Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Going Off Script

From The Oatmeal's Why I'd Rather
Get Punched in the Testicles
Than Call Customer Service

So I got a new computer.  Joy! 

Except that there were the inevitable bobbles, for which I had to contact.... Customer Service.  <you can cue the Jaws theme music here.>

When I moved away from OCPD ex b-f in June, I switched from DSL internet connection to cable, and due to who knows why, my ISP had to assign me a new username and passcode for my new connection.  I should have written it down, but I had a lot on my mind then, and anyway, I'd picked an easy name and passcode, because I knew I would remember it...

You knew I wouldn't, right?

So I decided that, instead of calling in to my ISP helpline, and trying to verbally communicate with "Muffy" and "Jeff" and "Ashleigh," whose thick Indian accents have almost driven me to eating my own head in the past, I would try to resolve it via chat on my work 'puter during my morning break.  I got "Rocky" and "Juliet," instead.

I'm not unsympathetic to Rocky and Juliet.  (Or even Muffy and Jeff.)  They work long hours, don't earn a lot of money, and are working in an unfamiliar language.  Plus, many of the people they're trying to help are idiots.  (I might even count myself as one of those idiots.)  I'm sure I would do much worse as a Customer Service Rep if I was trying to communicate in their language.  I don't want to be nasty to Rocky & Juliet.

I just wish communications felt a little less like Rocky & Bullwinkle.

So I'm typing away, but Rocky is intent on going through the full script.  He's not listening to what I'm saying (or in this case, typing.)

ME: Hi, I have a new home computer, I need to find out my online log-in name for my cable connection, so that I can log in.

ROCKY: Congratulations on your new computer.  We can certainly help you with this.  For help with your cable connection, you will have to contact your local cable company.

ME: There's nothing wrong with my cable, it was working fine with my old computer.  I just need the username, which I forgot, so that I can get online with the new computer.

ROCKY: Are you chatting from your new computer?

ME <taking a deep breath>: NO, I can't get online from my new computer.  I need the username which logs me onto the cable connection.

ROCKY: Let me direct you to the site which gives you the steps to get online.

ME: Thank you, see that first step?  Login with your username.  You guys set me up with a new username in June, but I don't remember what it is.  I just need the username for the account, and possibly a password reset.

ROCKY: Are you online from your new computer now?

ME: No, I CAN'T GET ONLINE FROM MY NEW COMPUTER.  Look, just give me the CS to call, I'll call later from home.  (Meanwhile, I have scrolled through My Account and finally located the mystery username - it's my usual username, plus the number 1.  Genius!)

I get off chat with Rocky, try fruitlessly to log in or reset the passcodes myself to that username e-mail account, and eventually "Juliet" does a passcode reset for me.  When I get home later that evening, voila!  All better.

But this reminded me soooo much of a discussion on one of my "boards" about those with OCPD and their scripts.  Sometimes it feels like we are trying to have a discussion, and the other person isn't so much listening and responding to us, but stuck in a groove.  Like they're onstage, and are trying to feed us a cue.  And they're going to keep tossing it to us, regardless of what we say back to them. 

Which leads to fights and bad feelings all around.

Some OCPDrs themselves have described this seeking for the "right" answer, the right response.  They may not know exactly what they wanted to hear back, but they knew they weren't getting it, so they felt obligated to press on, until they heard - whatever it was - that they needed to hear.  This was unlikely, depending on how long the interaction had gone on, to be a true reflection of their partner's feeling or thoughts, but it was the right answer.

Here's what one frustrated partner joked:
I have told my DW rather than having a pointless discussion she should prepare a script in advance. She'd give me a copy. She'd read her lines. I'd read my lines. I'd know when I'm allowed to speak and when I'm not. She'd hear exactly what she wants to hear. We could even use the same scripts over and over. I'd know when it was going to end. We could both be happy.
Has this ever happened to you?
Frequently, I would begin speaking. DW would anticipate that I was about to say X. She would cut me off and start responding to X. I would tell her I was not going to say X; I was going to say Y. She would then insist that I was lying. We would then get into a ridiculous argument about what I would have said had she not interrupted.
I have been there, done that.  And <hanging my head in shame> have done my share of interrupting others as well, though I've never gotten into arguments about what somebody else would have said.

Maybe we need to take a bit of advice from Patsy.

So how does one deal with someone who won't "Stop, look and listen"?

One tactic is to walk away and start ignoring the person.  They'll ask why.  Answer: "It seemed you were not interested in a conversation, but a monologue.  Since my participation is not required, I thought I'd keep myself occupied while you finished up."  (It's important if you take this approach, to keep your tone neutral and pleasant - no heavy sarcasm in your tone, please.)

Another is to yell at them to Quit Interrupting!

Another is to simply not answer at all, unless asked why.  Then give the same answer (my participation seemed unnecessary.)

You can buy your own sock monkey puppet at
Colonial Candle
I thought about trying a sock puppet, myself.  Talk to the monkey!

Theoretically, you could talk to the Rambler during a moment of lucidity, like I did, and say, "You know, sometimes one of us might be talking, maybe when we've had a bit too much to drink, or are really excited about something, and we kind of talk right over the other person, and don't listen very well.  How about we agree on a signal so the other person realizes they're doing it?  A code word, holding up a hand or something...?" 

I thought, by making it neutral, by saying this is something we both do, something we both should be allowed to halt, that he would agree.  And he did.

Agree, that is.

In practice... it didn't work so well.  Often his mouth was like the Aerosmith song, "Train keep a-rollin', all night long."  But not in a good way.

I don't think there is any one approach that will work with everyone, all the time, because we are all individuals, and so are the people who, uhmmm, have their scripts.

For myself, I'm going to try to work on the bad habit of interrupting others in my own conversations.  To be aware that if what I have to say is that important, the opportunity to say it will arise again, and if it doesn't... maybe what I had to say wasn't that important, after all.

To realize that every moment does not have to be filled with noise, to babble words just for the sake of filling the empty pauses.  Silences are meaningful, and often, beautiful and essential parts of listening.

To breathe more.  To smile more.  To hold up a hand or walk away if others interrupt me.

What are you going to do to improve the quality of your conversations?
Leave a comment, below.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chapter Two - Self Control & Thinking in Extremes

Cows cows cows
from aWorldTourer at Flickr
Do you ruminate like a cow?
 This post continues with Self-Control & Thinking in Extremes, from Chapter Two.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992.
Self discipline is the mark of maturity, is it not?  We all admire the person who eats and drinks in moderation; who works at maintaining a fit, well-conditioned body; who is even-tempered; who manages to persevere even at difficult, unsupervised tasks.  But in their unconscious quest for absolute self-control, many obsessives carry such solid virtues to self-destructive extremes.

