The nutjob among the neurotics – a psychology lecture through the eyes of a former mental health patient, part II

Today was Dr. Bla´s lecture again, but thankfully it was held by a guest who I will call Dr. Crazy. I say “thankfully” because he has a very entertaining and informative style. While that didn´t change a thing about the fact that the two girls next to me were babbling shamelessly throughout the entire lecture, at least Dr Crazy´s style made it easier to pay attention to him.

Today´s topic were anxiety disorders, such as phobias, panic attacks, social phobia, OCD, and also PTSD (but we will have a separate session solely focusing on that one). Since I have been dealing with anxiety and phobic fears since early childhood, I was more than interested. At first, though, the things Dr. Crazy said made me wonder if I wasn´t merely exaggerating my problems. “There is no mental disorder in the entire ICD-10,” he said, “which sane people are not at least minimally acquainted with through personal experiences of their own.” He explained that every healthy person experiences fear, that every healthy person sometimes double and triple checks if he really locked the door, that every healthy person sometimes worries about something. On the one hand, I think it is good that Dr. Crazy tries to show us that the mentally ill are not so different from us. On the other hand, this can easily be used to tell people who are mentally ill that their condition isn´t “all that severe” and that they should get their act together. He often talked about the mentally healthy population as the “normal neurotics”. I had equally mixed feelings about that. Maybe I, too, am just a normal neurotic, and my problems are a part of “normal unhappiness”? On some level I know that this is bullshit. If you have to perform thought rituals every time you think the word “fire”, and if you have to use intricate circumscriptions because you cannot get yourself to say the word, then apparently something is wrong with you.  Once again, I am very grateful that it is not nearly that bad anymore (but I´m still anxious enough to knock on wood as I write this).

But isn´t it funny, overall, how I am never happy in Dr. Bla´s lecture? Either I feel like an alien because “everybody else is normal and I am crazy”, or I feel like I am either wimpy or exaggerating because “everybody is a bit crazy after all”. It is not as paradoxical as it seems, though. In both cases, the professor assumes that both he and his students are “normal” – whether I feel included in this or not. (In the second case, “normal” implies a little bit craziness, but I think that normal craziness is different from what I experience.) So he talks to normal people, and about “crazy” people. And yet there I am, a “crazy” person, sitting in his lecture. What does that mean? Given that he talks to me, I must be normal; but given that I am actually “crazy”, he is merely talking about me and I am an alien who is not really there.

Dr. Crazy said something about the typical point of onset of anxiety disorders that made me want to laugh, kinda. He said that often anxiety disorders set in around age 25. He then explained why: Around this age, people are done studying and they have to take life in their own hands. It is a phase where things get scary, so to say. Well. Given that I suffered from emetophobia since about age 4, and with that fire phobia at least since third grade, I wonder what this says about my early childhood.

And then he said something that didn´t make me want to laugh at all. It made me want to punch somebody, actually. He explained that in treating a patient for anxiety, you need to take a look at his domestic situation and his interpersonal relationships as well, because they might contribute to keeping the patient ill. “Who, do you think, is dominating the relationships of an anxiety patient?” he asked, only to answer: “The patient. Everything is all about the patient. He is the center of everything.”

It´s okay. I mean, I know it sucks to be with a person who constantly needs to go home because she is feeling sick, or to attend to someone who is having a panic attack over “nothing”. Knowing how much it sucks actually heightens my anxiety, because “oh no, now I´m going to be a killjoy again; oh no, now I´m going to ruin everybody´s evening again”! See, Dr. Crazy, the “abnormal neurotics” are very well capable of empathizing with the “normal neurotics”! And I don´t enjoy to draw the kind of attention to myself that you get when you suddenly start to cry in a restaurant because you feel sick and you are scared of vomiting! I don´t enjoy to force somebody who is enjoying herself to leave a party early because of me!  And I don´t feel like I am dominating my relationships! I  am forced to navigate between the restrictions my mental health problems place on me and meeting others´ expectations; and this is not a great, “powerful” place to be in! If anything is dominating my relationships, it is my illness – but not me!

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