I am a person who feels things intensely. I don’t do neutral. This is not a conscious decision, nor something that appeared out of the ether. I’m pretty sure I was, to borrow a phrase from Lady Gaga, born this way. I love fervently, I hate vehemently. I rarely say, “I don’t care,” and when I do say it, chances are that I don’t mean it. I commit myself to things completely or not at all. I potty-trained myself when I was three-years-old because Carly Tesser called me a baby for still wearing diapers. I came home from nursery school that day and informed my mother that I would be wearing Big Girl Underpants from now on, preferably ones with Ariel from The Little Mermaid on them, thank you, you can dispose of these diapers, I have decided that I am So Over Them. And that was that. A more recent example: I did not write or create anything for months, and now I can’t seem to stop.
On Mondays, I go to therapy. I don’t think the fact that I’m In Treatment is a Big Deal, or reveals that I’m broken or a less stable person than I “should be.” I actually believe that everyone should go to therapy, at least at some point, over the course of his or her life. But it occurs to me that Monday might be a significant day to be encouraged (or forced—the verb I associate with therapy varies) to talk about my feelings for 45 to 50 minutes. (I’m not sure how long my sessions are; or, rather, how long they’re supposed to be.) I don’t know if going to therapy on Monday sets the tone for the next seven days, but part of me thinks that it has to, at least on a subconscious, or even unconscious, level. Because most of the time, it’s the very first thing on my calendar for the week. And that has to be significant somehow, right? I’m probably just looking for meaning where there is only a mutually convenient timeslot.
Today, I told my therapist that I’m having trouble being alone; specifically, being alone with my thoughts because I can’t seem to turn them off. Most of these thoughts are whispers. Others are echoes. Some are sarcastic, some are unbearably earnest, some masquerade as profound. A select few resonate as primal screams into the abyss, like that scene in Garden State where Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, and Peter Sarsgaard are wearing trash-bags and it’s raining and “The Only Living Boy in New York” by Simon & Garfunkel is playing and Natalie Portman is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a filmic characterization that has since been retracted, but I really don’t understand why because it’s still a thing. Also, why is there no Manic Pixie Dream Boy? There should be one, I think I could probably use one. Especially when I’m feeling directionless, like there is Something Important that I should be learning or realizing, should be doing, but I don’t know what it is. Most of these thoughts, though, regardless of their volume or tone, are along the lines of: Just how damaged am I?
The clinical part of my brain, the part planning to become a psychotherapist in the not-so-distant future, takes issue with that statement because it denies ownership and accountability. There’s a passivity to the question, a pretty explicit implication (ha) that I have been damaged by circumstances beyond my control. Or, perhaps more realistically, by people I let into my life even though I shouldn’t have and, more often than not, knew that I shouldn’t have, but let them in anyway. A former friend said something to me along the lines of, “When you’re a teenager, you don’t see the red flags. As a young-ish adult, you see the red flags, but ignore them. Part of becoming a real adult is seeing the red flags and running as fast as you can in the opposite direction.” I no longer ignore the red flags. In fact, I tend to actively look for them, even when there might not be any. I acknowledge that I not only have been damaged, but also have caused damage. In fact, I’ve been the simultaneous perpetrator and victim of damage more times than I’d like to admit. A self-perpetuating damage machine. But that’s humanity’s par for the course, isn’t it? Show me a person who claims to have not hurt or been hurt, and I’ll show you a person who needs to be in psychotherapy. Starting yesterday. (Is it becoming clear why I’m having trouble being alone with my thoughts yet?)
My parents both studied Psychology as undergraduates in the 1970s. When my mother told her father she was majoring in Psychology, he asked, “What are you going to do? Sell Psychology?” That anecdote has nothing to do with my point, but makes me smile. My point is that my parents both studied Psychology as undergraduates in the 1970s when Freudian analysis was the “it” mode of psychotherapy.
Flash-forward thirty-something years later when, at age sixteen, I was perusing the bookshelves in our basement and found their combined collection of $2 paperbacks of Freud’s works. I felt like Ariel in The Little Mermaid: “Look at this trove! Treasures untold!”
The timing was somewhat fortuitous because suddenly, Freud was everywhere. I was about to study Oedipus Rex in English class. When reading Federico García Lorca’s La Casa de Bernarda Alba in AP Spanish Literature, I struggled to adequately translate my thoughts, but was ultimately able to smugly announce that la caña de Bernarda es un símbolo fálico. One day in History, my teacher told one of the popular boys to stop playing with his lacrosse stick; I loudly offered, “Well, you know what Freud would say.”
The Nasty Narcissist
Denver Ulysses Grump, Jr. grew up in an opulent mansion. His mother doted on him despite her intermittent substance abuse issues, frequently telling him he was the most precious thing in her life. His father, Denver Ulysses Grump, Sr., was an absentee oil tycoon who endlessly criticized Denver, most notably when he lost a grade-school spelling bee for misspelling “patriarchy.” Grump, Sr. was found dead in his office the day Denver graduated from high school. The death was ruled a suicide, but rumors abound. Denver lives in the penthouse on the top floor of a large high-rise so it is easier for him to look down at everyone else. Most of the walls in his apartment are mirrored. The rare bit of wall-space that doesn’t feature a mirror is used for various self-portraits.
Diagnostic Inspiration: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (DSM-5 301.81)
Catchphrase: “Only I can fix it! Me! Not you, ME!”
Powers: Supreme exaggeration his own abilities, achievements, and talents. Social climbing. An unwarranted sense of entitlement. Inappropriately inflated self-image. Development of super strength and/or super verbal abuse when criticized or humiliated.
Weaknesses: Envious of others. Lack of empathy. Crippling fear of his deceased father. Places without mirrors.
Accessories: A fifty-foot portrait of himself that tells him he’s THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL. (Like the Evil Queen’s mirror in Snow White. Except it’s just giant picture of himself. That he sometimes caresses or kisses.) When he doesn’t have access to his portrait, he turns to his trusty gilded pocket mirror.
Likes: Mostly himself, but also people whom he perceives to be in positions of power.
Dislikes: Other people’s needs or feelings. Not receiving special treatment.
Romantic Interest(s): Masturbation, generally involving mirrors or images of himself.
Allies: The Nasty Narcissist has no allies, but will tolerate Substance Abuse Sally when he has use for her.
Rivals: Basically everyone. Unless they’re kissing his ass. But they go back to being rivals once he’s gotten everything he perceives he needs from them.