In Which I Embrace My Inner Mean Parent

November 24, 2009 at 4:43 am | Posted in In the News, Links, My Fascinating Mood, Philosophical Problems | Leave a comment

Here’s an article from The New York Times on how to seek mental health help when money is tight. There are some good suggestions in here, but I would recommend that you try them only if you’re experiencing what they quaintly call “deep malaise.” For anything more serious — what? Emigrate to Europe, perhaps.

I am woefully far behind on the whole health care reform issue, although I read in the selfsame Times this morning that the despicable Sen. Lieberman has vowed not to vote for anything with a public option attached. My advice to the democrats and the president: Don’t whore yourselves out looking for his support.

What else? My mental health continues to improve, and I continue to be humbled by the violent upheaval depression can cause. It will be awhile before I reach that calm, even arrogant advice-giving place that I occupied so comfortably for so many weeks here. My shrink’s advice in these troubled times: Have compassion for myself. I told her that I’m not even sure what that means — it strikes me rather like those bumper stickers that order me to Thank a Cop. I can puzzle over those for five minutes at a time while whizzing down the freeway. I understand the order, obviously, but I don’t get the sentiment behind it.

I failed to explain two things to her: first, why I like myself less and less with the passing years, and second, the importance of what she calls my “inner mean parent.” Both points are important, and both contradict conventional therapeutic wisdom that I must love and pamper myself. Let’s start with the last.

I am still a tremendously disciplined person. I am still 10 minutes early for everything, and not just because I have a mechanical watch that runs fast. When I was a kid, my dad taught me both by precept and by example that you should always be 10 minutes early to work — you settle in, disposition your jacket and your lunch, and fire up your computer on your own time, not on company time. You show up early for a job interview, not on time. Showing up early communicates respect, and also demonstrates discipline and a willingness to give your all to your job while you’re there.

This code of conduct also demands that you show up to work unless you’re vomiting or suffering extreme intestinal distress, and that your lunch break be precisely 30 minutes long — not 35, and certainly not 65. You give the company just a bit more than it formally demands, and in return you get not just a paycheck, but the satisfying conviction that you’ve earned it. My mom was always the same — there, early, and ready to get cracking. Conscientious. As they would both tell me, following Woody Allen, 90 percent of success is showing up. Neither parent was a workaholic, but both were present and hard-working. They cared about their jobs and felt that it mattered to get the details right.

This ethic has served me well. It’s the reason why I always get offered the job after working temp, and why I passed my qualifying exams with distinction. I really believe that I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have, and would not be as functional as I am if I hadn’t embraced this work ethic. And I’ve lived up to this ideal, not by being compassionate with myself, but by being disciplined and, to a certain extent, self-denying. That’s one thing I really liked about Get It Done When You’re Depressed, a book that I reviewed and recommended in this space. The author orders you to embrace your “inner drill sergeant,” and places a value of productivity for its own sake. It’s good to get things done, and hard work will serve you better than tender regard for yourself.

I may be totally wrong in this — I may well be hanging my pathology out the window for all to see right about now. But, damn it, it isn’t easy to stay off the streets and out of jail when you’re bipolar. In many ways, it’s a damn sight easier to give in to the little voices that tell you to take it easy (voices which St. Augustine would identify as sin speaking). If I followed my deepest inclinations and took it easy, I wouldn’t go to work at all. I wouldn’t soldier myself out of bed and off to the pharmacy when I run out of a crucial medication. I wouldn’t bother to sit here tapping away many mornings when I could be sleeping in or clicking around on You Tube. For me, my discipline — my inner mean parent, my overactive superego — has saved me from a much worse fate. I really believe that, and blaming either my inner or actual parents for my depression amounts to fighting words.

This is closely connected to how I’ve changed for the worse over the course of my illness. Allow me to explain by telling a little story.

By common consent, my family celebrated Thanksgiving this past Sunday. A cousin of mine was in town from Alaska, and it was more convenient for him and his parents, my aunt and uncle, to pick up the the turkey and trimmings and transport them to Sunday.

My cousin is about five years older, and he has clear memories of visiting my family in St. Paul when I was two or so. I learned to talk at a bizarrely young age, and though my elocution was not clear, I was voluble and opinionated. One of his clearest memories of the visit is of me talking persistently and energetically during his entire visit.

As he told this story on Sunday, I smiled silently down at my plate. Up until I was about 30, both of my parents used to say that I started talking at 18 months and hadn’t stopped since. Except, I did stop. Have stopped. I spoke very little on Sunday, and am generally quiet to the point of seeming odd. As I tried to explain to my shrink yesterday, at some point my light simply went out. I lost the exuberance which was one of my most notable qualities from earliest childhood.

What happened? “The depression was such a punishing experience,” I told her. And that word choice was not a slip — depression has seemed to me like an arbitrary, cruel punishment. Thus, she concluded, my harsh inner mean parent.

This isn’t totally accurate, however. I lost the enthusiasm that propelled me out towards life, that helped me to embrace my work and the world. The overactive superego is what keeps me going. The depression isn’t the result of my superego; rather, my superego is the last bit of me left standing in the storm.

Well, that’s probably all wrong, and I’ll almost certainly repudiate it over the next several weeks as I get deeper into therapy and begin to pet and caress my self. And, in my doctor’s defense, I did decide to give myself a treat after my appointment — I bought tangerine juice and a bouquet of gladiolas at Trader Joe’s on the way home. These treats did please me.

That’s enough for now. I’ll work on digging up more links later — I have almost 300 items waiting in my blog feed, so I’m sure there’s some great stuff out there.

Love to all.

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