May 11, 2020
Two nights ago, I recorded a little stand-up show in my living room. It was a lot of fun and I hope to turn it into a mini-special, but ultimately it was a disaster: my hair was just awful. All nine of my roommates were lovely, really dears for helping me record and watching male pattern baldness creep in over an explosive 20-minute monologue about sadness, but I am mortified that I made them stare into the rabid haystack withering away on the barren meat of my skullcap. May Gosh forgive me.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, so I called mine over Zoom. She was in America during the English Mother’s Day, and she’s in England during the American one, so this year was a bit of a miss. Though, with the quarantine, even if she lived down the street, the only difference between the celebration would be the luxury of waving not from the other side of a computer screen but instead a real, shared pane of glass.
I reached out to a few friends whose mothers have died, to check-in, but none of them wanted to talk to me — and thank goodness! Every year, around this time, I learn that I haven’t really learned anything at all.
I like to think, and in some sense I need to think, that all this dead-dad business is going to amount to something, that I have grown as a person from this (never-ending) experience and cultivated a sense of wisdom or authenticity which can be offered to others as a worldly contribution. And when I’m in a good mood I really do believe it. But, on my darker days, this all seems to me to be a fever dream of optimistic hooey. Do the tears we shed grow great emotional fruits, do we really reap what we sow?
There is a concept I was introduced to recently by a friend, something called posttraumatic growth, or benefit finding. Posttraumatic growth is positive or beneficial psychological growth following a trauma-inducing event. Unfortunately, however, Wikipedia says PTG has not been found to correlate with individuals who have neurotic personalities. In short, some people report growth and renewal, but — statistically — not the clinical crazies like me, and, perhaps, you.
I identify as a nutcase, because why not? That’s who I am, not what I’m not. I shake my tremulous fist at words like “neurodivergent,” and the swollen catalogue of overlapping and whelming disorders in the DSM. As heuristics for psychiatric treatment and the pursuit of understanding, these terms have useful bones, but there in the dressings of this clinical language is something sinister, a locational metaphor that I find to be alienating, othering, threatening.
As terminological root words, “disorder” and “divergent” and even “depressed” imply that the millions upon millions of people with existential and psychological struggles exist somewhere wrong, living in a place that isn’t normal or typical, a mental space that just isn’t right, somehow. “De” itself is a prefix that literally means “down, away,” and as a so-called neurodivergent major depressive double-stacked with obsessive compulsive and complex bereavement disorders, how am I supposed to feel other than abnormal and strange, down and out? Euphemisms for mental health issues bespoke a time of avoidance, but at least they were chirpy. I would rather think of myself as a nutcase than a distant, complex intersection of aberrant behaviors, even if being a nutcase doesn’t have scientific legs.
It is difficult to admit both that you’re struggling and that the WebMD symptoms seem to be a good fit, because that might mean you have a whole lot of subversive labels waiting to be stamped on your forehead. But it’s important to admit that things could be better, to yourself most of all: the language we have isn’t the best, but it sort of is, because it’s what we have; you just have to find yourself in between or beyond it. And, while we’re at it, I say to hell with the scientific correlations! Amidst the onrippling wake of my father’s death, I don’t always feel like I’m growing, but I am. If I wasn’t growing, I wouldn’t have made these merciful friends who lie to me about my hair, and, let’s be honest, if my Dad hadn’t died, I wouldn’t know to call my dead-mom friends on Mother’s Day.
Mother's Day Memorial by Cecilia Bahls and Harry Jensen