As I think back to my own days in medical school, I remember students who would not only study long hours but would deny themselves even the most legitimate breaks for eating, exercising, talking with other students, or entertainment.  Would reasonable breaks really have caused a dip in their grade-point averages?  Wouldn't an occasional Saturday off have improved the quality of their lives and their personal growth?  The answers are obvious, but there was no way you could have convinced these people.  They were deft at rationalizing their behavior (e.g., "I'm no genius - I need more study time."). 
I call these reason rationalizations because, while they may have been true, there was another, deeper and more powerful force driving these students to such extremes.  Though they probably weren't conscious of it, many feared that if they let their self-control slip just once, they might have less of it the next time, and still less thereafter.  They feared they would ultimately lose their hard-won diligence completely and become paralyzed or helpless, unable to accomplish anything.  Of course this "thinking" goes on somewhere below the surface, where it doesn't have the benefit of scrutiny, analysis, and revision. 
When obsessives lapse while dieting or trying to quit smoking or drinking, they may have trouble moving beyond their lapse and refocusing on the goal.  Instead they're apt to feel distraught over the transgression, and to dwell on it.  And why?  Not because they seriously think that one slip will make them fat, sick or drunk, but rather because they lost control.  They failed to make themselves do what they decided to do, and if such a slip occurred once, who knows where it could lead?


These examples point up an important characteristic of many obsessives: they tendency to think in extremes.  To yield to another person, for example, may be felt as a humiliating total capitulation.  Similarly, to tell one lie, break one appointment, tolerate a spouse's criticism just once, or shed a single tear is to set a frightening precedent.  One patient told me she couldn't miss a single workout because it make her feel she couldn't trust herself, and that frightened her.

This all-or-nothing thinking occurs partly because obsessives rarely lie in the present.  They think in terms of trends stretching into the future.  No action is an isolated event; each is merely a part of something bigger, so every false step has major ramifications.

Such distorted thinking can cause a host of problems.  I've know obsessives, for instance, who had trouble relaxing and enjoying first dates because they were so preoccupied with the possible remote consequences of such occasions.  ("Would I want to marry this person?")  In all-or-nothing thinking, one's perspective is badly distorted; there's a failure to step back and remind oneself that going out with someone doesn't commit one to any long-term romance.

Another consequence of such thinking is that it aggravates the pain of worry and rumination.  Obsessives tend to envision the worst possible outcome of a scenario and then worry as if such a scenario had in fact come to pass.  Or they will mentally magnify small personal gaffes into something far more serious,  Some of my patients have had trouble sleeping after briefly losing their composure in a therapy group, assuming that others had judged this "emotional lapse" as harshly as they themselves did.

Actually despite the song title being "All Er Nuthin'" it's a pretty good look at a couple setting boundaries with each other.  Will Parker won't marry Ado Annie if she continues her, eh, triflin' ways, and she won't have him out cattin' on the town, either.

All-or-nothing thinking - boy, am I familiar with that one!  Ex-boyfriend drove himself harder than anyone else ever would.  When he was dieting (which was most of the time, since he was convinced he was getting fat,) he would skip meals and of course, since I had my own weight and diet issues, he'd accuse me of "lack of control" because in fact I did want to eat more than once daily.  The nausea and headaches I suffered when I went too long between meals were not physical, in his opinion, but because of my lack of discipline.  He thought very highly of his own "self-control" and I'm sure this was anorective thinking, the idea that "I'm in control, I can conquer my hunger," along with disdain for weak-willed sisters like myself who wanted... moderate amounts of food at reasonable intervals.

If I had a dollar for every time he said "pigging out," "heifer," "slim" (with a sneer in his voice), "wide load," or "are you eating again?" kinds of comments, even when I was slim... I could probably pay my rent for a year.  I'm having to work very hard now to silence that voice inside my head, as I work on learning mindful eating.

Another all-or-nothing thing - we couldn't "do" more than one thing in a day.  For example, if we had a family party to attend in the late afternoon, the whole day had to be set aside for showering and grooming for the party.  He could not get his arms around the idea that we could, perhaps, clean the garage or wash windows until 11:00, then still have plenty of time to shower and get ready for a 5:00 party a 30 minutes drive away.  Nope, all or nothing.  Either a day was totally committed to household chores, or it was committed to social activities.  (And then usually the next day had to be spent in emotional recovery from the strain of said social event.)

I've heard a lot of stories about those with OCPD terrified to date, because there are expectations.  What if you're on a date with someone and don't like them?  From what I've heard, it's totally carried out in their minds to being trapped for 12 years in an unhappy marriage.  Or someone who is desperately in need of a job, but is afraid to send out a resume to X company because they're not absolutely sure they want to work for the company, because what if it's a really crappy place to work?  Hello, they haven't even asked you to come for an interview, let alone made a job offer!  All or nothing, distorted thinking, folks.

Katie from Health for the Whole Self posted about Ten Cognitive Distortions adapted from The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns (which will be reviewed on this blog, in the not-so-near future.  Gotta get through Too Perfect, first!)  While her adaptations apply specifically to those grappling with eating disorders, a great exercise would be to apply and adapt them to whatever one's "thing" or biggest weakness is, whether it's body-image, dating, job anxieties...

And ruminating...  ex b-f would chew over some negative thing, over and over and over again.  Not in a positive way, as in, "Let's unpack this, see why it happened, and take steps to try and prevent it in the future," but in a way that usually got him as angry and upset, sometimes even more so, than when whatever unpleasant event first occurred.  I believe that in some cases, as he retold himself the story over and over again, that he embellished details in his mind that made it worse or more painful every time.

In his case, he usually latched onto some awful thing that he believed someone had done to him.

Others chew over wrongs they believe they have done to others, and work themselves into feeling terribly guilty.  Katie had a recent blog post where she believed she'd said something offensive and was having trouble letting it go, until her husband told her to stop being a cow (he meant this with love.)

This is one I tended to do, myself, though as I get older, I'm realizing that... sorry, Ego!  What I say is usually not the most important thing on somebody's else's mind.  So, even if I'm more than usually tactless, I haven't ruined their day or life (unless they're OCPD, in which case, no matter how much care and tact I exercised, I might have said the "wrong" thing anyway.)

Got a self-control or thinking in extremes story?
Your thoughts?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Death of an Assclown

In case you're wondering, assclown is a marvelous word coined by the marvelous Natalie Lue who writes Baggage Reclaim.  Because calling a certain type of man a "player" or a "ladies' man" or a "Don Juan" is giving a sleazeball entirely too much undeserved respect and dignity.

Photo by :mrMark: at Flickr
(just a regular, not an AssClown)
"You know he’s an assclown when he liberally presses The Reset Button – He possesses a ‘special’ ability to reset the relationship to whatever point that he feels most comfortable with, which is effectively like erasing the past. This is how he breezes his way back into various exes lives, disappearing for long enough and then bamboozling his way back in and trying to force out the memory of his misdemeanours. You’ll either remember them but be so fricking relieved to have him back and feel like you’ve ‘won’ that you go along with his ‘brainwash’ or you’ll try to reason with him and explain your point of view about past events and he reacts negatively, effectively teaching you (see below with passive aggression) that if you ‘remember’, he’ll be offski or difficult to deal with." (from "How to Spot An Assclown")

So, I have this cousin who belongs in the Assclown Hall of Fame.

