Monday, July 26, 2004

Thoughts in a Minor Key


Hey, buddy. What's up, my friend? Every day gets a little closer. Closer to what, you may ask? Closer to wherever it is you'll finally end up. Now that's something you can't deny to the Metro police!
To paraphrase Robert Schumann (again with the Schumann!): "During the last week, I kept sitting at the word processor; I composed, I wrote, I laughed and I cried." I feel a bond with Schumann. His mother wanted Robert to be a lawyer, and he did in fact attend law school. But early on, he felt the inexorable allure of a career in neurosis. He abandoned the law for music, literature -- and Clara.
For this man who had been living in permanent doubt about himself, who could never make up his mind, life was strewn with impossible challenges: always doubting of his vocation (lawyer, poet, pianist, composer), his impossible love for his future wife, Clara, famous pianist of the 19th century, his mental state and his torments. Such extreme sensitivity, his perfect knowledge of famous German writers (his father was a bookseller, a publisher and an author) and his evolution towards depression led Schumann to be considered an undeniable romanticist.
Sensitive, different and determined to forge his own path, Schumann succeeded on his own terms. "At school he was an average student," recalled a close friend of Schumann during his youth, "rather dreamy and inattentive. But what soon struck me about him was the absolute certainty in his own mind that one day he would become famous. In what he would be famous--that had yet to be determined--but famous whatever the circumstances."
This quote begins a newly-published biography of Schumann, which I recently came across. I turned to the conclusion of the book, which talks about Schumann's final weeks and months at the asylum where he was committed and where he died at age 46. (I usually read the beginning and then the end of a worthwhile book, but not the middle). I was moved by a passage at the end of the book, the passage that describes Schumann's despair at the point the asylum director confiscated all of Schumann's books, writings, and writing materials without his knowledge. Schumann had lost all control over his life, all autonomy. It wasn't a good thing, believe me.
About a month ago I purchased a CD of some of Schumann's early piano pieces. Some of his most famous and popular works for piano: Carnaval; Scenes from Childhood (including the famous Traumerei or Reverie); and Papillons. I listen, compulsively, to the CD every day. These pieces say in music what I try to express in my letters. Carnaval and Scenes from Childhood are both collections of short pieces, caprices really. Schumann loved small works and composed valuable ones. He was a master miniaturist.
On Friday I bought another Schumann CD containing the Humoreske, Opus 20, together with the Bunte Blaetter, Opus 99, performed by the young Israeli pianist Uriel Tsachor. Maybe he's a friend (or relative!) of The Mad Monk's. He's a nice Jewish boy--a Juilliard graduate, no less. But he's no Rubinstein. And quite frankly, I doubt if he'll ever be elected Prime Minister of Israel--or Kenya.
I had never heard these works before, that I can recall. They are dark, dense, and profound, unlike the earlier piano works. Anyway, it was one of those budget CD's: $3.99. Not a bad deal. But oh, what a poet Schumann was, regardless of the price of the recording!
My own mood is dark and pessimistic at this moment.
During the past week, I've been rummaging through some old letters. It always wrenches me to find old letters filled with the half forgotten names of people with whom I have had the most tender experiences. So many people, so many fine moments. What has happened to them? My many-tiered file cabinets, my mounds of envelopes often remind me of some vast cemetery: lives pressed into folders, voices trapped within the boundaries of quotation marks mutely and eternally playing out their dramas. Living with these monuments imbues me with a keen sense of transience. Even as I find myself immersed in the present I sense the specter of decay watching and waiting--a decay which will ultimately vanquish lived experience and yet, by its very inexorability, bestows a poignancy and beauty.
The desire to relate my experiences is a very compelling one. I am intrigued by the opportunity to stave off decay, to prolong the span of my experiences. How much better to know that I will exist in the mind of the reader--or the conjectural reader-- rather than in the abandoned warehouse of unread notes and letters.
Eloquent lines, aren't they? I didn't write them. The quote is a paraphrase from Irvin Yalom's book, "Every Day Gets a Little Closer." Yalom does pretty well with his writing, financially I mean. For him writing is a career in itself. Somewhat crass, though, don't you think? -- transforming other people's lives -- their specific identities, their joys and sorrows -- into the undifferentiated dollar? A few pennies for the penny jar.
