I don´t even know how to title this

A while before I started this blog I was a member at a major Internet forum that deals with mental health issues. In fact I still am a member, but I hardly ever write anymore. I got my blog for that; at least here I don´t have to worry about writing too much.

On that forum, there were various subforums for all kinds of illnesses. There was one subforum for each major personality disorder, there were forums for dissociative disorders, for depression, for trauma, for sexual issues and for anxiety. There was more, but for the purpose of this entry those examples should be enough.

I was never quite sure in which subforums I belonged. I read many of them trying to figure it out, but I found I could identify with some elements of each of them. I noticed certain characteristics in style and content in each or at least many respective subforums and, to be honest, after a while this was starting to look like a great stage show at the theatre.

I cannot help but feel a certain disdain, even ridicule which will probably show through in my description of the various styles. Like: Everybody looks for the label that suits him best and then he starts to talk/write in a way and about topics which support the label. The folks in the Schizoid PD subforum make short, distanced, blasé posts because they don´t like social occasions. The folks in the Schizotypal PD sub-subforum talk gibberish because hey, they are almost psychotic. Those with BPD constantly talk about emptiness and what it really means, or about their fear of abandonment. They keep on saying they have trouble with empathy even though they constantly prove the opposite is true as they all excellently understand each other. This is where I feel the diagnostic criteria really distort peoples´perception of themselves. I have BPD, so I must lack empathy. I hereby dutifully accuse myself of that, even though it doesn´t feel true, but my perception must be distorted because I´m ill.

Then there is the subforum for those with Antisocial PD. The conversations are a mixture of one-upmanship and weird camaraderie. Typical thread title: “Thoughts of homicide?” Then they play a subtle game about who is more hardcore; those who enjoy killing or those who do it with complete indifference. I didn´t know the death row has Internet access lately…but maybe their chronic bragging is just totally in character with their (alleged?) AsPD diagnosis?

Enter the forum for Histrionic PD. It is filled with men who accuse their ex of suffering from the condition because she cheated on them. From a woman´s perspective it sort of sickens me. If a guy cheats on a girl, it is almost normal because, hey, they have a greater sex drive, right? But a woman who cheats must definitely be ill in some way. I found it almost intimidating.

Then the narcissists. Similar to the AsPD forum, just that the subject is not homicide but causing emotional devastation. This is alternated with musings about the complete inner deadness of narcissists, such as: “Do they have hobbies because they like them or in order to show off?”

Then there are other forums, like anxiety, self-esteem and so on. In those forums people tend to speak more freely, but what is stereotypical is the replies: “Have you thought about xyz, consult a therapist, I know it is hard but you can do it!” And be damned if that doesn´t do it for you. Because that is as much as anyone will offer. It is the zero risk reply. Telling someone to see a therapist is “the right thing to do”. Ordinary users have no right to act as psychologists after all. They cannot give their unqualified opinion on their fellow users´problems. That would be totally irresponsible.

Oh, and while we´re at it: Responsibility. Almost everybody in those forums is constantly busy “taking responsibility” for their problems. To this day I´m not entirely sure what is meant by that. I only know the conversational style it entails. “I will…I have to….Now I must…” and all kinds of prospects for the future. “Taking responsibility” in those forums is the public display of making a firm decision to do what the majority thinks is good. “I will no longer hide from my problems!” (Whatever that means.) “I will consult a therapist.” (At least that´s a concrete thing you can know you have or haven´t done.) Or, of course: “I guess I´m still in denial about…” I´m pretty sure there is a real, relevant mental state which people try to capture by using this phrase. But the phrase itself is highly illogical. And when I analyze the power structure behind that phrase I come to the conclusion that it means: “My gut feeling says you´re wrong, but you must be right so apparently I just don´t want to see it.”

