Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ms. P and the Mental Giants

I've been seeing Ms. P for several months now. She is one of my most challenging clients and, therefore, my favorite of the bunch. She is wonderful in the way a love-blind new mother thinks her objectively ugly baby is the most beautiful creature to grace the human race with its presence. Yes, Ms. P is fantastic in a psychology case study sort of way. She is quite old (90s), spry, and very bright. She also doesn't care for people in similar ways as Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in There Will Be Blood. She's got a competition in her, she doesn't want to see anyone else succeed, and she hates most people. Yet, as is typical borderline fare, she is deathly afraid of being alone (think Margot of Margot at the Wedding). Despite her unfortunate character flaws, she is a whopper of a storyteller.

Ms. P came to me for her mood--she was depressed, according to the form I received. If you ask her, she isn't depressed, she's just smarter than everyone else, which makes her sad. I always chuckle at these statements which, in turn, fuel her fire. "Let me tell you about X and Y...well these two mental giants think they've got me figured out but the only thing they've figured out is to come in from the rain!" she says of the only family members willing to check in on her from time to time--by phone, of course. Ms. P has the comedic timing of a Catskills stand-up act. "These days, no one has to work. In my day, if you didn't like your boss raising his voice to you then he'd tell you to find a boss who won't!" She is always so grateful for my commitment to working with her but makes sure I know that if she didn't like me, I wouldn't be there. She hates NYers, but I'm different. She's also pretty racist. It's some good times, our sessions, that's for sure.

We set small goals, like her getting her hair done by the next time I see her. I ask about how she feels after it's done since she looks dramatically different--younger and more energetic. "So now people say that I look nice before they try to screw me, am I right? Dear, it's the same shit different day, pardon my French. You know how important manners are to me." It is really difficult to get her to do anything quasi-therapeutic. "Honey, at my age, how am I supposed to change?" In some ways, she's right. What can I expect of this? Personality disorders are hard to work with in young clients. She's lived the majority of her life this way, isolated herself, and now wishes she wasn't alone. How can I undo this damage? Well, I'll be coming back to Ms. P, often, so stay tuned. Last week she admitted to seeing a little progress. I did a tiny victory dance in my mind. I'm sure she sensed it because she quickly added, "Don't get too excited." At least she was smirking.

"They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."--A. Warhol

I originally wanted to start a blog to have a place to talk about my experiences in practicing clinical psychology. It's a lonely existence, the life of a psychologist. You have days filled with social encounters that usually involve deep, intellectually challenging conversations with people in some pretty peculiar circumstances, and you are bound to absolute secrecy. I find it rather paradoxical, however, because here we are telling everyone to share their feelings, get things out, work through thoughts and emotions, and I'm supposed to keep mum once the 50 minute hour is up. If I see a client in public, I'm not even supposed to acknowledge him or her. With some clients, I've spent years working on developing social skills only to abandon them completely at 10 to. Well, enough is enough. I need a way to process my feelings about the people I spend most of my days with. You don't know who I am so there's sure as hell no way you'll know who I'm talking about. Of course, names will be changed and I have ways of protecting the identities of every client. So there. Let's get ready to rumble...(I've just always wanted to say that!)

Friday, January 18, 2008

4 is a girl: Synesthesia and me

Last night over dinner with my hubby and a friend, somehow we got onto the topic of my kooky way of thinking where I see numbers and letters as having genders and even personalities. Ever since I can remember the numbers 1, 4, 7, and 8 were distinctly female numbers, where 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, and 0 were, well, boys. There's really no reason for my assigning the genders this way--it was all based on a feeling I associated with each. Our friend asked, "What about double digit numbers, like 27?" Clearly, that's a couple. A male and female. They could be friends, team members, or life partners for all I know--but they are together. The gender thing really only applies to single digits so when using longer strings of digits it just becomes a group of individuals. Like 130 is a girl with two boys. I have a fondness for some numbers, usually the ones with more girls in them. I prefer 48 to 45. It's just nicer. My funny way of thinking also applies to letters. Each letter, to me, has not only a gender but a personality, too.