Be that as it may.
My session with The Mad Monk, of Wednesday last? How did that go, you ask? Typical, oh, so typical.
She asked to see a few pages of my autobiography. She wants to offer me an opinion as to its publishability. Like I need her opinion! Like I value her opinion! I couldn't care less what her opinion is. She could say the book is a masterpiece. She could say it's worthless garbage. My opinion is that it's good. That's my meek and humble opinion. As God himself said upon appraising his own creation: "He saw that it was good." Do you think God cared about anybody else's opinion? For millennia now, people have been asking the Almighty: "Why, God, why did you create a world filled with so many imperfections?" To date, God has not responded (as far as I know). I draw certain inferences from God's silence. Or am I being paranoid? Am I making unwarranted assumptions?
What I find disturbing about Dr. Bash's action is the psychoanalytical implications. She's not concerned about reading the book to appraise, or analyze, it's psychological meaning -- that is, she doesn't seem interested in giving any thought as to how the work expresses my unconscious wishes, conflicts, and prohibitions: my inner world of fantasy. She's simply concerned with reviewing a few pages to determine, to her satisfaction, whether the book is marketable. Whether I can publish the book and make some money from it. Of course, what does "the poetry of the unconscious" mean to The Mad Monk?
The anti-Semites say that art for the Jew has no meaning other than a pecuniary one. "How much is it worth?" "How much can it be sold for?" Maybe my view of Dr. Bash is an anti-Semitic one. But I am offended by her action.
Analytically, I see her behavior (her request to review a few pages of the book to assess it's marketability) as an expression of anality.
In "Character and Anal Eroticism," Freud took off from his clinical experience to propose some general hypotheses about character formation. He had supposed as early as 1897 that excrement, money, and obsessional neurosis are somehow intimately linked; a decade later, he had suggested to Jung that patients who obtain pleasure from withholding their feces typically display the character traits of orderliness, stinginess, and obstinacy.
Building on these ideas Shengold argues that "anal defensiveness" involves a panoply of defenses evolved during the anal phase of psychic development that culminates with the individual's power to reduce anything meaningful to "shit"--to the nominal, the degraded, the undifferentiated.
What is my book worth to me? Everything. It reveals (or conceals) my inner wishes, my longings, my joys and my pain. For Dr. Bash the book has no value other than a royalty -- the undifferentiated dollar.
What are Dr. Bash's opinions worth to me? Nothing. She doesn't simply challenge my thinking, which is an appropriate procedure for a psychologist. She invalidates my thinking. She invalidates everything, in fact. But more than that. The things she says to rebut my assumptions are nonsensical.
An example. At our last session Dr. Bash challenged, or invalidated, my ideas (inferences, or assumptions) about my environment. She said: "You assume. You make assumptions. You shouldn't make assumptions. Do not assume (where did I hear that phrase before?). It's dangerous to assume." I had told Dr. Bash that I inferred that you, Brian, knew who I was early in our relationship and that you had been in communication with our mutual friend, Malcolm Lassman.
I proceeded to challenge Dr. Bash. I said: "You assume a lot yourself, doctor." The Mad Monk replied: "How? How do I assume?" "Well," I explained, "you assumed that the man who sleeps in my local library, the library patron who sleeps at the Cleveland Park library all day, is homeless. You have no evidence he's homeless. How can you possibly know that he's homeless?" "I know he's homeless," answered The Mad Monk. "But how do you know that?" I asked. The Mad Monk made an offer of proof: "At my local library, there are several people who sleep there all day. I asked the librarian who those people were--why they sleep in the library. The librarian explained that they're homeless people. The man you see sleeping in your local library (Cleveland Park) must be homeless." So much for Dr. Bash's evidence.
