After psychiatrist and author Norman E. Rosenthal moved from his hometown of Johannesburg to New York City to start a residency in 1976, he was shocked by the literal night and day differences between the two cities.
In the fall, the rapid loss of light in Gotham, 1,000 miles further from the equator than his homeland, clouded his mood and drained his energy. This experience inspired him to identify seasonal affective disorder and to pioneer the use of light therapy. He wrote a seminal treatise on TAS, Winter blues, and the best-selling works thereafter.
Rosenthal, affiliated with the National Institute of Health for 20 years, is now a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center, has a private practice in Maryland, and still writes.
In his 10th book, Poetry Rx, Rosenthal performs 50 poems by William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Frost to champion the healing power of worms. He suggests that Eagles fans might want to give it a try, although it is possible that at least some will be successful.
A major desire I had was to share my love of poetry and to explain what it can do for people psychologically. I am not a poetry teacher, just an informed amateur who loves poetry. I am a seasoned psychiatrist and coach; I can use my knowledge of these areas to help people figure out how to read a poem and get the most out of it in terms of what might benefit them, to squeeze the last drop of juice out of the orange.
By nature, I have always preferred the road less traveled. I think you’ll usually find more of it if you don’t go with the crowds. For example, when I started my research on Seasonal affective disorder, no one even knew it existed and some people thought it was a joke. It was the road less traveled and it is one of the best roads I have ever taken.
Researchers have found that listening to a poem can actually stimulate goosebumps and alter reward circuits in the brain as measured by imaging studies, but perhaps not as much as an exciting game of the Eagles. … [But] in their own way, reading a good poem and watching a good game are likely to stimulate our reward circuit.
I started with “Love and Lose” because so much poetry has been written about these powerful experiences, and people seem to gravitate towards these kinds of poems whether they’re in love or not. So it was a natural starting point. Then, so many people are stimulated to write poetry by natural settings. It was therefore a logical continuation. The third category, “Aspects of the Human Condition”, covers various important topics, such as anger, trauma and the difficulty of immigration and leaving home. This section also captures positive experiences like the healing power of reconciliation and faith, and the thrill of discovery. The fourth section is one that often emerges at maturity – determining what constitutes a good life and passing that knowledge on to the next generation.
A recent study found that a third of people with severe COVID end up with damage to their nervous system, as evidenced by neurological or psychiatric problems. It has the potential to cause enormous damage, both physically and financially. A little-known fact about depression, for example, is that the World Health Organization has discovered that it is a major cause of disability in the world. The psychological after-effects of COVID can only add to this burden.
Being asked to choose the best poem is like asking who your favorite child is. But I would risk the best poem for this particular purpose to be William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”. He has inspired millions of people in the toughest and most extreme situations. Nelson Mandela, the great South African leader, memorized it during his long imprisonment on a fortress island and taught it to his fellow inmates. It was engraved on the masthead of the eponymous Invictus Games, established for injured servicemen. It’s a great poem and a great inspiration for people when they need it most.