Taking Mental Illness One Baby Neuroticism at a Time

I read about myself in an article by the American Psychiatric Association last night. Technically the title of the article was “What is a Manic Episode?” but I was sure if I scrolled down far enough I’d find a picture of myself above a footnote that explained that the only reason they call it a “manic” episode instead of a “Veena” episode is because the word “manic” is slightly more catchy and because– contrary to what my “inflated self-esteem or grandiosity” might have me believe– the world does not revolve around me. 

That’s one of the criteria for a manic episode in case you didn’t catch that. “Inflated self-esteem.”

The first time I read about myself in DSM V, I liked it. I liked reading the words “Borderline Personality Disorder” and I liked reading all the bullet points below it, the little black dots that neatly summed up my entire life in nine concise criteria. 

With every mental disorder in DSM V, you have to meet a certain number of the bullet points in order to qualify for the diagnosis. Five out of the nine for Borderline. Three out of seven for a manic episode. Of the disorders that apply to me, I’ve never read a single bullet point that doesn’t apply. 

Guess I’ve always been thorough. 

Or I guess that’s inherent to the definiton of Borderline: someone that borders many other mental disorders. Think of us like a tasting menu. 

(Except I definitely don’t have split-personality disorder…although you will never see Tyler Durden and I in the same room. Just sayin’).

The first time I was successfully diagnosed, I liked it. I liked it because it meant that I was no longer a mystery and no longer doomed to an eternity of being misunderstood. It turned out I was very well understood and well-documented, at that. There are reasons why I do things and patterns by which I do them. Cool. Neat. Information to help me make sense of my own actions and choose each particular action with that much more agency and understanding. Who cares about the label? If you’re me, you learn pretty early on that some wires upstairs are just wired differently than other peoples’. It was something I could learn from. 

Since then, my feelings toward diagnoses have grown wonderfully confused. 

Because last night I read this: “Almost invariably, there is increased sociability (e.g., renewing old acquaintances or calling friends or even strangers at all hours of the day or night), without regard to the intrusive, domineering, and demanding nature of these interactions.”

Well, shoot. You got me. 

And here’s the thing: I kind of liked that about myself. The first part at least. I liked that I am outgoing, fearless, and reach out to old friends, potential friends, and current friends. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any friends to speak of. 

But then there’s the second half. At that second half, it’s an important second half. Because I have unwittingly bullied, controlled, and intimidated a lot of unsuspecting people in my day. I realized this long before last night but golly, that American Psychiatric Association really was not trying to spare my feelings. Last night was the first time I’d heard it described so clincically and so harshly. Helpful information. Really, truly helpful. 

It is domineering and intrusive, dagnabbit. 

And here’s the other thing: last night I didn’t just read this criteria. I actually lived it. While I was reading it. Like I had the page on my mental disorder open in one window, and a conversation with an old friend open in another and the little sound-reel in my head was going, “DON’T DO IT, VEENA! YOU ARE STRONG VEENA! Oh, just do it, Veena. It’s probably not even that intrusive.”

As if the golden standard for friendship is “not that intrusive.”

I sent the message. Possibly one too many. Not sure. It really may have been “not that intrusive.” 

The rest of the sound-reel went like this: “Oh, you did it, Veena. Why? Why did you do it? If people want to talk to you, they have been blessed with lips and fingers for talking and typing for that express purpose. No, not the express purpose of talking to you and your inflated self-esteem, dammnit. For talking in general.” 

I don’t like how the rest of that sound-reel goes. 

I like better the conversation with my best friend after having recounted the entirety of the sound-reel to her: “You know, I don’t think God is up making tally marks for all of the times that we screw up or even all of the times we might have screwed up. I think He kind of just blows those over. Because I’m learning that if I make a mistake, like if I forget that I’m loved and I panic, or if you aren’t loving to Oliver, or if you ask to Skype a friend one too many times, I’m going to make that mistake again. I’m going to make it like 250 more times. And that’s okay. But the one time– after all of those mistakes– the one time that I remember that I’m loved and I stay calm, or after all  the times you sat and stared at Oliver getting upset at him over nothing, the one time that you don’t get upset and instead just care about him, or the one time that you don’t send another message and let your friends approach you, I think for that one time, God is up there just celebrating. He is cheering us on and throwing confetti and he is just pleased as punch.”

She didn’t say “pleased as punch,” but I can’t remember her exact words and that’s the best I’ve got. 

So yes, by the way, I’m religious. Mormon, actually. And no, I’m not being sarcastic this time. 

While we’re getting all comfortable sharing, I might as well tell you my bra size and favorite candy.

(A. I’m not telling and B. Cadbury chocolate)

I do so love best friends. In particular, mine. She is so right

A lot of the time I feel some compulsion to involve myself in the lives of others and with my life right now, I can’t always tell when my motivation has switched from that of love to plain compulsion. Or selfishness. Mostly, I care about people. Mostly that’s how I spend my time and my energy. It’s a rewarding way to live. It’s happy. Every now and then, I screw up. 

Who cares?

Maybe the guy I pushed too far, but in all likelihood, after the briefest moment of discomfort, he will go on with the rest of his happy life. I will go on with the rest of my happy life. 

Because there’s also this: in the process of reconnecting with old friends recently (inspired out of this memoir-writing business) there have been about five other friends that I also reconnected with in roughly the past week and guess how many of them I got pushy-shovey with? 

Oh, that’s right. NONE. And you know what that means; God was up there partying and throwing confetti FIVE TIMES in the past week. 

Mental illness or no, religious or not, there’s no point collecting each screw up and trying to bury ourselves alive with them. 

The persistent steps forward are what count. 


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