She then challenged me about my assertion that Malcolm has been spying on me. Her challenges were based on assumptions, unwarranted -- and somewhat improbable assumptions. "Malcolm is probably retired by now." I said: "He was born in 1938. He'd be about 65 years old now." "That's right, he must be retired," said The Mad Monk. Assumption. She added: "He probably has a son who took over his practice." Two assumptions: Malcolm has a son, who's a lawyer; and he took over Malcolm Lassman's law practice. I said: "Malcolm does in fact have a son who's a lawyer, but I don't think he practices at Malcolm's firm." The Mad Monk, emboldened with her newly-acquired facts, proclaimed without any doubt: "There, you see. His son must have taken over Malcolm's law practice." This is all a house of cards. It's all total confabulation. There's no evidence (hard evidence) that Malcolm is spying on me. Yes, I admit that. But I can say with equal assurance that there's no evidence that Malcolm is retired or that his son has taken over his law practice. Dr. Bash challenges my thinking, but her challenges are even more ridiculous than my paranoia.
By the way, buddy. I happened to run into Barbara Walters the other day. She stopped me on the street and asked: "Mr. Freedman, do you yourself believe you are paranoid?" I said: "Barbara, I can't comment on my paranoia. It's part of my appeal. My wit, my intelligence, my good looks--and my paranoia--are all part of my appeal. I can't comment on those things." In any event, there's an invariable style to Dr. Bash's assumptions. She applies her personal experience or a model of conventional reality to situations about which she has no personal knowledge. Conventional fact: "People tend to retire in their mid-sixties." So Malcolm (someone about whom Dr. Bash has no personal knowledge) must have retired since he's in his sixties. Conventional fact: "Lawyers sometimes have children who are lawyers." So Malcolm (someone about whom Dr. Bash has no personal knowledge) must have a child who's a lawyer -- and! -- who has taken over Malcolm Lassman's law practice. Is this the cognitive style of someone whose opinions I can respect? I don't think so.
I have a thought. It is helpful to view the operative issue in my conflict with The Mad Monk as relating to conventionality, not paranoia. Dr. Bash's thinking would be considered nonparanoid by most people despite her fanciful constructions and her confabulations because she assumes (without any firsthand knowledge) that a conventional reality prevails in all situations. My logical inferences about my firsthand experiences are considered paranoid not because they are inferential, but because I assume that a nonconventional reality can prevail in some situations. The appeal and therapeutic effectiveness of Dr. Bash for certain patients may be comparable to the effectiveness of the narcissistic leader vis-a-vis certain groups. Kernberg writes that "the large-group members' identification with the narcissistic leader reinforces some of the pathologically narcissistic characteristics of 'static' crowds. These groups are conventional, ideologically simplistic, conformist, [anally-regressed], and able to indulge themselves without guilt or gratitude; they lack a sense of personal responsibility or a deep investment in others." Striking fact. People say I'm paranoid because I draw inferences; I make assumptions. Significantly, just as there is a pattern or style to Dr. Bash's assumptions (she tends to make assumptions about unknown situations based on her understanding of the conventional), there is a style to my assumptions. I make assumptions or draw inferences based on what I see firsthand. I do not apply facts about known situations to unknown situations, at least not with haphazard abandon.
Back to Malcolm and you, Brian. You probably don't remember this incident. It happened years ago, very early in our "relationship." It was October 1991. I was still working at Akin Gump. It was just days or weeks before my job termination. Cleveland Park Metro station. The landing down in the station before you approach the final escalator to the surface. I'm going downtown to work. I happened to see you, buddy, as you were (I'm assuming) on your way to work at the Cleveland Park Library. We made eye contact (if you'll pardon the expression). You glared at General Bonaparte, then looked up at my face and smiled, then walked off. That experience, that personal experience, struck me as odd. I thought: "What a smart ass. And that gesture! He must know something about me." At least that was my assumption, that was my inference. Do you see the difference between my style of assumptions, or inferences, and The Mad Monk's style of assumptions? I make assumptions based on personal experience--peculiarities, patterns, gestures, implied communications. Maybe my assumptions are right, maybe they're wrong; but they are based on first-hand perception. Whereas Dr. Bash, as a general rule, makes unwarranted assumptions about people and things of which she has absolutely no personal knowledge, based on factually unrelated (though comparable) situations that define conventional reality for her.
And Malcolm? What personal experience did I have that suggested something a tad askew about Malcolm? September 1989. I was visiting my sister at her home in New Jersey. I confronted her with the accusation that she was in communication with persons at my place of employment, Akin Gump. I said: "Let me tell you how smart I am. I happen to know who you've been talking to. It's Malcolm Lassman." In an excited utterance, my sister said: "You ARE smart!" Those were her exact words. Then she clamed up and said nothing more. Every time I questioned her later on, she refused to acknowledge her "admission" about Malcolm Lassman and consistently called me "paranoid." But the incident--my sister's statement or admission--struck me as odd. But hey, that's me.
