'You Are Not The Brightest Of My Four Sons'... And Other Depressing Things That Have Been Said To Me

07/24/2017 09:01 am ET Updated Jul 24, 2017
“You are not the brightest of my 4 sons...”
John Schuchart
“You are not the brightest of my 4 sons...”

 

“You are not the brightest of my four sons”…and other depressing things that have been said to me.

By John Shuchart, with James Blasingame and Marianne Wasson

A book review by Lloyd I. Sederer, MD

I was in Missouri giving a talk about my Four Secrets” book. After my talk, before a conference assembly of near to 1000 people, I went to the signing table to offer my book and welcome comments. An hour or so later a distinguished man and lovely woman arrived at the table to share it with me, which I was pleased to do.

They unpacked their books and flyers and the first book they took out was one I had! I reported that to my fellow author and speaker, John Shuchart, but confessed that while I had received it perhaps a year ago it sat prominently on my office desk in my pile of good intentions to read. I get a fair number of books in the mail and film screening invites because I do a fair number of reviews, and his was among them. His title grabbed me - as did the subtitle: “You are not the brightest of my four sons…and other depressing things that have been said to me.” Yet the cover also noted that the author would tell us how he used “humor and reframing in his struggles with mental illness {and its) stigma…”

And there, lo and behold, Shuchart had sat down right next to me reminding me of my unmet intentions. I am usually pretty reserved and while polite it is unusual for me to get into lengthy conversations with strangers – which was exactly what happened with him. Four hours passed. Like 40 minutes. And then he and his colleague asked, “Want to go to dinner?” and I immediately said yes, also not what I tend to do.

John Shuchart is quite an amazing man. He was a successful businessman, a serial entrepreneur in Kansas and Missouri, and after he retired (he is now 67), he decided to spend his time (and money) trying to reduce the extraordinary stigma people with mental (and substance use) disorders experience (see www.itsOK.us). He himself has suffered from severe depression, had once came close to executing on a lethal suicide plan, and had a chronic pain syndrome from a car accident (no fault of his own) and from a little known adverse reaction to an antibiotic he had taken. He had become dependent on opioid pain pills and had sought treatment in centers and from experts around the country for his mood and pain disorders.

But what finally enabled him to rise above his psychic and physical pain was humor. This is one funny, witty, ironic man. Another Jew like me, but raised in the Midwest not the Bronx. He is a raconteur, and a wonderful listener. That afternoon and evening I learned about his family, his struggles with mental and substance use disorders, his truly successful kids (now adults) and lovely wife, his work, and how friends encouraged him to put his funny, heartbreaking and inspiring stories into words. That was the genesis of this book.

I learned as well that he spoke Russian; he had learned it when young in order to join the CIA, until he realized that could be a fatal occupation. But he remains fluent in Russian, likes to surprise NYC Russian taxi drivers by talking their native language. I learned that he had established a foundation and that a good chunk of whatever he makes from book sales goes to a number of non-profit, mental health organizations.

And then to beat the band he gave me two more books – of letters: one written by junior high school students in this country (he is also a teacher) after 9/11 that is a compilation of the letters he coached them to write to terrorists. Then while visiting Israel, someone recognized him on the street and talked him into creating a similar set of letters to terrorists with Israeli high school students; this collection came to the attention of Shimon Peres, a great leader and President of Israel, who offered to write the Foreword to that book, and of course Shuchart accepted.

And more. Yet he is a humble and gracious man, given to inquiring and learning.

So, I said, if you give me another copy of your “You Are Not the Brightest…” book I will read it on my way back to NY, and if I like it, I will review it. I more than liked it. I loved this book, his wit, his storytelling and his approach to enabling people who have been traumatized or ill, or both, to use stories, especially funny stories, to “reframe their experience” and thereby detoxify, if you will, the traumas they have endured.

And John Shuchart has had his share of trauma. His was a very dysfunctional family, with both a mother and father given to belittling and traumatizing him. Depression (and alcoholism) ran in his family, and he too succumbed to what he calls “the Dark Hole of Depression.” And to dependence on an opioid pain pill – as with so many people, the consequence of chronic pain and the medical prescription of opioids. He is off them now for a number of years.

He also discovered that it is “hard to laugh and cry at the same time.” That was my experience reading “You are not the brightest of my four sons.” Shuchart tells us tales - all reframed with wit, from very real moments in his life that would rock any of us: His mother’s repeated statements that she regretted that he was born and her relentless criticism; his father’s regular abuse and greed (often the result of his own maladroitness), the time his father was shot in a business gone awry, as well as his three failed (often manipulative) suicide attempts; the suicide of his brilliant and talented older brother, who perennially exploited John; to the 17 surgeries he has had to endure after a truck hauling concrete blocks hit his car broadside; and so much more. He quotes Cary Grant: “Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.” He quotes Ernest Hemingway: “A man’s got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book.”

I am so glad I finally read John Shuchart’s book. He has taken a lot of punishment, and has written a really funny (and meaningful) book. Get a copy, read it and see if you can resist smiling or feeling hopeful when you face the awful. We come to appreciate, a gift from the author, that we all can find a path out of pain through humor, hard work, supportive relationships, and a worthy purpose in our life.

PS: When Shuchart spoke at the conference (after I had to leave to return to NY) I am told he received a standing ovation, and sold a lot of books!

****

Dr. Lloyd Sederer is a psychiatrist and public health doctor. The opinions offered here are entirely his own.

Improving Mental Health: 4 Secrets in Plain Sight
A. Psychiatric Assn. Publishing
Improving Mental Health: 4 Secrets in Plain Sight
Current Controversies in Mental Health and Addictions
Cognella
Current Controversies in Mental Health and Addictions

His latest books are Improving Mental Health: Four Secrets in Plain Sight (2017) and Controversies in Mental Health and the Addictions (2017). His book on drugs in America will be published by Scribner (Simon & Schuster) in the spring of 2018.

@askdrlloyd

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