It began the very next morning. I was on my way to Wolfson Medical Center for an operation about which I had told only my best friends and director Orna Ben Dor, when the name of my surgeon appeared on my cell phone screen. He was very diplomatic, but I understood that he was trying to find out if there was any danger that I would have a major attack of clinical depression as I lay on his operating table − in light of the way my character was depicted in the narration by Ben Dor, the director of a special program on depression that had been aired the night before.
The truth is that the previous night was one of the most embarrassing in my life. I don’t intend to be disingenuous and whitewash things. Of course I’m not afraid of exposure. Of course I love being filmed for television. Of course I love talking about myself. Of course I should have been much more circumspect when I agreed to participate in Ben Dor’s film. Under no circumstances can I claim that anyone there misled me.
In the past, I’ve refused more often than I can remember to take part in films or series, or on panels, in which I was supposed to discuss intimate emotional issues from “your own unique personal angle as a clever journalist, and incidentally, I wanted to tell you that everyone around here is crazy about you,” etc. Even a type like me, who is addicted to love of my fellow man and the need to please others, still has vestiges of the survival instinct. These help me understand that out of that same desire to make my interviewers happy and my incurable need to give an answer to every question they ask me, I’m definitely capable of getting into long discussions about subjects I promised myself I would never touch.
I’m not willing to entrust my soul to the editors of TV specials. There is too great a risk that out of an hour of fluent monologue, which even includes a certain degree of irony or − heaven forfend − sarcasm, these editors will choose precisely those two minutes that entirely miss the point.
These are matters of the soul, and my soul − as the trillions of people who remembered the existence of Channel 10 last Monday, of all days, discovered − is so brittle that there is a danger it will dissipate into a black cloud of ash.
And still I agreed, after several weeks of repeated refusals, to participate in Ben Dor’s film, because I admire Ben Dor. Because I was convinced, as I was told during all those weeks of persuasion, that the subject was depression as a social and cultural phenomenon. I was also convinced that this was an excellent opportunity to expose as idle chatter that which goes by the oxymoronic name “philosophical consulting.”
I was interviewed for four (4!) hours at the home of the philosophical consultant, and afterward, in the wee hours of the night, at Ben Dor’s home in Jaffa. Thanks to Channel 10, what will go down in history are just those few minutes during which I forgot to repeat that the problem is not depression, but the expectation of happiness.
Over the years, I have learned to stop expecting to feel happy and to accept this despondency as a part of life that may be unpleasant, but is definitely necessary, at least for types like me.
In my view, it’s an inborn emotional construct. Some people are born with a tendency to feel self-satisfied and thus are well suited to engage in politics, send soldiers to their death or fall deeply in love with a billionaire who is about to die. And there are people like me and all my friends, who tend to be self-doubting and not think they are God’s gift to the world.
What also ended up on the cutting room floor were all the sections in which I explained why I believe that philosophical consulting is a deception of the naive, and that I have never heard of happy philosophers or even philosophers who enjoy exceptional mental health, because you don’t have to be a philosophical consultant to understand that it is not a sense of happiness and perfection that leads people to a constant and insatiable search for the meaning of life.
And in general, I explained to Ben Dor at her home, if reading could make people happy, then all the intellectuals and great artists would also be happy. Considering the number of books I have read, I myself should have become a popular lecturer on “the science of happiness,” about which I understand even less than I do about assembling an Uzi submachine gun.
And yes, I told her, while I was enjoying the giggles of the crew − composed entirely of men, most of them straight − maybe we’ll just invent a new type of consultation. Literary consultation, let’s say. And why not combine and upgrade, as they say on the lifestyle programs? Let’s say philosophical and literary consulting, and we’ll throw in Pilates, a mattress and organic cooking for good walkers? Oh, how pleased I was with myself. The stars that were visible from the windows of the lovely living room in Ben Dor’s Jaffa home seemed to be shining just for me.
I was appalled at the sight of the downcast figure, “an Eicha Tisha b’Av face” as my late mother used to say [referring to the fast day of the 9th of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple], of a serial black widow, who looked at me from the television screen. A pale figure with vampire chic, made up in natural colors like a badly preserved corpse. Even I felt like immediately redeeming that creature from her suffering, but I recalled that I was too late to join the list of victims in Ben Dor’s new series about suicide.
Already at the entrance to Wolfson, I was approached by several women. In order to cheer me up, and also to ask whether I was in a depression yesterday on television. I smiled at them with a flight attendant’s smile that didn’t leave my face during my entire hospitalization − maybe not even during the four-hour operation. But I didn’t dare to deny it, God forbid. That’s all I need, for them to say I’m living in denial.
The four days in the hospital were the best part of the week and a half that has passed since the film was broadcast. Not only because the staff on the surgery ward, in reception and in the operating room were exceptionally nice, not to mention the three doctors who operated on me. There, at Wolfson Medical Center, they also believe in the body, thank God − in other words, they believe in facts. And I can deal better with facts − even the toughest ones − than with pleasant lies and outrageous flattery.
The shock came when I got home. Dozens of e-mails from readers, and several dozen more from psychologists who, while demonstrating fake empathy at the “frustration you feel as a result of treatments that didn’t help you solve your depression problem,” as one of the charlatans among them wrote − suggested that I try therapy with them. They simply disgusted me. In any case, I happen to be seeing an outstanding therapist.
The letters from readers made me cry. I was particularly shocked by the extremely worried tone of the writers. The world is full of good and compassionate souls. The last thing I want is to worry them, of all people. Yes, they definitely deserve to see me happy at last. So I’ve decided to be happy because of them.
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