In any event, back to The Mad Monk. I told her that her interaction with me is not psychotherapy. It's really mind control or brainwashing. She thought my observation was humorous, and denied trying to brainwash or control me. But what else can I make of a therapeutic style that's based on invalidating every idea I offer? I asked her why she does what she does with me. She said: "I'm trying to break you of your ideas." And that's not brainwashing? What is it?
I suspect that Dr. Bash's effectiveness is definitely produced by brainwashing techniques, whether or not it is consciously done. I believe that with patients more vulnerable than I (patients, who, shall we say, are unable to retain their sense of autonomy by going through all four parts of the Beethoven string quartets in their heads) her pervasive style of "breaking patients" by denying all and withholding any confirmation or validation, has the effect of heightening the patients' suggestibility, their compliance, and their identification with Dr. Bash. Anthony Storr writes that prisoners of war can begin to identify with their interrogators, and that the warm and friendly feelings which develop between the two may have a powerful influence on the prisoner's behavior. I further believe that what Dr. Bash would like to depict as my implacable treatment resistance is, sadly, my desperate attempt to retain any sense of autonomy. With Dr. Bash there's a blurring of the distinction between illness and autonomy, between defiance and initiative; it's the same blurring you find in authoritarian regimes. According to Shengold, a patient's need "to borrow the convictions of others," whether those of his therapist or other third party is not a sign of healthy compliance; rather it shows an unhealthy lack of autonomy. Shengold at 102.
When I'm with Dr. Bash I have the feeling that my privileged autonomy is under attack. That areas of my functioning that should be under my discretionary control (my right to have opinions, draw logical inferences, read and talk about whatever I choose, for example) are under attack. ("You should read romance novels and detective stories. You should be watching more television.") The attacks on my legitimate areas of autonomy are so persistent and pervasive that I feel like a prisoner.
Something that's been in the news recently is what Martha Stewart will face in prison. Every person I've seen interviewed about Martha Stewart's imprisonment talks first and foremost about the loss of control that a prisoner faces in prison with respect to every aspect of life. I suspect that the reason for prison restrictions is not simply to facilitate physical management of the prisoners. I suspect also that such an overwhelming loss of physical control by prisoners over every aspect of autonomy fosters psychological control over prisoners by prison officials and guards. In effect, loss of autonomy by the victim (whether physical or psychological) promotes brainwashing and mind control.
Oddly enough, there are overdetermined issues of anality here. The prisoner faces a loss of identity. He is assigned a number; he is reduced to the nominal, the degraded, the undifferentiated.
Further, the group pressures of prison life promote an anally-regressed conventionality that is ideologically simplistic and conformist -- as Kernberg would say.
And significantly, the prisoner loses all control, all autonomy, which can be seen in anal terms. In the Nazi concentration camps, prisoners even lost control over their anal sphincters. Bettelheim writes (Am I permitted to read Bettelheim? Probably not.): "[The prisoners] were forced to soil themselves. In the camp defecation was strictly regulated; it was one of the most important daily events, discussed in great detail. During the day, prisoners who wanted to defecate had to obtain the permission of a guard. It seemed as if education to cleanliness [as first experienced in childhood] would be once more repeated."
Is this an exaggeration of The Mad Monk's behavior? I don't think so. It's a metaphor. It's as if Dr. Bash elicits verbal productions from me, which she construes as "s---," and which she then uses to soil me. I recall one instance of many. She asked: "Tell me, what do you think your positive characteristics are?" I said: "Well, I think I'm intelligent." She said: "You? Intelligent? Believe me, no intelligent person would live the way you do. You're not an intelligent person." Again and again, buddy, I fall silent during my consultations and Dr. Bash inquires: "What are you thinking about?" I say: "I'm thinking about Brian." You have become my Beethoven. I concentrate on you to stave off madness. (By the way, did you get a good price for my Beethoven CD at your book sale on Saturday?)
