Saturday, December 18, 2010

You Are Not a Psychiatrist

... so please stop diagnosing yourself.

I've met entirely too many people with middling to pissy GPAs and/or degrees in nonsense (Medieval History?!) who are fond of placing labels on themselves based on a five minute search on the Internet (or a hasty flip through a psychology manual) and then telling me about their great personal discovery in laborious detail. This isn't a phenomenon exclusive to cocktail parties, soirees, Bar Mitzvahs or community college graduations. It seems to happen to me, personally, more often than I'd care to admit: when I'm at a bar pretending I'm Hemingway, when I'm resting at a Stop sign after an emotionally liberating sprint through the neighborhood, when I'm trying to eat my low-fat, low-sodium, high-sugar lunch in the faculty room and some other teacher decides to have a breakdown in front of my very eyes. I can be inserting money into a soda machine at a bus station and someone will inevitably come up to me, ask me for change and tell me he/she gets turned on by fire drills and once had to have a dime surgically removed from his/her rectum. "I like Mountain Dew too," I might respond, and then I would smile and run the hell away.

The truth is that a little bit of information can go a long way, and that honest face you think I have is judging your weak-minded ass up and down the block. I remember I had to take a rather shady prescription years ago for acne called Accutane. I had heard all about the side effects: the "suicidal ideation," the swelling of the brain, the hair loss, the melting skin. Frankly, the facts of what the drug can do should scare anyone with even a moderate concern for self-preservation. But when I raised my concerns with my dermatologist, he told me quite firmly, "Don't read anything else about this pill, ever. If something bad is happening to you, I'll be the one to tell you." This was actually sagely advice, and not only was I not suicidal, but I was elated by how Accutane cleared up my skin. My doctor was an expert, he told me he was an expert, he told me to shut the fuck up and quit whining like a waifish cunt ... and by damned I did.

Other people are not so, how do you say? Reasonable. They don't seek experts, they skim forums of WebMD or other people's web journals for comparison. A little depression? "I have that every other Tuesday and sometimes on Saturdays!" A smidge of anxiety? "Sure, after a Red Bull and some uppers!" Impulsive behavior? "Three years ago I stole a lighter from Walmart and one time I kicked over a mailbox!" Aggression? "I fantasize about my family being stomped to death by cattle!" Paranoia? "I just know someone's e-stalking me and I know all those Status Updates from my 1,500 friends on Facebook are about me ... that's a sign of schizophrenia! But wait, I also have this weird thing where I use lint remover on my corduroy pants after each and every time I wear them! Whoa, I have schizophrenia and OCD! And once I was at a party and took the candy from the bearded man no one invited over or knew the name of and I woke up in a tent in New Jersey with a dead badger, an empty bottle of Old English in my hand and my panties wrapped around my neck! I'm a nymphomaniac, Mom! This is all your fault!"

No, actually, it's no one's fault except your own (and your wacky, twisted logic). I pity your poor mother for having to squeeze you out of her delicates. Your armchair diagnosis isn't fooling anyone except maybe you. "I can't help that I robbed the elderly couple with a fork! It's my disorder." No, you're an idiot. "I can't help that I didn't score high enough on the aptitude test. I studied, but they didn't write the test for someone with my unique mental abilities. If they wrote the test specifically for me and whatever learning problems I invented for myself a week ago, they'd realize I'm a genius." You are not a genius. You had difficulty with English in Junior High and your score on the SAT was a frowny face. "I cause trouble by starting fights among people ... then I wonder why they all come back and hate me! I only do this to avoid truly examining my own vacant life and confronting personal demons that are obvious to everyone but me!" Frankly, my dear, you're a mess. Crawl out of the cave you shiver inside of, walk in front of a mirror and really take a long, hard look at what you think you are.

"But Matt," you say, sipping your Chardonnay out of a plastic cup, "you need to show a little understanding and patience! Sure, some people are delusional and outright crazy and should seek out serious therapy and stop pretending they're fine, but a lot of people over-exaggerate for the sake of drama! There's nothing wrong with a little drama! And so what if some people self-diagnose! They just like thinking they're special and unique and full of deep inner turmoil, when they're actually as shallow as a puddle. Leave them to their delusions." Maybe it's the cheap wine talking, because some of these are really good points, but you seem to forget I have neither patience nor understanding. There's a fine line between having a pitiable problem and another about flaunting the problem like it's a Cub Scout badge. In other words, there's a fine line between the Private and the Public, and some people are unclear about that distinction. If you cut your finger badly, you don't pour gasoline on it. If you are truly depressed, or truly manic, seek a professional's guidance, not your co-worker at Arby's. Your personal issues aren't something to be ashamed of, but they also aren't trophies you place on your mantle. And if an expert tells you you're a deeply troubled person, your duty and obligation to those that care about you and know you isn't to hurt them ... it's to heal yourself.

Now pour me some of that wine before you pass out and let me show you where that tent is again.