Well, had this cousin.  Because I just got the news he died of cancer, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Cancer is an ugly way to die for anybody.  I've been given to understand that Cousin D had reconciled with his estranged children, and had actually remarried Wife #1 (more on that, below) last February.  My aunt, his mother, is understandably grieving, as any mother would.

I did not hear if his two brothers or his sister, my cousins, are planning to attend the funeral, or if they were even on speaking terms in recent years.

Photo by NickPiggott at Flickr
So why is Cousin D an assclown?  Marriage #1 - I'm slightly unclear on the details, whether his wife was still pregnant with offspring #3, or whether offspring #3 was an infant.  What I do know, according to family legend, is Cousin D went out one day to pick up some milk for the family... and never came home.  Dead?  Wandering somewhere with amnesia?  Abducted by aliens?

Nope, as his worried family found out some years later, Cousin D was perfectly safe and healthy.  He had to get back in touch in order to get a divorce from Wife #1, in order to marry Wife #2, with whom he'd run away while playing milkman.

At such time, Aunt and Uncle were relieved to find their Baby Boy was alive... Wife #1 was, understandably, more than a trifle miffed; his offspring were angry (and hurt,) and his brothers, Cousins A & B were furious.  Declared Cousin D a total assclown, and demanded Aunt & Uncle choose whether to have contact with them, or with dishonorable Cousin D.  His sister, Cousin C, played neutral party as much as possible.

Eventually, for whatever reason, Cousin D's marriage #2 did not work out (could it have been him?)  But he married again, a lovely woman with two children of her own.  I met them all, briefly, when he brought them to our old hometown for a semi-family reunion.  Cousins A & B did not attend, but Cousin D's oldest son came to the house and everybody made nice.

Cut to: several years later.  Cousin D abandons Wife #3, but this time, no divorce, because, Surprise!  He's still married to Wife #2, he was never legally married to Wife #3 at all.  (See why he belongs in the Assclown Hall of Fame?)  Why they didn't put him in jail as a bigamist, I truly don't know.

Now, this guy was my cousin by blood, but we'd never been emotionally close.  He was about 15 years older than me, and we probably never exchanged more than 100 words during our entire lives. 

Apparently he exerted some magical, seductive power over women which I never saw, because despite the absolutely abominable way he treated her, Not-Quite-Wife #3 continued to pine after him for quite some time, asking me and others in the family how he was doing, if we could explain his thought processes (uh, no!) and so on. 

Photo from Willy D on Flickr

We're still FaceBook friends, and I wonder how she's taking the news, which my oldest sis, who'd gotten The Call from our Aunt, thus had all the info, was planning to break to her over the phone.  Sis and I agreed that, legal wife or not, #3 deserved to be informed, via an old-fashioned phone call.  Having lived as his wife for 10+ years, sending her a message on FB seemed... wrong.

And, as mentioned above, he and Wife #1 remarried last year (presumably after he did secure a legal divorce from Wife #2)

The mind boggles, truly it does.  I don't get it, why Cousin D (he wasn't bad looking, but he was no George Clooney)  had all these women ready to lay their lives at his feet, how he could treat them all so horribly and still sleep at night. 

I don't get them.  As badly as he behaved, as much as he cheated and lied and they watched him screw other women over, Cousin D's wives could still accept it and tell themselves, "Yes, but he's different with me," or, "It's different this time, he's changed."

And then, I look back at so many of my own romantic relationships, including the last one, and realize I've done the same kind of thing, accepted the intolerable, made excuses, told myself a man wouldn't treat me the way he treated the other women in his past. Or that he wouldn't treat me again the way he just had.  I, too, was a Queen of Doublethink and Denial.  <rolling my eyes and sighing at my younger self.>

Hopefully, this time I've changed.

And I don't get how I'm supposed to feel about Cousin D's death.  I'm kind of sad for those who loved him, I guess.  I know that in his later years, Cousin D did do quite a bit for his elderly parents, especially caring for his mother after his father died.  I know that cancer is a cruel beast (don't know what kind he had, but none of them are pretty) and the suffering he must have gone through may have been a bit of karmic payback.

And, if his children and (some of) his wives can forgive him, who am I to hold a grudge on their behalf?

Still, there's a piece of me that simply isn't sorry at all he's dead.  That thinks the planet would be a much better place if all Assclowns were gone from it, like, yesterday. 

Have you ever experienced a death, either of a former lover or family member, that left you with very mixed feelings?  Please click a Reaction or share in the comments (as much as you feel comfortable doing.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NASCAR, Mental Illness, Women, & the Affordable Care Act

Contrary to popular stereotype, people who love NASCAR aren't inbred, big-bellied, red-necked hicks, but come from every walk of life.  I know plenty of smart, funny, well-educated people who follow Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and other drivers.  I've watched plenty of NASCAR races myself, and have even attended a NASCAR race, where I happily sat on Junior (okay, I sat on a Dale Earnhardt Junior cushion.  Never mind what my fantasies were.)

[Disclaimer:  This particular post is going to go a bit political, which is something I normally try to avoid here.   However, I strongly feel that taking care of those in our society who are vulnerable - children, pregnant women, the mentally ill and disabled, the elderly, and those who care for and love all of the above - is an important issue, related to my main blog subject.  Skip reading any further if you don't want to hear how that relates, IMO, to a currently controversial subject, the Affordable Care Act.]

Sorry, turned a bit left there (but then, if you know NASCAR, you know that it's all about turning left.)  Right now when everybody is being asked to sacrifice, where teachers are being told to suck it up and do more for less, when CEO's and those sitting on fat trust funds aren't asked to sacrifice at all, when many in Congress are complaining that we can't afford the Affordable Care Act, when mental health services are being slashed all over the country, because of costs, it seems wrong that one of the sacred cows, whose Budget Cannot Be Touched, is NASCAR.  With an annual price tag of 7 million dollars, plus two-three million more or so tossed in, but who's counting?

I'm not saying there aren't good reasons for the Army to sponsor NASCAR - there are.  I actually agree with the Pentagon's logic, that it makes more sense to advertise for Army recruits through NASCAR sponsorship than, say, at chess tournaments.  However, there used to be some perks attached to men earning more money and having ultimate power over women's lives.  If your ship hit an iceberg, men generally hung back and let the women and children board the lifeboats first.

Nowdays - no more perks for you, ha ha, you silly women who wanted equality!  We'll pretend to give it to you, but you'll still earn less than a man does for the same job skillset and experience, and you can get to the back of the line for the lifeboats, too!  If there are cuts to be made in funding, we won't apply them to everyone universally, just to the stuff that's less important (to men.) 
Here's one thing that I didn't realize. "Before the law was enacted, a 22-year-old woman could pay 150 percent more than a 22-year-old man for the exact same health insurance. Yet her coverage often failed to meet her needs. Thanks to the law, in 2014 it will be illegal to charge women extra for health insurance." From Dr. Carrie's Better Living
Now, you might read that and think, yes, but women get pregnant, and men don't, so it's only fair for women to be charged more.  Then I did some digging.  What "failed to meet her needs" means is, women were often offered plans that did not cover birth control, pregnancy, or childbirth, at all - and still had to pay more than men!  The little pink pill was not covered (birth control), but the oval blue pill (Viagra) was.  How fair (or smart) is that?