Here's my take on my relationship with Dr. Bash. I believe our relationship can be summed up in libidinal terms. It is a conflict between, on the one hand, a therapist who uses her anality to dominate and control the patient in an attempt to ELIMINATE the patient's negative qualities, and on the other, a patient who is struggling with the (oral) frustration associated with his inability to INCORPORATE a gratifying object.
I have a dissociated image of myself. It is the image of a terminally ill patient tormented with an unslakable, Faustian craving. It is an image of a death in the asylum. --
I awake with horror in the morning, and bitter tears well up in me when I must face each day that in its course cannot fulfill a single wish, not one!
On a hot July day, I lay in a small room in an asylum fighting for what remains of my life. A sheet covers the lower half of my naked body, with its swollen abdomen; above it, my chest and arms, thin by now, still suggest the athletic vitality that had always characterized my walk and gesticulations. A tube is inserted in my nose; a second tube leads from my side into a glass jar at the foot of my bed; both are removing the wastes my body can no longer eliminate. The gallons of iced apple juice I gulp down to moisten my cracked lips and dry throat reach only the stomach and flow out into the jar. Nothing moves past the stomach level, below which there are intestinal obstructions, and because my body absorbs little, whether I drink, suck lemons, or rub ice on my lips, my thirst is unslakable.
And when night begins to fall I timidly recline on my bed, and even then I seek in vain for rest; savage dreams come on to terrorize. The god that lives within my bosom can deeply stir my inmost core; enthroned above my human powers. He cannot move a single outward thing. -- Not a pretty picture. It's the way I feel. Thanks for listening to my tale of woe, buddy. Woe is Freedman, woe is Freedman! I don't think I could get through this thing without you. Talk to you next week.
P.S. Message to my neighbor. (You know who you are.) You had a drunken orgy on the roof on Saturday, and you didn't invite me? I know your type, joy boy -- flashy, makin' the scene. Your type just doesn't cut it with me. And, by the way, I thought Mormons didn't drink. I'm thinking of reporting you to the local LDS chapter.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Dream of the Twin Brother


Hey, buddy. In the immortal words of Charles Davis: "Haven't seen you in some time. How have you been?" Yea. That's right. I saw Charles at the CVS on Saturday, July 17. It made my day. One of your crew was actually friendly. Wouldn't you know, it would be a brother?
Last week I saw William. I know he saw me, but he said nothing. It was a momentary encounter about nothing. That hurt. It really hurt. Then last month when I saw you at MLK, and you barely acknowledged my presence, well, it was crushing, man, really crushing. It took me a long time to get over that snub, buddy.
Not much to report to the home office today. As I told you, I'm in the midst of a minimalist period. I live inside my head, and even there, not much has been going on. At times I feel like an imbecile. Certainly, these letters read like they've been written by a deranged imbecile.
What are these letters, fundamentally? A carnival of reveries and recollections. Scenes of all things perceived and experienced: scenes from a life, or from childhood, perhaps. It's true what they say: "Every neurotic will someday return to the scenes of his childhood."
"Everything in the world has an effect upon me," wrote the great composer Robert Schumann. "Politics, literature, people. I think about it all in my fashion, and my feelings find their expression in [my letters]." Of course, Schumann ended up in a lunatic asylum.
Tell you about my last meeting with The Mad Monk. "Olam Bash," as my Hebrew-speaking friends say. The World of Bash.
Big news on that front. I got a new diagnosis. I get new diagnoses periodically. I'm a protean psychotic, I suppose. Always changing.
My new diagnosis is Axis I: Delusional Disorder. Axis II: Schizoid Personality Disorder. It used to be Axis II: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I had asked Dr. Bash how she was able to shoehorn my social isolation into the diagnosis Delusional Disorder. Social isolation is not necessarily associated with Delusional Disorder. So she explained that she would make me schizoid on axis II. That would explain my social isolation. But as Schumann wrote from his asylum: "I can not accept the doctor's words as those of an absolute oracle."
I think Dr. Bash is off base. Schizoids typically have no social interests; they're socially indifferent. I'm isolated, but as we know, buddy, I have my social passions! I like you, Brian, and I think about you all the time. I like few people, but the people I like, I like with a passion. I'm not convinced that's schizoid.