I always thought that this was just a quirk I have from being a painfully shy child with a wild imagination or maybe the elementary school educational system really brainwashed me into thinking that "The Letter People" exist outside of my workbooks. But to be honest, the personalities I think go with each letter are different from the cartoonish representations of The Letter People from first grade. Well, as it turns out, I am not alone. About 1 in 23 people have some form of synesthesia, which refers to a neurological phenomena where the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive path automatically triggers the sensory or cognitive experiences along another path. There are different types of synesthesias, like when someone sees colors for musical sounds. My form of synesthesia is called ordinal linguistic personification. Sometimes, I'll assign my clients letters associated with their personalities--it makes for the ultimate protection of privacy in my case notes. One particularly difficult case is definitely a P--unpredictable, dependent, lack of boundaries, dramatic, and essentially borderline (think Margot from Margot at the Wedding). Ps have always been tricky characters to me. They're pretty bright but very arrogant, annoying, and downright prickly. Sadly, I don't see the personalities of letters when reading or looking at words, just in individual letters. It's too bad because it would make my course reading and clinical cases so much more festive.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hiking and "The Hills"

In an attempt to start January healthy in body and in mind (let's keep the theory of relativity in check, here) hiking has become my new daily routine. Well, I guess I wasn't the only one in LA with this strategy. After seeing Lauren Conrad (LC) of "The Hills" trekking Runyon Canyon yesterday with a rather loud and opinionated friend (not Audrina, Whitney, or Lo, though she was ranting that she was about to "ban someone from Bolthouse"), I realized that Hollywood starlets need to find some balance, too. I knew it was her upon hearing a scratchy "You know what I mean?" with the characteristic California inflection (aka lazy vowels). Plus, she clearly didn't seem as if she noticed anyone on her way up the hill--classic celebreality tunnel vision so as to seem unavailable for random social interaction. Clearly, LC has a need to be understood. I can help you with that, Lauren. For a small fee, of course.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Beep, beep! Beep, beep! Yeah!: Multiple Personalities and Driving

There's one place I know of where personality changes, instantly and consistently. The place I'm referring to isn't really a specific location--it's more of a situation, or a dimension. This powerful place, existing outside the bounds of most theories of personality psychology, is none other than traffic. I used to think that it was simply Los Angeles traffic that elicited this kind of phenomenon, but no, it exists in New York, Mexico, Europe...anywhere where more than two cars share a road.

I supposed I'm rather new to this hidden dimension known only to drivers. I got my driver's license a little less than 3 years ago when making the metamorphosis from car-less urban pedestrian to, well, an urban driver. I quickly learned that the on ramp to freeways or highways was really a porthole to a world of battles of Civil War proportions. In these battles, there are no loyalties, no rules, and surely no rationality. Everyone is out of for themselves. Rationality is relevant. Everyone is right from within their cars, outside the car is wrong, wrong, wrong. Instead of bayoneted corpses, idle vehicles sit stalled in defeat. Winning is movement--keep moving, no matter what.

With the slam of a door, click of a seatbelt, and the hum of a small, but reliable, engine, my mind shifts. I am normally a nice, empathetic, and relatively quiet person--qualities necessary for the kind of work I do. Behind the wheel of a car is another story. A metamorphosis takes place while I zip away, feeling the power of the vehicle in my hands. Fast, must drive fast. The sight of another vehicle sparks a competitive fire in me and my blood pressure rises. A quick glimpse of myself in the rear view mirror scares me--who is that maniac? I curse at the drop of a hat, saying things that would make dirty, scurvy ridden pirates blush. I try to pass anyone who's "in my way." I get a sick joy for successfully pulling a tight U-turn without giving in to what would be safer as a K-turn. I think I even look different when I drive. My brow is steadily furrowed, completing a very unattractive mean looking scowl. Parking is a whole other story. Let's not get into parking.

There's always been controversy regarding multiple personality disorders in the field of psychology. So for those who don't believe that multiple personality disorder exists, and there are many within the academic/scientific community of this persuasion, I have evidence to prove otherwise. I guess it comes down to attribution theory, maybe. Attributing a person's behaviors to a situation, instead of to stable personality traits within them, is considered the Fundamental Attribution Error. When I am in a car I become insane--pretty situation specific. But the sheer fact that I have the capacity to behave this way suggests that perhaps, some part of me, is this she-Hulk that comes out to play when behind the steering wheel--a different personality. Anyway, I've seen this ghastly Jeckel and Hyde dance with other fellow drivers. It's not just me...I swear.

Is this just road rage, you ask? Um, not really, but it's close. I honestly feel like there's a difference between those who have minor lapses into mental instability within the confines of their cars and those who actually follow people and/or get out of their cars and threaten bodily harm. I kind of go batty within the legal limits by saying nasty things that only those in my car can hear, having an insatiable need to pass slow cars, and, on occasion, flipping off someone. But road rage, in the truest sense is another animal. In 2006, road rage received an official medical diagnosis known as Intermittent Explosive Disorder, which is actually a category of behavior disorders that includes domestic violence and just about any kind of rage you can think of. Again, as with most new diagnoses, there's been a lot of debate whether this is truly a medical condition. However, because it can be treated with medication it must be biological, right? Um, yeah. While it may be true the anyone would mellow out from taking anti-depressants, and perhaps those with explosive tempers would benefit most from this, it remains a thin argument to say that this is a medical condition, if not psychiatric. I would say that it is a maladaptive behavior, not a condition.