Original Photo via spaceodissey via Flickr

Have you ever been pregnant; perhaps had a miscarriage, or C-section?  Sorry, some insurers consider that a pre-existing condition

Did you ever experience or report domestic violence?   Good for you that you escaped, bad for you that you dared to report it.  But even if you didn't officially report it to the police, too many visits to the ER for "falling down the stairs" and you're high risk and could be denied health insurance in 8 states and Washington, DC.

Of course, mental illness is also a pre-existing condition.  For which, under ACA, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage.  This is huge improvement, if not a step far enough.

Used to be,  if you had a child born with a health problem, or diagnosed later with autism or a mental illness, heaven help you, because that's about all who would.  If you were even able to get health insurance coverage for the child, under the parents' health plan, when s/he turned 18, goodbye coverage, never mind if s/he was stable enough to attend college or get a job.
What the Affordable Care Act does, is level the playing field somewhat.  It makes the insurance companies play fairer (as long as they are based on "the bottom line" and turning a quarterly profit, insurance companies will continue to be more focused on cutting costs and denying services than on playing fair with their rate-payers.)  The ACA gives women, children, and men, too, a better chance at a healthier life, with expanded coverage for preventative care and vaccinations.  This saves every American taxpayer money, because healthier, insured people don't use the emergency room as their sole medical care, leaving the bill for somebody else to pay.

From Texas' Comptroller's Office

Does the ACA "stick it" to small businesses or cause a loss of jobs?  No, it actually offers small businesses a tax credit for insuring their employees, and claims that it will result in lost jobs are rated totally false by PolitiFact.

How about the idea that the ACA increases the deficit - which the US really can't afford?  Not so in the long-term, says the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.  Much like repairing a roof before existing leaks cause major structural damage, the costs are significant up-front, but in the long run, save much more money than allowing the roof to fall in and having to rebuild roof, support beams, and walls.

Civilized societies find a way to take care of their weaker members: pregnant women, children, the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill.  They support those who are thrust into a family caregiving role: taking care of Grandpa who has Alzheimer's, or an autistic child, or a soldier home from war with brain injuries or PTSD.  (Caregivers being usually, but not always, women.)  That the United States, wealthy as it is, can allow those living off inherited wealth, and large corporations to avoid taxes (legally, if not morally,) while we are told "but we can't afford to insure all Americans," and the middle class gets squeezed almost out of existence is obscene, IMO. 

There's a joke that goes, a corporate CEO, a union worker, and a Tea-Bagger are seated at a table.  In the middle of the table is a plate holding a dozen cookies.
There may actually be more than a dozen cookies here.

The CEO immediately grabs 11 of the cookies.  "Watch out," he says to the Tea-Bagger,  "That greedy union guy wants a piece of your cookie."

As Americans, we need to be standing together against greed and for fairness, and not be tricked by those who are hogging all the cookies, into squabbling over the crumbs.

But, some wail, most of the people for voted for ACA didn't even read the whole thing!  True.  (That's also true those of are calling for its repeal.)  

I have on my bookshelf two big fat tomes: Webster's Dictionary, and Roget's Thesaurus.  Must I read and analyze every single word before I decide if they're a helpful resource or not?  Or, can I decide based on spot-checks and professional reviews by non-biased sources?  If one takes the position that a Congress Rep can only vote for a bill that s/he has read in its entirety, the logical counterpoint is that a Rep can only vote against or move to repeal a bill that s/he has read in its entirety.  (Think that's gonna happen anytime soon?)

Is the Affordable Care Act perfect?  Hell, no!  Lots of places it needs to be tweaked, fixed, and adjusted - just like every other major piece of legislation that has ever been passed in America.  The idea that we can only have a good law if it's "perfect" and if everyone agrees on it, right from the start... that's really an OCPD-think, black-or-white argument. 

Somebody with OCPD will want to trash something out of general principal (aka Demand Resistance,) simply because s/he didn't have control over the process.  They'd rather do nothing, than take action to repair the roof that all agreed was leaking, if it can't be done all at once, perfectly.  And really, who can agree on how to fix the roof, when there are so many companies to get bids from, so many colors to choose for roofing materials, but if we choose, say, burnt sienna as the roofing color, will we still be able to get replacement tiles 15 years from now?  Or maybe we shouldn't get tiles at all, maybe we should get a slate roof, let's throw out all the bids and start the process all over again from the beginning...

Enough!  The roof was leaking, and it's been repaired.   Only a total idiot would rip off a roof and expose their house to the elements without having something better to immediately hammer into place.

The ACA is better - not perfect - but better - for working families and their children, than what we had before.  It's more fair to women than the previous free market free-for-all (which was free for nobody.)  It offers more protection and help to those with mental illness and disabilityEnough help?  No, but more than there had been.  We can (and should) work together to improve it, but enough of the babble about repeal.

And to those whining about the costs?  Sorry, you got drowned out by Ryan Newman revving his engine, I couldn't hear you.

Comments respectful in tone and language will be welcomed, 
along with any factual links.
Trolls will be sent back to their bridges.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesdays - Chapter Two, The Myth of Control

This post continues with The Myth of Control, from Chapter Two.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992. 

If Garp could have been granted one vast and naive wish, it would have been that he could make the world safe. For children and for grownups, the world struck Garp as unnecessarily perilous for both.

--John Irving
The World According to Garp

Everyone needs some self-control, and some mastery over his or her environment, just to survive. But many obsessives have a disproportionate need for control - one that is driven and rigid, rather than reasonable and flexible.

This exaggerated need stems from an irrational conviction that perfect control can ensure safe passage through life. <snip>

What are the roots of this myth? I believe that children who will become obsessive are terrified by the awareness of their own vulnerability in a world they perceive as threatening and unpredictable.. In order to maintain a sense of calm and to navigate sanely through life, they must somehow ward off or deny this awareness. So they come to believe that, through control of themselves and their personal universe, they can protect themselves against the dangers in life, both real and imagined. If they could articulate the myth that motivates their behavior, they might say: "If I try hard enough, I can stay in control of myself, of others, and of all the impersonal dangers of life (injury, illness, death, etc.) In this way I can be certain of safe passage."

Obsessive people continue to embrace this myth at an unconscious level throughout their lives. Though they will acknowledge that such total control is impossible, the myth nonetheless continues to influence their behavior from its place deep within.

We all know - nobody's getting out of this place (life) alive.  Yet most of us do take what we think are reasonable measures, to protect ourselves, and those we love.

Those with OCPD go past the "belts-AND-suspenders," let's double-check for safety mentality.

Most people who know me would not call me a crazy reckless person.  I always buckle my seat beat, and look both ways before I cross a street.  I floss my teeth and see my dentist and doctors for regular check-ups.  I drive slowly and carefully in the rain.  My ex b-f had gotten to a paranoid place where he refused to go anywhere in the car if it was raining - or was even predicted to rain.  Even a light drizzle.