I think my social responsiveness--or lack thereof--is, at heart, narcissistic. I'm cold and aloof. But I'm not socially indifferent. I crave to be with people. But MY kind of people: people who will gratify MY needs. Lucky for you, buddy, I like you. You're somebody I crave to spend some time with.
I think I resemble Gustave Flaubert and his fictional creation, Madame Bovary. Madame Bovary is a novel about nothing, did you know that? "Un livre sur rien," as Flaubert once said. (Yes, he really said that, Fredric). Flaubert said he wished to make the novel an aesthetic object rather than a communicative act. His wish for impersonality found expression in the attempt to fool the reader: "the victim must be uncertain what he is supposed to think, unsure whether he is being made fun of, suspicious that the book may have been written by an imbecile."
Flaubert was an emotionally-distant and interpersonally-detached individual. He was a classic narcissist--not a schizoid. One commentator writes: "Both Emma Bovary and Flaubert are too self-involved (narcissistic) to develop a true object-relation to members of the opposite sex. For both of them, the roots of disillusion seem to center on the inability of the real objects (Charles for Emma and Louise Colet for Flaubert) to fulfill the primitive needs of a narcissistic nature." I think I've proved my case. Schizoid? I don't think so.
I asked Dr. Bash about the diagnosis paranoid schizophrenia. I asked her if the diagnosis paranoid schizophrenia wouldn't encompass my social isolation. The Mad Monk said: "No. Schizophrenics are friendly, sociable people." That's news to me. David Reiss, M.D., writes: "Schizophrenia, it has been said, is the cancer of psychiatry. Often, patients with this affliction show signs of impaired social relationships and initiative in childhood. Then, often in late adolescence, they become diagnosed during a first psychotic episode which may frighten both them and their families. Finally, many patients go on to suffer from a mixture of intermittent psychotic experiences and prolonged periods of reduced motivation, difficulty in understanding social and occupational requirements and, as a consequence, they maintain a state of partial withdrawal." (Editorial -- "Families and Schizophrenia Redux." Psychiatry, vol. 58, page 1 (February 1995) (Stanley R. Palombo, M.D., consulting editor)).
Of course, who the hell is David Reiss? What does David Reiss know? The Mad Monk told me about a male patient she had years ago, when she worked at Bellevue Hospital, in New York. The patient had paranoid schizophrenia. She administered an IQ test. She was stunned when she calculated the result. His IQ was 185. 185, Brian. The guy was a genius. When Dr. Bash stated her astonishment to the patient, the man replied: "I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid!" Funny material. So from that experience, Dr. Bash thinks all schizophrenics are funny, sociable people.
Again, last week, I asked Dr. Bash to what she attributed my social problems. She said: "You lack social skills." I told her that in group therapy I was descried as outgoing and personable. She said incredulously, "You? -- Outgoing?" I told her that back in December 1994 I was interviewed by the U.S. Secret Service, and that the agent (Philip Leadroot, S.A.) said: "I don't understand why you're so socially isolated; you seem like a friendly guy." The Mad Monk's response: "You were afraid you were going to get arrested, so you made an effort to be friendly." Whacked. You either have a skill or you don't. You don't express skills you don't have simply because you're under duress. Did you ever hear the story about the imbecile who scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs? You know how he did it? His father wanted him to go to Harvard. And the kid was afraid that if he didn't get accepted, his father would kill him. That's Dr. Bash's reasoning.
Do I believe I lack social skills? Yes, I would say so -- in an Eisslerian sense, at least. I have the self-concept that I'm unlovable. So I approach people, if at all, very tentatively. I seem desperate for a kind of friendliness that I cannot achieve naturally and spontaneously. That's why I lack close acquaintances, I suppose. Yes. I am unable naturally and spontaneously to achieve friendliness with people. That's a social skill. But there is more than this.
I have such a fear of frustration; it's overwhelming at times. It's not just a common fear of rejection. It's more. Some observations that Dr. Shengold makes about the difficulties that "soul-murdered" people have in analysis seem to apply to my deep reservations about initiating social contact. I see the following quote as a wonderfully evocative and poignant description of my feelings about approaching people.
