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Monday, October 24, 2011

Show me your neurosis, I'll show you mine

Today's post will be about mental health, and the neuroses that we all have in one way or another. (Yes, you too!)

Before we go any further, let me clarify something. Mental diseases are a real thing. They're as real as physical diseases. You can NOT simply shake them off. It is NOT my intention to undermine or ridicule any of them.

(If you understand French, please take a look at these humoristic videos which do a great job giving back to depression the attention it deserves and telling us that no one should be ashamed of mental illness.)

Good. Now that we know depression cannot be peeled off like a skidoo suit, and that there's worst things in life than admitting you have a mental disorder (such as stucking your male parts in your car door), we have to admit it wouldn't be very rigorous to claim that we all suffer from a mental illness.

You see, mental health is a continuum. You can have "tendencies" without justifying a full-blown diagnosis. The ultimate psychiatric disorders bible, the DSM-IV, has been created to help distinguishing between a big problem and a small annoyance. What I remember from my psychology major is that the DSM-IV will not only compile symptoms, but also take into account how long you have been exhibiting them, and/or how often, and/or in what intensity...then give you an overall score, in an attempt to precisely qualify and quantify what "you have". Only with all that precise information in hand will you know if you actually "qualify" for a certain disorder. Generally, you will deserve a specific tag if your symptoms prevent you from functioning normally.

Fair enough.

But for most of us who simply have one or two bolts missing, what is there? When you know you're slightly cuckoo, but still manage to project an image of normalcy? Wouldn't it be useful to put a name on your specific "tendency", one that does not warrant therapy nor treatment, but can nonetheless become a pain in the a** at times?

Today I want to claim my own unhealthy habit. My hope is that this will prompt you to try and identify yours. In my case, apart from perfectionism, anxiety and the occasional mild depression, here's what I would certainly qualify for if it was a little more intense:

ADD (or Attention Deficit Disorder)

Sometimes I wonder if I'm even able to concentrate for more than 5 min in a row. I constantly get distracted. Interrupting myself to do something else is the norm rather than the exception. I multitask so much it almost makes me dizzy. For example, I have been seen pausing halfway through emptying the dishwasher to go on the computer and google Existentialism. (What about clean dishes made me feel existentialist-ey, that's another debate. For now, just think Sisyphus.) What was so urgent that I just couldn't resist reading about Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Camus and Sartre's take on life's absurdity, right NOW?

I first noticed the extent of my problem when D and I both studied for end-of-semester exams. One of us could literally sit and read for hours without any break... and it wasn't me! I, on the other hand, would get up every 20 minutes or so to use the washroom, make myself a cup of tea, start a laundry, check my email, do 10 push-ups, iron a few shirts, and what not. In the midst of memorizing parts of the nervous system, I would suddenly realize the garbage can needed a scrub. Etc.

Some people would call this procrastinating: you avoid doing something you don't really feel like by convincing yourself you need to do all kinds of unimportant stuff instead. This is at least partly true, and I have to admit I had an epiphany when I saw Spongebob Squarepants' episode on the topic.

One of the downsides of having a hamster wheel in your head is that you sometimes end up loosing track of your thoughts. Entirely. Completely. Poof. All gone. I'm not kidding! Take this morning, for example. I decide to go for a run. I put on my running clothes. I attach my iPod to my arm, put my ear buds in, get my play list ready. I grab my house key. Then I suddenly remember it's close to freezing point outdoors, and that I should probably take at least one puff of my inhaler (for cold-induced asthma reasons). So I run upstairs to take a puff, come back downstairs, open the door... and that's when I realize my key's not in my hand anymore. I probably forgot it in the bedroom. I run back upstairs. Look everywhere. Key's not there. Run back downstairs. Look everywhere. No key. Run upstairs again (by now my workout is well under way) to scan the room in a more systematic way. In vain. Do the same downstairs. Where's my key? Where. is. my. key? Where the hell is my "$/%?&* key!!!

As frustration builds up, so does worry. 'Cause I have absolutely NO recollection of what I might have done with the key. No memory. Nothing. My brain is completely blank. I start to wonder if my real problem is not a very early onset of dementia.

(In fact, no, because apparently, a person with dementia would forget they misplaced the key altogether, and about the running intention as well. Which obviously is not my case. I still want to go for a run! If only I can find the key!)

(In the end I did find my key, and it was NOT in the sugar bowl. Pfiew!)

The fact that my brain jumps from one thought to the other, and from one stimulus to the next, can actually have its good sides. Paying attention to many things at a time has no secrets for me. It comes in handy when you're looking after a bunch of children, for sure. It also served me well when I was a lifeguard. Another consequence of multiple ideas rushing through my mind relentlessly is that I write (to get rid of them). Not a bad thing per se, I guess.

Bottom line is, that's who I am, I embrace it, and I am happy.

What's YOUR neurosis, and how do you deal with it?


  1. Thanks Julie ! You put a smile on my face this morning cause I feel the same craziness quite often et je l'assume ! Moi je dis que c'est un signe d'intelligence même si ça fait que j'oublie des petites choses en passant...mais j'ai Olivier pour ça ! Vive a complicité !

  2. LOL! So well written, Julie!

    No surprise i have some of these tendencies also :-)