Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Case of the Ex-Con Psychiatric Patient and Looking for Love

In a better world Ask Polly would not have responded to the letter sent by a woman who calls herself “I’m Still Here.” But, we do not live in a better world and Polly doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. Thus, Polly's willingness to address a woman who has an extensive history of psychiatric hospitalization and criminal incarceration becomes an excuse for her, yet again, to show us how little she knows. 

ISH was brought up in an authoritarian religious household. She married young, had four children and then had a breakdown. With the help of a therapist she has folded it all into a narrative of rebellion against oppressive forces. We do not know whether the therapist is a psychiatrist, whether ISH is taking any medication, and what her diagnosis is. We do not know whether her issues are psychological or physiological. We know very little. It does not deter Polly, but any serious therapist would need to know these things and would only treat this woman in coordination with a psychiatrist.

By that I mean that if ISH is suffering from bipolar illness, which is only treatable with medication, we would know that her therapist’s efforts to make it all into a coherent narrative, to fill it with meaning and to shift the blame away from her and on to her husband and parents, is a fool’s errand. Or better, it’s a form of indoctrination.

Now, some excerpts from the letter:

After more than a year of being told I wasn’t good enough, I broke down in the biggest, loudest way I knew how. I put on very public shows of self-harm, hysteria, panic, and despair. I threatened suicide, ran away, overdosed on medications, cut myself, and ended up in too many ERs, ICUs, and psych wards to count. In retrospect, I know I was begging the world to love me. I thought if I hurt myself enough, someone would save me.

My husband divorced me. Naturally, right? Like, who wouldn’t? I upped my level of commitment and put myself in a coma. A few weeks after I was released from the hospital, I put myself in jail.

Jail was a turning point, the degree of torture that it was. My searing terror of ever going back to jail moderated my actions, and it led me to find a therapist who knows her shit. I never thought I’d get to the point where death/escape doesn’t rule my every thought. I’m learning that I am good enough, I am worthy of love right here, right now, and always.

I got a job working with at-risk youth. I got my own apartment. I’m making actual friends for the first time. I’m working with my ex to spend more time with my kids, and I’m parenting them better than I ever have. Even though my time with them is limited, I’m busting my butt to be the parent I never had. I tell them every day how valuable they are and that I love them forever for one reason: THEY ARE MINE. I look at them, I listen to them, and I’m trying to love them with my whole heart.

I want to experience authentic romantic love, but I’m too paralyzed to do anything about it. I want to find a man who sees me — all the sparkly badass parts along with the steaming dungheap parts — and chooses me. A man who would find me sobbing on the couch and connect with me instead of criticizing me. A man I could have sex with because I want to, instead of doing it because I’m supposed to.

Might I say that finding true love is the least of her problems. She had a nervous breakdown and indulged in a spectacular series of self-destructive actions. As I say, she might have been bipolar, in which case she was not treated correctly or well. It does happen. She abandoned her children and her husband and is happy to blame her parents and her husband for her problems. Failing to take responsibility for her actions, she wants to live out the next chapter of the narrative that her therapist has taught her.

In the narrative she is not at fault. She now believes that she understands her problem and that she is ready for love. She still, however, can end up on the couch sobbing uncontrollably. Perhaps this signals an ongoing and untreated depression. Perhaps it's part of a bipolar disorder. If she thinks that love is going to solve it, she has bought the psycho world’s fiction and is about to be seriously disappointed.

Since Polly has no idea about what is going on here, she sounds especially mindless:

And it seems like we’re all destined to experience a private, intoxicating natural disaster that can usher us to the next level of happiness and understanding. But to get there, you have to bear witness to the disaster with every cell of your being. You have to let your emotions and your truest desires into the room instead of burying them deeper. Sometimes that feels a little bit like letting a monster loose.

A private, intoxicating natural disaster… huh? There was nothing private about ISH’s public spectacle. She fell apart in public. I suspect that in her community she has a reputation for bad behavior… and that this does not make her social life any easier. To imagine that her bad experiences can serve as a positive step toward happiness and understanding is absurd, stupid and dangerous.

