using. The ABC's Background Briefing podcast investigated just how easy it is to abuse fentanyl through prescriptions (and profiled the lead up to the death of a young man addicted to it), and this piece by STAT profiling the life and death of a friendship between two young men -- one caused the death of the other by selling him fentanyl that he believed was heroin. In both cases, it is clear that the lack of checks and balances on a medical, legal and societal level facilitated these deaths. Perhaps more communities should explore the Icelandic model of trying to prevent substance abuse in young people?

It's been seven years since I was diagnosed with bipolar and started on a medication and therapy regimen that has enabled me to stay alive and enjoy a very good quality of said life. The drugs are not without their side effects (they make me varying degrees of fat, sleepy and shaky) but for me they are worth it. Antipsychotics have been a game changer for me (as you would expect with an illness that can present as psychosis) but these drugs are being used more liberally by doctors and causing bigger problems, particularly as "chemical restraints" in psych wards. Same with antidepressants, but it has been 30 years since Prozac was put onto the market and we still don't really know how anti-ds work. I particularly liked this remark in the Prozac article:

"One reason the theory of chemical imbalances won’t die is that it fits in with psychiatry’s attempt, over the past half century, to portray depression as a disease of the brain, instead of an illness of the mind. This narrative, which depicts depression as a biological condition that afflicts the material substance of the body, much like cancer, divorces depression from the self. It also casts aside the social factors that contribute to depression, such as isolation, poverty, or tragic events, as secondary concerns. Non-pharmaceutical treatments, such as therapy and exercise, often play second fiddle to drugs."

Speaking of which, I loved this article on why we NEED to sleep in order to stay healthy (physically and mentally), and this one entitled Six Things Psychologists Want You To Know

DIVERSIONS
In the last couple of months I discovered the music publication Laneway and current events publication The Outline and have become an avid follower of their work. Here's my favourite Laneway article and my favourite The Outline one. Both websites use the online space beautifully in terms of design and functionality, and their content is top notch too. I hope both are able to become financially sustainable and if nothing else, their existence will give Vice/Noisey and Buzzfeed the kick up the arse they need. 

Radiotopia's new podcast Showcase is devoted to short mini-docos six episodes long, and the two series they have done so far -- one on a haunted arcade game, one on how our experience of sound has changed in the move from analogue to digital -- have both been fantastic. 

Oh also - Melbourne is running short on bell ringers for its Cathedrals. 

MY OBLIGATORY 2017 WRAP-UP


My favourite songs were Regional Echo by Jen Cloher, Disco Tits by Tove Lo, Cholesterol Heart by These New South Whales, Bleeding In The Blur by Code Orange and Favourite by Tigers Jaw. My favourite books were The Nix by Nathan Hill (fiction) and The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (non-fiction). I worked at the most emotionally fulfilling day job I've had in years. I played a lot of music. I broke my ankle. I went to Canada to see a dear friend get married. I went to Seattle and had a nice time. I paid off debt. I wrote an article that went viral. I managed to not have any big fights with family members or friends which is a good reflection on us all, really. I am in a better financial, emotional and physical state than I was at this time last year and thank goodness I had the good fortune to make it so. Happy 2018!
Copyright © 2017 Sophie Benjamin, All rights reserved.


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