I've heard of OCPDrs who won't let their children use automatic opening umbrellas - because they could poke somebody's eye out.  (Has that ever happened, in the entire history of push-button umbrellas opening?)

The excessive need for safety and control can create major conflicts between those with OCPD and those who love them.  They would wrap the whole world in bubble-wrap, if they could.  Double layers.  Maybe spray a coat of lacquer over the top, just to make sure it's all well-sealed.  And that includes their partners and children.

Problem is, we don't want to be sealed in bubble wrap. 

“I was wondering what the mouse-trap was for,” said Alice.
“It isn’t very likely there would be any mice on the horse’s back.”
“Not very likely, perhaps,” said the Knight;
“but if they do come, I don’t choose to have them running all about.”
from Old Books
So, there is often major conflict over what constitutes "reasonable" safety precautions.  They may feel, because of our sadly lackadaisical attitude towards obvious dangers like driving in the rain when you don't have to (for instance, to a family gathering,) push-button umbrellas and plugged-in toasters, that they have to take over not only keeping themslves safe, but keeping us safe.  And protecting our homes from all the chaos we (slackers) leave in our wake - a frequent complaint of ex-b-f was that he had to follow around after me, "picking up" and "fixing" things I had left undone.

I'm sure he truly felt that way.  That mousetraps on a horse... well, you never know, do you?  Unlike a "normal" person, those with OCPD don't ever seem to get to a mental place where they say, "Okay, I've done enough for now to protect myself and my family from possible danger.  Now I can relax." 

They very rarely seem to feel they can relax, under any circumstances.

Instead, if all around seems to be under control for the moment, their minds are busy seeking out new, or future dangers, to safeguard against those.

Have you ever gone to ridiculous lengths to insure safe passage through life?
Do you believe , perhaps not consciously, that if you do everything "right," exercise, proper diet, etc., you can prevent most health problems or injury?  Or do you accept that "Shit Happens"?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Men, Women, Children and Domestic Violence

So, dear readers, I not only read your comments but give them a lot of thought.  Especially this one.

My as-yet unmet friend and fellow blogger Thalia had posted: 
But what I keep coming back to in my head is this:

If I were in the process of recovering from a bad relationship, and I recognized that it had been co-dependent and controlling, perhaps even abusive (though I do not know if you consider your recent relationship so), and I were trying to unravel all that, I would think it a very good idea to pay close attention to how I react to known abusers. Especially if I found myself downplaying or ignoring that abuse (which you say you did know about), and even more so if I found myself expressing sympathy for that person. Because it could potentially have a lot to tell me about my self-image and who I tend to side with in these matters.

What I hear you saying in this sounds awfully close to me to If we just love them enough they'll change.
Let me address the last part first - if we just love them enough they'll change.  No. 

Well... maybe.  I believe that in some rare cases, love can "win over" somebody who has distorted thinking. 

Image via Karen's Whimsy
But when I say "love," I'm not talking about namby-pamby hearts-and-flowers let me get-that-fix-that be your adoring little doormat.  I'm talking love with muscles - love that sets firm, consistent boundaries, love that insists on therapy and emotional homework and does not tolerate being mistreated and disrespected for a single minute.  If you can show that kind of love, and if the other person realizes that if they don't change, you will walk out that door, never to return... in those circumstances, do I believe they will change?

I think it's possible.  I know a few people (very few people) who've done it.  I also believe that sometimes even with all the stars and moons and planets in alignment, with the best intentions in the world, the person with distorted thinking will not be willing or able to change.  And there's no amount of love - with or without muscles - that can make them.

I believe in most situations, sadly, change is not going to happen.  In hindsight, we might have done better to cut our losses and end it, sooner.  But we can only leave a relationship when we are emotionally ready to do so, no matter how little sense it makes to those on the outside, or how ready others think we should be.

Later, of course, we're asking ourselves What Was I Thinking?! 

If you're trying to be the good friend in a situation where someone is being abused, either verbally or physically, a good reference is Helping Her Get Free by Susan Brewster.

I know, with my ex
b-f, there is no going back.  I gave it my best shot, I swung and missed.  Ballgame over.  Time for the showers - and I'm talking a girly shower, with lots of fragrant shower gel and lather thingies and scented lotion.

On paying attention to how I think about abusers and abuse... I take it very seriously.  Although I recognize that there are false accusations of abuse out there, for the most part I also believe the woman, when an accusation is made.  Or child.  Or man.  I consider myself to have been in an abusive relationship, and just because it was "only" violent twice, and because I believe my former mate to be mentally ill, does not mean it did not have serious damaging effects on my heart and psyche.  For myself, the long-term, ongoing verbal and emotional abuse was far worse than the violence or threat of violence.  For another person it may be exactly the opposite.  We are all individuals, and what we went through will impact us in different ways.

I know that for myself, it's going to take much time and space and self-kindness and more time to recover myself.

On the "public" abusers... Thalia, you're right.  My personal jury is still deliberating, and I don't have one specifically reaction.  Am I too soft on them, to ready to make an excuse or find an extenuating circumstance?  Perhaps.  But as I sort out my many issues, I don't think that painting the world in black-or-white is healthy for me, either. 

Specifically, about Charlie Sheen - I know that I don't know.  I know that he has racked up a record of being arrested for domestic violence, and for threatening women in his circle.  I know that his recent behavior appears bi-polar.  This could mean he is bi-polar, or that his various drug abuses are mimicking the condition, or that he's putting on an act.  Or some combination of all three. 

I've now done some trolling on the Internet in search of the truth - and my conclusion is... I can't conclude.  Not without putting a lot more time into it, and frankly, I'm sick of it and him.  CS may be the biggest Male Chauvinist Pig of all time, who's gotten away with more than OJ Simpson and Kobe Bryant put together, or... "such a good person underneath all of it" as ex-fiance and shooting victim Kelly Preston recently claimed <rolling my eyes.>  I lean towards the MCP view, but who knows?  I don't really care about CS (not that I wish him ill,) except as an example for how difficult it is for families to "control" someone who seems to be mentally ill, no matter how publicly outrageous their behavior.

On abuse, in the generic: Sometimes I believe that abusers seeking Power Over a victim know exactly what they are doing.  That they can and do have control over their actions - for example, when they destroy possessions, they rarely destroy anything that they themselves value.  Those who batter their wives often choose to avoid the face or arms, because the bruises would show - that speaks to premeditation and control, in spades.  I believe that it's no accident that those who abuse the elderly or disabled in convalescent hospitals target those who are no longer able to speak coherently.  Or children.  Or hookers, the homeless, or smaller, frailer inmates - anyone perceived to be unprotected by society.

