Flash back a few decades and I’m sitting with my career adviser at F&M going over my aptitudes. She went from deadpan to grin, looked up and said, “Well, this one’s a slam-dunk. You’re a people-person and you’re really up there in the category of relating to people.”
I don’t know why, but a half-second later I asked, “Is there a flip-side, something I should stay-the-hell away from?” She went back to deadpan. “Yeah. Structured stuff like the military. Stay away from the military.” Exactly twenty months later I was soloing-out in jet fighters at Columbus AFB, Mississippi. (long story)
At F&M I’d majored in philo…minored in psych and was well on the road toward being something that starts with PSY, when one day, Dean Lacy, who was teaching abnormal psych, chanced to throw out this key statistic: “Oddly, the success rate for people being treated vs. not being treated for a psychological disorder is about the same.” What? That was a bit discouraging, a deal-breaker in fact for me.
From my own perspective, I quickly came to the conclusion that psychology and psychiatry are a lot less science than say, targeting cancerous brain cells with lasers or injecting penicillin for an infection. For one thing, when I studied at F&M there was no Asperger’s Syndrome. I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course, we just hadn’t come up with a cool name. Along the same line, way back when, we had friends who were Manic/Depressive. I always thought that was a short and succinct way of describing it. No need for interpretation. Well, we don’t get that anymore. Now we’re Bipolar, which in the back of my mind always had that little frisson of being gay as well. Not to worry, it still just means we get manic sometimes, and then we pay for it by getting depressive.
If my tone appears coy, that’s not my intent. In pure forms, some of these syndromes can be debilitating…in some worst-case scenarios they can become lethal. The point I’m trying to make is these terms are not absolutes, not written in stone. And rarely does anyone mention that they occur across a spectrum. Being manic or depressive is not like being pregnant. You can be a little bit manic/depressive at times…or a lot. And you can be a little obsessive-compulsive…or a lot.
What I’ve noticed with the increasing years on this planet is most of my peers have loosened up a bit with regard to what they’re willing to fess-up to. When you’re 28 you expect to be Perfect with a capital P. Optimal weight, perfect whiteness factor to your teeth, very normal, and we’re all brighter than hell. Later reality sinks in and after a couple of cocktails, you and your friends say, “WTF? My boobs used to point to the sky!” or “Hair, I remember. I used to have hair.” In my case, it gets annoying having people bubble forth “Santa Claus!!!” around Christmas time.
Lately, I’ve had some really interesting conversations of the “I’ll tell you my quirky side if you tell me about yours.” Since my wife and I are artists and I’m a writer, we’re expected to be a little weird so we’re given a bit more slack. Sooo… I’ll kick off with, “I don’t think manic-depressive is ALWAYS that bad.” Some of my best creativity occurs when I’m plugged-in and revvin’. I have a lot of fun when I’m cranked-up a bit and my conversation is wittier ( faster). Nothing to do with drugs. I don’t take them, and I’d admit it if I did. Caffeine, may be a culprit, however. The point is, it’s worth it for me. Do I have a depressive side? Yup, I do. Fortunately, it’s pretty rare and when I’m down, I hole-away, take a nap, or go up to our tree house and hang out by myself for an hour or so. Don’t have much choice in this whole thing either…
What’s interesting is most of my friends (emphasis on most) are aware that they’re a bit weird as well. It’s just not something you broadcast. I have a few friends who have some degree of obsessive/compulsive disorder. Again, this occurs on a spectrum. You can have a touch of it, not a lethal dose and they put it to good use. What they focus on (obsess over) they’re usually really good at, and in this world this has its merits.
I have a handful of people I know who have some degree of Asperger’s Syndrome and that’s one that people are truly reluctant to talk about. The ones I know who have it are, to a man, (and it seems to favor men) very knowledgeable in their fields, bright, and often have a decent sense of humor. But they’re different and they know it. Do people accuse you of having one emotion…kinda pissed-at-the-world and always disappointed? Look up the test. When you focus on something, do you really, really focus to the exclusion of all else? Are you big into trains, maps, charts, playing a song over and over? Do you, by any chance, e-mail your wife…who’s in the next room? That’s a dead give-away.
Then there are the categories that defy definition. I won’t give anyone away here, but one counts the syllables when they speak a sentence. Another person, has to determine what the middle word is in any given sentence. I have equally weird quirks. The third from the bottom step in my house is unlucky…don’t know why, and I really don’t like it if I’m running the microwave and it rings before I get a chance to turn it off.
The odd thing is, given enough shots on a Friday night, I’m finding very few people who are 100% dyed-in-the-wool normal. I think my premise when I was a little kid that when people grow up they become normal…was highly flawed. We’re all a little weird and in a thousand different ways. That’s what makes the world go round…and sometimes crash.