Polly gets worse, imagining that ISH is an angel of light:

But now your monster has transformed into a gorgeous being of wisdom and light, one that’s anxious to share that light and that joy with others. Even though you feel fearful, I don’t think you have much to fear from love, because you’re resilient, you know your own heart, and you trust yourself. As long as you know that the steaming dung-heap parts of you are all tangled up with the sparkly badass parts, as long as you understand that you are that rare and precious species of angel-monster that has the power to inspire and give generously to others, you have nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately, this is not a joke. Again, Polly does not understand that this woman’s reputation is probably well known where she lives. Her problem is restoring her good name, not finding some form of redemption through true love. Have you noted that our seriously professional credentialed therapists are trafficking in a secular religion? In the name of science.

It gets worse. Polly tells this woman, whose instincts and gut feelings led her into this impasse that she should trust her instincts. When she tried to kill herself, she was following her instincts. When she overdosed she was trusting her instincts. Whatever she did to merit incarceration involved failing to control her instincts:

I just want to remind you that you can trust your instincts. Even though things might feel frightening and uncertain, you know that you’ll be okay. You’ve been through the fire and you can survive. You have to remind yourself, even as you feel fearful, that it’s thrilling and good to feel vulnerable to love. You’re strong enough to feel fear and still be brave in spite of your fear.

Polly next descends into cheerleader mode:

This is a great moment for you, because you get to ask for exactly what you want for the first time in your life! That’s how I feel, too. I can ask for what I want, even when I think it’s a little much. And I can accept when some people aren’t cut out to give me what I want.

This is pathetic. The notion that this seriously damaged women can now live out Polly’s adolescent fantasies is pathetic. Asking for what you want means very little if you are not the person, if you do not have the character and reputation, to obtain it. Polly is setting her up for disappointment.

Of course, we do not know what ISH's therapist thinks about this quest for redemptive love. And we do not know why, when ISH loves her therapist, she is writing to a magazine advice column.

Polly has no idea about what this women is thinking, how she thinks or her belief system. This does not prevent her from telling ISH that she is a great thinker and is fully capable of loving:

But I think it’s even more important to understand the unique, hidden strengths you have that lie in your belief system and in your clear, hard-fought ideas about what it means to be alive and to honor another human being with your love.

Because here you are, living an inspired, engaged life that you can really FEEL for the first time. Savor this. Don’t rush past this moment. Don’t let your interest in true love take you out of the enormous joy of this day, and the next. Don’t obsess. Give yourself time and space to figure out how you want to live and what makes you happy.

You and I know that once ISH goes out to find true love she will most likely be used and abused by men. Surely, her judgment is seriously distorted and her instincts are defective. If she imagines that with her newfound therapy-induced insights she is going to overcome all that, she is smoking the wrong kind of cigarettes. As for Polly, she is being completely irresponsible. She is aiding and abetting what looks to be a looming calamity.


Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good point about THEY ARE MINE--- especially since she seems to have abandoned them in order to act out her misery in public.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would offer a guess that the woman may have Borderline Personality Disorder, though Bipolar would certainly be on the table.

The THEY ARE MINE also jumped out at me. In my Underground DSM-IV (yet to be updated from years ago) I noted that certain statements usually mean their opposites, and "My children mean everything to me" is one of them.

This Polly is a pretty frightening advisor.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I also considered that she might be borderline, but did not see any evidence of a fear of abandonment in the admittedly very limited information she provides. Since the info is obviously edited, she might very well have had bpd. I chose bipolar because I think that it's more physiological than psychological... and thus that it escapes the tendency to find meaning by narratizing.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

We should add that we do not know whether or not this woman had any substance abuse problems. One suspects that she must have, but....

Ares Olympus said...

The "THEY ARE MINE" is scary, but this seems just as bad "I want to experience authentic romantic love..." That's a good line for a child-free 20 year old, not one for a 31 year old divorced mother of 4.

I suppose she must be good looking to even think that way, but no self-respecting man is going to willing to enter her world as long as he has alternatives.

Sam L. said...

How much do you have to drink, after writing these Ask Polly articles, to return yourself to normal? (Inquiring minds want to know.)

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Th pain is in the reading, not in the writing.

Sam L. said...

'Tis some consolation, then. You're a brave man.