I think about this, and often I think that those who abuse - physically, sexually, emotionally - are evil, sadistic sociopaths.  And I feel a great deal of rage, and if I could wipe them off the earth simply by pressing a button, I'd get calluses on my button finger from jabbing it so many times! 
The Portable Red Button
from Nagzi at Flickr Creative Commons

And then I think of all we are learning about the brain these days.  That certain areas of brain function - controlling long-term decision-making, for example, mature later in life.  That there are patterns of anosognosia in people with organic brain damage, which are strikingly similar to what people with certain mental illnesses exhibit.  We now know certain diseases, like Alzheimers, are due to build-up of plaque and tangles which inhibit brain function.  We know that damage to certain areas of the brain reduces impulse control.  I lost a dear friend to MS a few years ago, and saw the gradual loss of body control and function that was a result of the deterioration of the myelin sheaths... in his brain.

from Boaz Yiftach at FreeDigitalPhotos

My grandmother was left-handed, and she grew up when the mindset was that being left-handed was simply a matter of "being stubborn."  That she could easily learn to use her right hand as well or better than her left, if she would only try.

I am no longer 100% convinced that all abusers are evil sociopaths.  Some are, I have no doubt.  Others... may be doing their best, struggling against the ways their brains are wired, or damage to the brain due to exposure to lead or who knows what substances, legal or illegal.  Or they may be mentally ill.

Does that make it okay for them to abuse others?  No.  If you are on the receiving end, whether of a punch, or a curse, does it make it feel better, to think "Gee, I guess he can't help himself?"  Hell no.  You are still bruised, and in many ways, hurt worse than if some stranger had come up to you, mugged you and stolen your money.  There is an awful, awful betrayal when somebody you are supposed to be able to love, supposed to be able to trust, is the very person you can't trust.

I think perhaps what Thalia voiced was she was hearing support and sympathy for the possibly mentally ill perpetrator, and not so much for the victim.  Maybe I did sound more sympathetic to the abuser than the victim (though I consider those coping with a mentally ill family member or loved one to be heroes first, victims second.)

My number one priority is for the victim.  We should support and help the victim, and never for a moment stop saying, "Not your fault.  You did not and do not deserve to be: hit, slapped, punched, threatened, berated, screamed at, belittled, ridiculed..." and not run past them in a rush to shower the abuser with sympathy for the stress s/he must have felt, being compelled to abuse, poor baby!

On statistics: I know statistics indicate that far more women are seriously injured by abusive men than are men by women, women by women, men by men... Not sure who takes the lion's share of abusing children, or the elderly but I'm guessing that's probably men, too.  Men usually have a size advantage over their mates, and are often (though not always) the primary breadwinner of the family.

Still, IMO going off on a "bad men vs. abused women" angle is not going to solve the problem.  We want abuse to stop, and in order to do so, we have to enlist everybody: men, women and children to be a part of the solution.  Segregation did not end in America because the African-American community was unhappy about it; the majority of (male white) lawmakers and the general population had to also become opposed to it.  It takes time to turn public opinion around on an issue.

I am not that old (at least, I'd like to think I'm not!) and I remember a time when it was both legal and socially acceptable for an American man to beat up and rape his wife, unless he really "went too far" and put her in the hospital.  Then people would frown, perhaps even whisper about him (although even then he would rarely go to jail.)  Thankfully, this is no longer considered okay.  So I have hope that social attitudes can continue to evolve in a positive direction, even if they're not moving as fast as I'd like.

Men who are not abusing women, but who have, perhaps, been abused by women (and I personally know several), or who know another man who has been abused, are not going to eagerly sign onto taking a stand against Domestic Violence if they perceive men are being singled out and blamed as the sole cause of the problem, and that abusive women are getting a free pass.  This cannot be "just" a women's issue - it needs to be an everybody issue, because everybody is hurt by Domestic Violence.

Children are terribly damaged by witnessing abuse in the home, whether it is fathers to mothers, or mothers abusing fathers, or perhaps an elderly relative in the home, or one sibling who is the family "goat," even if they themselves are not abused.  But I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say, whether they are boys or girls, children who witness abuse committed by men or women are more likely to bully other children in school and grow up to be abusive themselves, than children who do not grow up with an abusive parent of either sex.  Even if they do not become abusers, they are likely to be vulnerable to tolerating unacceptable behavior from future romantic partners (which is part of my own picture.)

IMO, as a society, we need to take a stand and say "Abuse is not okay.  Period."  We need to teach children that abuse isn't okay, regardless of who it comes from: mothers, fathers, stepfathers,  stepmothers, grandparents, teachers, religious leaders, neighbors, other children.  Never, under any circumstances, is verbal, emotional, or physical abuse acceptable.

That said, since we can't just push a button and cleanly get rid of abusers, we need to figure out what else we can do.  I do believe there are some shades of gray here, that someone may lash out physically once or twice in a lifetime, or during a mental illness crisis.  While that's still unacceptable behavior, absolutely, I am not sure that abuser is on the same "level" as somebody who routinely batters a partner, children or parent.  If these people are contrite, if they are ashamed and truly don't want to be verbally or physically abusive, let's see if we can retrain their brain patterns, so battering with fists or words isn't their go-to reaction in times of stress or frustration. 

And let's give those with whom they live enough training to recognize the danger signs and get out before their unstable members do start shooting, slicing, or otherwise "going postal" on the family.  Enough resources to be able to leave an unbalanced relationship, and to know that they are worthwhile people, that none of this is their fault.

I do have, perhaps, a rosy-glasses view of the world.  I would like to believe that Andrea Yates and Jared Loughner and Stanley Neace were not in their right minds when they killed.

I would like to believe that with more education, people will recognize mental illness earlier and find a way to get sick people help before tragedy occurs (even as this is made harder by cuts by many states in mental health funding due to budget shortfalls.)  I don't believe that wish is incompatible with the desire to end domestic violence and the worldwide oppression of women and children, but rather, is of a piece with it.

Maybe it's OCPD fleas, maybe I want to control what is uncontrollable, but I find it less frightening to live in a world where most people harm others because they've "gone crazy," because at least in theory, that can be prevented.  I don't want to believe I live in a world where most people who harm others, do it coldly, sanely, and rationally... just because they want to.


Please note, this very incomplete list of resources are not just for physical violence, but can offer help to those suffering verbal and emotional abuse as well.  Don't feel you have no "right" to ask for help because you've never been hit.  Abuse includes emotional, verbal, and financial, and these resources are there for you, too.

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence - you will need to opt for English or French

Women's Aid - 0808 2000 247

Australia & New Zealand:
Domestic Violence Information Manual - phone numbers vary by territory

For Male Victims:
Why Men Stay in Abusive Relationships

Your thoughts?
Got more links?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Was I Thinking?

I was recently validated as not being the only woman on the planet looking back on a relationship (or, alas, more than one relationship) and asking myself, What Was I Thinking?

They've got stories from 58 women asking themselves the same question.  So, I'm not the only slow learner.

I'm sure, if you asked a bunch of gay women, gay men, or straight men, they'd have similar "light bulb moment" stories about their girlfriends, boyfriends, and ex-spouses. 

Unfortunately, sometimes we turn the bulb out again.

