GROWING THE ONION, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Listening to a person’s politically incorrect, unedited story, is often more exciting than reading a novel. And what if the story is so amazing that it changes your life?

When a 40-year-old man came to my office complaining of depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and helplessness, I thought he was just another nice guy who needed to be treated for a Major Depression. Boy was I wrong. He did have a Major Depression, but he wasn’t just another nice guy.

When he was five years old, his hip started to hurt. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Legg Perthes Disease, a congenital hip abnormality. The part that took away my breath was that the treatment was ONE YEAR OF HOSPITALIZATION AT COMPLETE BEDREST. Within weeks he was moved from his home in Philadelphia to The Children’s Seashore House of Atlantic City, sixty miles away. His parents had three other kids to raise and worked long hours to make ends meet. Understandably, it was a struggle for them to visit him one or two times a month. This little five-year-old had to survive all by himself!

Back in the fifties and sixties, it was commonplace for Philadelphia families to rent modest summer homes in south Jersey. Mom and the kids would stay there the whole summer and Dad would visit on the weekends. That’s what my family also did, and I distinctly remember seeing dozens of frightened little children in wheelchairs when I would walk on that exact beach.

My patient’s situation became my obsession. He didn’t remember much about the experience, but that didn’t stop me from filling in the blanks with my own story. What if things happened that caused him to have nightmares? What if his whole family was inexplicably killed and then the killers were after him? What if the only way he could save himself was to remember what happened back when he was five years old? What if the only person who could help him was his lab partner in medical school, a woman who wouldn’t even talk to him?

I know all about depression, repression and denial. I know about the early wounds that create depressed adults. And I clearly remembered a girl from medical school who perfectly fit the role I needed. Joe Belmont, a tough Italian street kid and Karen Levine, a beautiful, psychologically minded woman were born. Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery was the result.

Psychiatrists and stories are like Superman and Lois Lane. One without the other creates a palpable void. What a treat to grow an onion instead of just peeling back the layers.

Skin Dance, a mystery, will be available soon.

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6 thoughts on “GROWING THE ONION, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

  1. Fascinating! I worked with a psychiatrist on the board of a local non profit. Show was always incredibly coiffed and never looked the least bit rattled by life. Me on the other hand always felt like I was one step away from the edge. As she entered late into a meeting one day I looked at her and said, “I dont know how you do it”. “Don’t you ever get tired of listening to people whine and complain all day?”. She looked at me and without any affect at all said, “sometimes I’d just like a button behind my desk I could press and the patient would drop into a huge whole in my floor.”. Then I could lean over and say, “No, NOW you’re fucked!”. Love hearing the real inside thoughts. Thanks for being great blogger !


  2. And was Skin Dance spawned from a conversation with a patient or two or did it crawl oout of your own subconcious?


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