My sarcasm has me wonder if I´m seeing something the authors of such posts don´t see (or maybe they do and they don´t know how else to express themselves; it sure has happened to me as well), or if I´m so cold and deranged that I simply don´t know what “not hiding from one´s problems anymore” means. I feel like it should be obvious, like everybody else knows what is meant by this, but I don´t. Well…sometimes I feel like I know it, but I find the expression “hiding” pretty unfair. It sounds like unless I yell at myself in the mirror each afternoon: “You´ve been sleeping till noon and your room is in a mess, you complete wreck! Look at yourself! LOOK at yourself! Your life is going down the drain!” I must be somehow in denial. I often feel like this so-called “taking responsibility” is just an exercise in drill and mercilessness towards oneself. You´re already on the ground, but you constantly remind yourself of your complete fucked-up-ness because that´s the responsible thing to do.

This publicly displayed taking of responsibility looks like an act of appeasement to me. “I know I have no right to whine and have problems, but I´ll pay your listening to me with a commitment to taking responsibility for myself and changing, okay? Now please don´t be too harsh on me!” I´ve noticed that whenever I´m tempted to assure my readers that I´m working oh so hard on myself I´m simply scared of their response. I´m scared they will tell me, “weeeeell, if you don´t like the place your in, you will have to make some changes! You alone are responsible for your happiness!” Yeah, alright, but I really just wanted to rant, okay? Share with the rest of the world how much life sucks?

The above-described mental health forum is not the place for that. There is only one way to escape the demand to take responsibility: Portraying yourself as a narcissist or as a psychopath.

I´m not sure how many of the people in those forums are what they pretend to be. Some may well  just be your garden variety full-of-shit-teenagers. At least those in the psychopath subforum. But by claiming those diagnoses for themselves they have a great advantage: They can behave however they like and nobody will say anything about it because this is part of their illness, right? It is a very convenient way of claiming a label for themselves without having to do anything about their real or alleged condition. Nobody expects them to take responsibility. They are stronger than the “helpers” who always know exactly what the ill person must do.

Thing is: I could easily copy that attitude. I´d know what to say and do. Just as easily as I can copy the “repentant mentally ill person” attitude. Or present myself as a “helper”. I could probably copy most conversational styles I find in those forums. I could work with traits and experiences of my own to present myself as a schizoid, narcissist, psychopath or compulsive stove checker. I could start with posting this paragraph in the histrionics subforum.

I don´t because I´d feel fairly guilty. I feel guilty even thinking about it. The mods are volunteering to create a place where people can talk about their issues, other people might be reading what I write looking for help while I´m bullshitting them – neither of them deserves that.

And yet somehow there is this desire to just slip into another role, be somebody else; maybe present myself as a more colorful person (BPD, HPD), or as a total badass, or as an innocent victim. Experience what that is like, and what it is like to be talked to in an entirely different fashion. Be interpreted in ways different from how I´m interpreted now. Be seen as a person who is/has this or that. Allow myself the luxury of being a cliché, of belonging into a certain group of people.

Maybe this desire isn´t such a negative, evil thing. Part of it is the triumph of proving how easily reality can be imitated, how much I could look like the original. But part of it is also the wish to explore new, paradoxical sides of me. Test several identities, find space for little experiences which seem to be out of character. Find new narratives of my life.

Who knows, maybe it would turn out that I´d completely fail. Maybe people would tell me: “No, you´re definitely not a…” But I doubt so. The typical conversation goes like: “OMGZ, I THINK I MIGHT HAVE…”, followed by list of symptoms. “Do you think I might have…?” Reply: “Maybe, some symptoms point into that direction, only a therapist can diagnose you.” I´ve never seen anyone say: “You know what kid, I think you are completely sane.”

If you post on that forum, it is already understood that you have issues which are not normal. And if you ask whether or not you might have a specific illness and list symptoms in medical jargon, is it really much of a surprise if people confirm that you might have that illness?