From the Intro:
What Was I Thinking? is a collection of personal essays written by women describing that moment in a relationship when, no matter how much you think it should work or want it to work or need it to work, it becomes clear to you that it's not going to work.
The really hit me - too much of the time we focus on exactly that: "I think it should work" and "I want it to work" and "I need it to work" and we don't want to pay attention to: Hello?  It's not working.  They say you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but we get wrapped up in trying to help somebody else overcome their problems and live up to their potential.  Maybe our partner doesn't want to be a silk purse.
...this is not necessarily the moment of the actual breakup.  Rather, these stories describe the instant when logic, common sense, and simple self-interest triumph over the human need to be loved - or, at least, the need to be in a relationship.  The relationship may not last beyond lunch, or it may linger for weeks or even longer.  But inside, you know: He's going to be an ex.
Trying to remember when the first time I knew with OCPD ex b-f it was not going to work out.  There were so many, many moments, and I just kept overruling my common sense and gut instincts.  Was it the time he started in with the Shower Rules?  The jealous spazz attacks about my boss and co-workers?  The way he would come in to "touch base" with me (aka, constant interruptions) whenever I was trying to write?

I just kept telling myself, with enough time and love and patience, I would be able to make it work.  I was an idealist.

They cleaned this up just a smidge for the broadcast version.  The written version describes the guy as being built, not like a 16 oz can of beer, but like two 16 oz cans of beer, stacked on top of each other.  <wincing yet?>

I dated a guy like that for a while, and concocted an excuse to break up, because, well, sex wasn't fun because of his can-cans.  (Or big banana, take your pick.)  Couldn't think of  a tactful way to tell him that, though.

I'm having fun reading the stories and watching the video clips.  Apparently Nicole Hollander (cartoonist, Sylvia) was once married to somebody with OCPD - seems he felt she deliberately ruined his soup by making it with noodles that were the wrong width.


Well, I'm glad they rediscovered this holiday, and I'll definitely be celebrating.

Have you had a "Come To Your Senses" moment?
What triggered it for you?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Too Perfect Tuesday: Chapter One (final) The Core of Obsessiveness/The Need for Control

This post continues with The Core of Obsessiveness/The Need for Control, from Chapter One.

This series will look at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.

Too Perfect, When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992. 

Regardless of the psychobiological causes of obsessiveness, the central dynamic in the obsessive personality is that of control.  Most of us, obsessives included, would allow that life is fundamentally unpredictable.  As hard as the best-intentioned, most conscientious person might try, it is impossible to control every aspect of one's existence; we are vulnerable.  Despite such lip service to these truths, however, somewhere near the center of their inner being, far from their conscious awareness, obsessives are trying to deny this reality.  Their subtle but constant attempts to control everything in the world around them (and inside them) are an attempt to do the impossible: to guarantee security, to assure safe passage through the risks and uncertainties of living.

Sometimes these efforts may "work" for years.  Their conscientiousness and thoroughness bring obsessives admiration in the workplace.  They follow the laws and rules assiduously, so they rarely incur the disapproval of those in authority.  They seldom are rejected in romantic encounters since they avoid situations that make them vulnerable, or they take preemptive action when they sense an affair is going awry, so that they may be the one to end it.  The conform to the standards of their social groups, so they usually aren't ridiculed or ostracized.  And the rewards for being responsible, consistent, alert to details, safety-conscious, and well-organized are legion.

But all this security comes at a price.  Though they may be inured to it, many strongly obsessive people are suffering.  They may be unable to show their feelings or to trust anyone (even their closest loved ones) completely, and as a result live with the chilling sense of being fundamentally alone.

Many obsessives suffer the endless agony of having to do everything well - an unnecessary imperative that can ruin even the most enjoyable of activities.  Their fear of embarrassment of appearing less than perfect may keep them from trying new things.

They struggle daily under the weight of a massive inner rulebook, an overgrown sense of duty, responsibility and fairness.  Most obsessives rarely taste the joys of the moment; the present hardly exists for them.  Even in their time off, many can't fully relax, or just play.  Indeed, they are never really "off."  Worries bedevil them as they plow through life doing the "right" things, hoping that caution, diligence, and sacrifice will pay off - someday.
The chapter finishes with the famous poem/essay by Nadine Stair, "If I had my life to live over... I would eat more ice cream and less beans.."  (I know you've seen bits on a poster somewhere!)  And a Self-Test.  Self-tests can be helpful, if they are taken honestly.  What sometimes happens when OCPDrs (or others) are in denial that they have a problem, is they quickly figure out how to "game" the test.  "See!" they may say triumphantly afterwards.  "I told you there was nothing wrong with me!"

An amateur diagnosis may be helpful to a "non," or an OCPDr, in identifying tools and techniques that may be useful, but only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose OCPD (and sometimes even they miss it.)


The business about the disconnect between the lip service to "of course, we can't control everything" and the actual carrying on as if one can... reminds me of the problems I have sometimes integrating a message I know in my head, into my heart.

Sometimes I feel like I'm this guy:

Even when it's all true, I feel a weird sheepishness and fear of being silly or self-indulgent, when I do positive affirmations.  I do them anyway (if not often enough.)

As far as strengths-slash-flaws "working" for Perfectionists - yes, they can, for quite some time.  My ex would tell stories about his job working for a company that ran the programs that allowed big banks (Security Pacific, Wells Fargo, etc.) make electronic payroll tax deposits for their clients.  (Yes, this was 20 years ago.)  Anyway, he would relate with pride how sometimes the engineers thought a program was "good enough," to be released, and even though it wasn't his job, he would test it every other way he could think of, even it that took days, making sure there was absolutely no possible scenario under which it would "hang" or crash. 

However, I got the impression between the lines, that his boss wasn't 100% pleased about his need to work every single bug out of every single program, regardless of how long it took.  Especially since that wasn't his assigned job.  And when the company was bought out and all the other employees went elsewhere... He had nowhere to go, and hasn't worked since.

He would also obsess over ants.  Ants happen.  In my old apartment, oddly, sometimes I would not get them in the sink where I had left dirty dishes (no cracks, please, about how even the ants were too smart to touch my cooking) but they would come into the bathroom through the openings in the electric plugs.  Riddle me that, oh ye neat freak!  Fact of life, no matter how well you clean, sometimes you will get ants.  But OCPD ex-bf usually treated one lonely scout ant as a sign of the Apocalypse (and of my slovenliness.) 

Or a moth would get into the house, or a fly get in.  Doom!  Tragedy!  Terror! 

He was always too busy, had too much to do to relax (Remember, this is a guy with no job, a house with two adults, in which I vacuumed, dusted, and cleaned the bathroom on the weekends.)  I think for many OCPDrs a state of having nothing to do, workwise, may be scary and uncomfortable.  So they've got to go find (or manufacture) a crisis, because the only emotional state that they're accustomed to, sadly, is  anxiety

Of course, in America we have a culture that approves of the 60 (or more) hour workweek, and seems to frown on "too much" leisure - there's an attitude that pleasure must be earned.  So a perfectionist can often get away with focusing all his/her attention on the job, or on Things That Must Be Done.

