I’ve been doing therapy for sort of a long time, now. When I started reading about “long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy,” I got the impression that it’s “supposed” to take 2-3 years, and I’ve read lots of really old-school stuff where an analysis could last 15 years. Analyses terminable and interminable. I haven’t read the original Freud of that, but yeah…
I used to get occasional comments from friends and family about things “taking so long” or whether I was accomplishing anything.
It turns out I just have problems on top of problems that not everybody has, and it took this long to sift through the patterns to find the meta-pattern: an all-pervasive neurological difference from other people. I have a crippling deformity of…something that’s hard to define, but people hate you when it’s broken.
My life is unrepresentative of things that usually happen, demographically. That’s mostly left me isolated from people with similar experiences. Something’s been wrong, but there hasn’t been a readily-available name for all of its dimensions. One of the most helpful things has been finding memoirs and sociology books about people whose lives have been similar to mine somehow.
There was a logical progression to what I was reading, where the obscurity/specificity to my life increased over time. Sometimes it took a long time just to know what to look for.
These were some of the high points, in terms of books that helped me compare notes with others:
- Axis II, generically.
- Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in the Clinical Process, by Nancy McWilliams.
- Personality Disorders in Modern Life, by Theodore Millon.
- Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations and the Self, by Harry Guntrip.
At first I wanted to learn more about borderline personality disorder because of my exes. There was a lot of self-recognition when I started reading about avoidant and schizoid issues. Maybe my problems go beyond “chronic minor depression”…
- Zen pitfalls. I’m not sure where it fits chronologically, but at some point I read Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center. I was obsessively reading Zen books for a while before starting therapy. It was natural to start looking for stuff like Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue, and some of the essays in there talked about pitfalls, and that train of thought led to Shoes Outside the Door. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is one of my favorite books, so it was interesting to see how things went so wrong in practice. The book touched on a lot of Zen practice issues and made me feel better about not trying to formally involve myself with local Zen centers. I was reading criticism of the whole “Zen master” thing a long time ago, and that might also be where I first heard of the book. Interesting that guru scandals have to do with transference…
- The pain of blackness. Black Skin, White Masks, by Frantz Fanon. Fanon was a Lacanian, so this was a good bridge to thinking about more painful, less intellectualized things.
- Tragic mulatto. Mixed Race Students in College: The Ecology of Race, Identity, and Community on Campus, by Kristen Renn. Dawning awareness that getting bullied about my hair meant I was getting bullied for being a half-breed. I guess it’s normal for mixed-race people not to have a well-defined racial identity, so maybe that’s why I relate to people with BPD? Identity issues?
- Having a lot of Holocaust issues for a black person. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past, by Jennifer Teege. I was starting to realize my family is different, different enough that maybe I should change my job to something about “diversity”. My story is unique enough that people write books about this sort of thing! I thought way hard about the Holocaust and have wisdom to bring the world!
- Moving around overseas. Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken. Before this book, my self-understanding was that I went to public school like everybody else, except that it happened to be on a Navy base in Sicily. Actually, no. Growing up that way gives you attachment problems and makes you present like you’re borderline. Who knew?
- Being a trooper. Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, by Mary Wertsch. I hadn’t realized how little contact most of the population has with the military, and how significant some of the cultural differences are. It was a bit mind-bending to realize that I like socialist ideas from seeing socialism work so well on base. Expectations from teachers were high and not-racist, which is highly unusual. I was “gifted”, so stereotypes prevented people from seeing I had issues instead of making them think I was retarded. Lots to think about surrounding gender.
- Vicarious vicarious traumatization. Children of Psychiatrists and Other Psychotherapists, by Thomas Maeder. Clearly I relate to people with BPD because my dad coming home from work and complaining was basically talking about their childhood. And the knowledge that regular people around us are a bunch of creeps, wife beaters, and child molesters, and the people in charge are OK with that.[A relationship interrupted therapy for most of 2016. LOL not done.]
- Nazi doctors. Voracious Science and Vulnerable Animals: A Primate Scientist’s Ethical Journey, by John Gluck. Exactly what grad school disillusionment was like, except without the militant vegans setting things on fire.
- Bookish Black Bible Student. Your Average Nigga: Performing Race, Literacy, and Masculinity, by Vershawn Young. Another Jehovah’s Witness who wasn’t black enough growing up.
- Patience is a virtue. Philosophy and the Mixed-Race Experience. Maybe there’s an alternate universe where I would’ve grown up to be a contributor to this book. Maybe I have these problems because there’s no place for who I am in the symbolic order.
- Toxi. GIs and Fräuleins: The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany, by Maria Hohn. It turns out the cultural meanings of blackness and interracial relationships were different in the setting where my parents met. So much frustration with cultural norms here.
- Militant autistic people. Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking. The social dysfunction is a lot the same as the dysfunction around race: the Real Humans are violent awful people with no empathy who pat themselves on the back. It also would’ve been nice to grow up without being told my picking problems were pissing off Jehovah Himself.
During this period, it was impossible to avoid the issue of race in the news, and I compulsively read the news.
In retrospect, the issues could interact in complicated ways. The depth of white people’s racism, and the important of race to how I’m perceived, probably came as more of a shock due to autism. I’m not in touch with what normal people think and feel. In some ways it matters why, and in other ways it doesn’t. Both autism and my life experience make my thinking incompatible with most people’s. The normals hate blacks, the normals hate autistic people, the normals hate me. And they feel good about themselves.