What happens on that forum, no matter who all these people are in reality, is incredibly constructed. It is, in some ways, a show. People find themselves in certain roles and they start to behave differently. I find myself doing this. I once posted in the AsPD forum and immediately I was trying to sound indifferent and cold. Then I replied to someone´s post in the self-esteem section and I started to sound like I was terribly wise and far ahead in my “healing process” (healing from what?) – simply because now I was the one replying to someone else´s “rants”. It is creeping me out. So much for being oneself.

I guess my desire to go on an “undercover mission” or two might also be a way of wanting to play with those roles and free myself from them. No longer mistaking myself for them. “Give a man a mask and he will be honest.”, or however the saying goes in English. Who knows what I could do if I was wearing a mask. What I would learn about myself.

It is tempting. If I didn´t invent any facts or experiences and simply said I “wonder if I might have this or that disorder” I wouldn´t even be lying since there´s hardly any disorder I haven´t been wondering about. There wouldn´t be so much of a risk that I´d confuse people who are seeking help.

What else is this temptation about? The allure of bad behavior and having points of view that run contrary to ordinary ideas of what is right while refusing to justify them? Refusing to justify my feelings, because if I´m mad then I don´t have to justify myself for being irrational? Embracing the demon; identifying with diagnoses which would scare or upset me in real life?

Plenty of possibilities. The odd thing is: It felt like liberation – until I actually took a look at these forums a moment ago. One quick glance at the board rules and immediately my authority issues kicked in again. When all I wanted to do was learn to contradict, eh? Maybe I should aim to be kicked out? Maybe that would be a practice in self-esteem?

I feel extremely stressed out when I get into arguments. On my German blog a guy once got into an argument about homosexuality with me. He wasn´t the run-of-the-mill religious fundamentalist, but he had a psychoanalytic approach which somehow stated that homosexuals are ill and immature. I stood my ground during the discussion, refused to justify myself (and my lifestyle) and eventually said we´d better agree to disagree because we would never find a common ground. And that was it.

Sometimes I´m still scared he might return.

But this sure is something I have to learn, isn´t it? Saying my own opinion instead of using appeasement techniques and telling everybody for the umpteenth time that of course this is just my own personal view and everything is total different for everybody yada yada? I´m so tired of relativizing everything I say just so everybody will like me. It feels so dishonest to do so when in fact I have very strong feelings about a subject. Isn´t that part of establishing boundaries? Daring to have an opinion and taking one´s feelings about something seriously? Refusing to constantly justify oneself?

Given that I´m in the mood for experiments: What would it feel like to write about myself without a trace of masochism? Without the constant self-criticism? Writing while taking my feelings for granted and assuming they are legitimate and normal?

I don´t want to become a jerk who is not open for any opinions that differ from his own. I´d just like to become a jerk who dares utter an opinion. Vagueness actually helps nobody, or does it? I´m not even sure it is possible to not have an opinion on something, ambivalent as it might be. So neutrality is mere pretense. My mother is great at that, and what´s the result? I am! And my coach wouldn´t have helped me for shit if she hadn´t been a person who says what she thinks.

Maybe this is what is so tempting about the “undercover mission”. Writing about myself (and everything else) in a different way.

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One Response to “I don´t even know how to title this”

  1. vicariousrising Says:

    The idea of being honest in a mask is interesting. The first thing it brings to mind is the platitude “fake it until you make it,” which I know isn’t what you mean. I think I feel like I’m pulling off masks glued to my face by others, so I’m having a hard time imagining using one to uncover a truth about myself. Although I do find I write in different voices (or, hell, writing fiction is a mask — stepping into a character well is always a great feeling).

    I think there’s a million people inside me. Of maybe facets is a better term. Certain scenarios bring out some more strongly. Hopefully I’m not becoming a toady when I do that, but it can seem like a weird conformity to a group in many ways. I dunno. I don’t frequent any forums. I like the blog format. I don’t have to worry about the group rules and norms that way. Doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel like a fraud or like I’m playing to an audience, but on my better blog days, I say what I mean.

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