Photo by Dany13 on Flickr

This chapter highlights for me, not just how hard it is to live with a Perfectionist, but how very hard it is to be a Perfectionist.  They are suffering.  It is very painful for them, but they don't see that they create their own "massive inner rulebook."  They are astounded that every other human being isn't dragging one around, too, and obviously those people are slackers who just don't care about doing things right - the way the Perfectionist does.

It does isolate them.

I knew my ex-boyfriend was suffering, perhaps more acutely than he did, but I couldn't help him with it, because he didn't trust me.  No matter how much I tried to show him I loved him, no matter how many times I had "been there" for him, no matter what craziness I put up with... I think that's why many of us stay, hoping, that we'll eventually breach a crack in that wall and they'll trust us.

One thing I've read in other posts - while an obsessive may avoid rejection in the beginning of a romantic relationship, as it states here, when it comes to long-term relationships ending, they are often shell-shocked and totally surprised.  A train they didn't see coming, even though their partner may have been telling them, "If things don't change in our relationship, I'm going to have to leave," for weeks, months, years.  I've read where somebody will report to a third party, "Oh, things are much better between us," on the day their spouse is moving out.

The whole condition is very sad, but there is hope.  The obsessive simply has to be willing to change.

Gee, is that all (I hear those of you in such a relationship asking)?  Why not ask something simple, like carrying the Holy Grail to the top of Mount Everest?

It has been know to happen (the willingness to change.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Charlie Sheen Dilemma

We've all been watching Charlie Sheen going through what seems to be a full-on bi-polar manic episode in the news - whether we want to or not.  (Full disclosure: I'm not his shrink, so I have no right to officially diagnose him, and am not claiming to - just taking an educated guess.)

from the Santa Monica NAMI walk in Oct 2010 offers much help & support to
those with mental illness and their loved ones.
I do have a beloved niece who's bi-polar, and many of the behaviors he's exhibiting: the expressions of feeling great, the hyper-activity, the weird nonsensical rhyming (Vatican assassins, anyone?) the long rambling sentences that almost sound logical... they're all too painfully familiar.  My family has been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Even a layperson can conclude that, at least right now, this bright, talented man is many sandwiches short of a picnic (or in Charlie's case, several hookers short of a brothel.  Then again, maybe in his case...)

What many people don't realize is how limited the options a family has when somebody they love "goes Charlie Sheen."  You can't  "have somebody locked up" involuntarily unless they are an imminent physical danger to themselves or another person - and then, only temporarily.

"Somebody should stop him" is something I've heard.  How?  Football tackle?  Tranquilizer darts?  I would wager that every member of his family, his friends, lawyers and agents have, at one time or another, tried to "talk him down" but somebody who is manic isn't listening to anything but that voice in their head.

According to the letter from Warner Bros:  
 At the outset, let us state the obvious.  Your client has been engaged in dangerously self-destructive conduct and appears to be very ill.  For months before the suspension of production, Mr. Sheen's erratic behavior escalated while his condition deteriorated.  His declining condition undermined the production in numerous and significant ways.  Now, the entire world knows Mr. Sheen's condition from his alarming outbursts over just the last few weeks.  Warner Bros., CBS, and Chuck Lorre have done everything within their powers to get Mr. Sheen the help he so badly and obviously needs - entreating his family and representatives; visiting him at home; offering to rearrange production schedules to accommodate his treatment; and even making an airplane available to take him to a rehabilitation clinic before he reneged on his commitment to enter such a facility.
My beautiful, courageous bi-polar niece is struggling on the best she can, without insurance coverage (she's already consumed her lifetime cap), and certainly without an airplane standing by to take her to a top-notch treatment facility.  She'd have boarded one in a minute, she is battling this thing so desperately hard.

But even if there is all that available, if money is not an object, even if everyone in the family is saying, "Dude, you need help," there is only so much anyone outside the mentally ill person can do.  Sometimes they simply refuse to get help - and you can't make them.  You can beg, plead, reason with them, make ultimatums, bargains - but in the end, a person who has distorted thinking may or may not accept that there is anything wrong with him or her.  Sadly, my OCPD ex-b-f did not.

Usually, the illness is at least partially concealed in public, except in the most egregious of circumstances.  People outside the family don't normally see how, well, crazy, it can get in the home.  I'm not just talking about Bi-Polar Disorder, but Narcissism, Borderline, and yes, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. 

Mind you, it's not all tiger blood, machetes and Crazy Rules.  Sometimes the symptoms are just - a little bit bad.  Quirky.  Kind of like a roller coaster; not every hill is the hugundous drop.  Sometimes there are long periods of time when life feels... relatively normal, and everyone hopes whatever was happening in the brain of the unstable person has finally sorted itself out.

Then there's another big drop, and you realize, buckle your seatbelts and pull down the safety bar, here we go again. 

Self-medicating, whether it's with cocaine, alcohol, Ecstacy, or other drugs, doesn't help - but it's important to understand, the drugs aren't usually causing the mental illness.  Sometimes they do, indeed, help the person feel and act more normally.  Other times, they exacerbate the problem and the erratic behavior. 

Mental illness may be partially caused by chemical or hormonal imbalances in the brain, and prescribed medications often help.  But adjusting the dosages, so that the person feels functional and isn't a virtual zombie or sleeping twenty hours a day, and there aren't horrific side effects, is a big challenge to medical professionals.  Certain drugs work beautifully for some people, and have zero effect on others, or over time, the beneficial effects wear off.  Needless to say, it's no fun to the mentally ill person who feels like a guinea pig, either.

If you don't have mental illness in your family (that you know of,) don't get too smug about your good genes, because often it occurs later in life.  What you can do to help, now: 
  • Be kind to everyone you can, especially if you know a friend or loved one is dealing with mental illness in the family.
  • Ask said friend or loved one what you can do to help.  Maybe you can't "make someone well," but maybe you could help with transportation issues for their school-age kids, or help them with homework, or gather and organize papers for their tax return...
  • I won't ask you not to laugh at the Charlie Sheens out there - when somebody is out in public proclaiming, "I'm an F-18, baby," you gotta laugh.  I laughed.  But when you're done laughing, be aware of how awful it is for the family and friends who are dealing with this behind closed doors.  Trust me, it's not all charm and hilarity.
  • Support NAMI and other programs, laws, and state and federal budgets that offer funding, education and support for the mentally ill.  In the 1980's the USA closed many facilities to treat the mentally ill - budget reasons, you know.  So, guess where many end up - in jail, at costs far exceeding those of the original facilities.  We've been penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  • Be aware of the stigma about mental illness, and work to speak more respectfully and mindfully about it.  People are well-aware that society thinks less of those with mental illness, and so, they hesitate to get treatment when symptoms are only beginning (and could most effectively be treated.)

I'm hoping that the one bright side to Charlie Sheen's public meltdown and weird pronouncements in so many recorded venues is, when he comes down, he will realize he really was "out there" and commit himself to a real, long-term treatment facility.

Even if he is a "rock star from Mars."

Your thoughts?