Re-launched, but still slightly under construction. :-)

Monday, September 22, 2003

Hairless Monkeys

In abnormal psychology, we were often asked to evaluate the behavior of a videotaped subject. The members of the class would give their opinions on what the behaviors signified, if anything. I am convinced that there is a whole universe, somewhere, where the stars have been replaced entirely by psychological diagnoses which have no merit whatsoever, besides getting their "discoverer's" name in the DSM. Chief among these, in my mind, are the "personality disorders," which are not recognized as having bio-chemical, genetic, or traumatic origins. They are defined as an inflexible pattern of inner experience and outward behavior that deviates significantly from the expectations of one's culture. They often (but not always) result in unpleasant experiences, and may cause psychological, social, or occupational pain. Mostly, however, they cause pain, discomfort, or irritation to people other than those experiencing them. Finally, according to the DSM, it is possible to have more than on personality disorder, or "just a touch" of one.

Me (to professor): So, it's not like these are classified as mental illnesses, is that correct?
Professor: Yes, that's correct.
Me: And, this behavior isn't caused by a correctable chemical imbalance, or a traumatic experience in someone's life, or by bad genes?
Professor: Yes, that's correct.
Me: And, the disorders aren't the same across cultures, like depression, psychopathology, or schizophrenia?
Professor (with a look of "Aren't I patient?" on his face): No, they aren't.
Me: And, usually, the people themselves don't receive the brunt of their personality disorder? I mean, the people around them are the ones disturbed by it?
Professor (now he has a cautious look on his face): Yes. What are you getting at?
Me: Well, is it possible that what we have here is just a list of 10 different ways that people can act like jerks?

The entire class turns to look at me. A couple of people grin. Most of them roll their eyes. One guy is asleep. The professor pauses for a moment and looks around the class.

Professor: Yes, that's certainly possible. Can anyone else think of another explanation?

No one raises their hand. In their defense, this particular professor is extremely intimidating. It took several weeks before I had the courage to speak up in class. But now he can't shut me up. I raise my hand.

Professor: I think we've heard your theory, Stacey.
Me (feeling retarded): No, I have another one.
Professor (deciding that he would have to indulge me before I will shut up): Okay.
Me: Well, it occurs to me that these classify about all the people in my high school who were outcasts (ha ha. Like me. Look up Borderline Personality Disorder). The onset for a diagnosis to be rendered is adolescence. This sounds like social ineptitude.
Professor (looking at me like I have two heads): Then why classify these behaviors as a disorder?
Me (suddenly much less sure of myself, but still with the verbal diarrhea): Because conformity is encouraged in school. Students who can't get along are considered "troubled," and a lot of these behaviors are attention-getters. Dramatics, histrionics - I mean, what is a conduct disorder? Who decides what conduct is an actual "disorder," and what conduct is just "disorderly?"
Guy across the room: That's just semantics.
Me (okay, now I'm pissed): I don't think so. A disorder carries the stigma of an illness, of being sick or unbalanced. Acting "disorderly," that's just breaking some relatively harmless policies.
Girl in my row of desks: Oh, so bringing a gun to school is relatively harmless?
Me (Did I SAY that?!): No, nor is using hyperbole to make an argument. They're both stupid, and neither is condusive to addressing the real issue. Which was, I believe, whether or not these behaviors should be in the DSM in the first place.
Same girl (scoffing, probably because she doesn't know what "hyperbole" means): You can't just take things out of the DSM.
Dee, who sits right behind me: They did it with homosexuality.
Hyper-religious Man, who thinks that if he can relate something to a biblical quote, he's made a good point.: Yeah, and that IS a disorder.

There's a moment of silence in the classroom. I, personally, can't believe he thinks that. Well, I can, but it's just alien to me. Dee snickers suddenly.

Dee: Well, since it really only bothers OTHER people, it's just a personality disorder.

Damn. That was good, Dee

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