Shengold writes: "The emotional connecting necessary for insight [or, more generally, for embarking on social relations] is initially more than soul-murdered people can bear. They learned as children that to be emotionally open, to want something passionately, was the beginning of frustrating torment. The deeply ingrained bad expectations are felt toward parents and all 'grown-ups.' The distrust is based not only on the projection of 'bad' feelings (derived from the aggressive drives and the inevitable frustration of wishes), which give rise to intimations of losing control and a terror of being overwhelmed by feeling. Such fears beset every child in the course of development; they also lurk in our subsequent fantasy life (although their intensity varies with the individual). In addition to this, the distrust of parents and the entire affectively charged environment is based for soul-murder victims on experienced reality. They have been abused and neglected and have learned a lesson: if you cannot trust mother and father, whom can you trust? So a really meaningful alliance with the analyst [or a meaningful start to a friendship] takes a long time to develop [sometimes 15 years of close observation of one's local librarian is required!], although at first it may appear that one exists; these people are likely to behave in "as if" fashion, to possess a facade of relatedness that combines compliance to what is usually expected with a provocative defiance [manipulating the computer icons?] that has a gamelike quality for them. People around them must not matter too much." Shengold, L. "Soul Murder," at 312.
Months ago, Dr. Cooper, my old psychiatrist, said she would look into the ACT Program for me. That's a program for addicted people--alcoholics and dope heads. I'm not an alcoholic or a dope head, but the program provides home visits by a social worker. Dr. Cooper said the program would be good for me because it would provide me with more social contact than I currently get. But Dr. Cooper never called me.
So I told Dr. Bash that I suffer from a "Brian addiction." I'm addicted to you, buddy. "Don't I qualify for the ACT Program, Dr. Bash?" "No," she said, "that's for alcoholism. You don't have alcoholism." I said, "I have Brianism." She didn't see the humor in that.
I should have told her that I suffer from "Al Jolson Syndrome." "You made me love you, I didn't want to do it, I didn't want to do it." I don't think she'd get it.
I think she's totally fed up with my obsession with you. She seemed put-off last week. Or maybe she was just having a bad day.
Jeffrey Masson sees a deep connection between obsessiveness and addiction: "The lives of soul murder victims were pervaded with sadness; their rituals, their obsessive gestures of every kind, are an attempt to recapture the lost childhood they never had. It is not surprising to find that all addicts have suffered such loss. Psychoanalytic studies of addiction have enabled us to see 'addictive' features in many areas seemingly unrelated to pure drug or alcohol addiction. Compulsive sexuality can serve as an addiction, as can the practices of asceticism." So can letter writing, I suppose.
I told The Mad Monk that I feel like a love-sick 13-year-old girl who's obsessed with a boy who wants nothing to do with her. Dr. Bash said: "So what about a boy? That never happens to a boy?" "Not with me, it didn't," I said. (I lied; I actually have latent heterosexual feelings.) "What about boys?" inquired The Mad Monk. "Did you have those feelings for boys?" Right. Funny stuff.
Dr. Bash then ventured further into Dr. Bash territory. "You lack social skills. If you had social skills you could have had Brian for a friend. When you first got interested in being his friend -- if you had had social skills -- you would have known how to approach him appropriately. And he would have responded. But you lack social skills, so you can't make friends." What she conveniently blocked out was the fact that you have a policy, so I'm told, of not befriending library patrons -- regardless of social skill level. Dr. Bash was using what I call "The Lost Opportunity Model." She uses that frequently. "If you had taken medication when it was first recommended, you would have responded to the meds. But instead you waited three years. And when you finally took the medication that Dr. Taub had recommended, the medication didn't work." Variation: "If you had social skills, your initial social overture to Brian would have done the trick."
It's all part of the Dr. Bash credo: "I have no insight and I take no responsibility." The issue is, what is my problem at this moment, and how can we work on that problem. Forget about the lost opportunities. Early in my "treatment" Dr. Bash said: "If you had seen a psychiatrist when you were a child, you wouldn't have these problems now." Again, the lost opportunity. That's what they call "water under the bridge," isn't it?
The Mad Monk asked me what it is that I would like to experience emotionally with you. I said: "a sublime moment." She said, "What?" I repeated: "A sublime moment." She said nothing, which is unusual for her. She just shook her head, silently. Her look was WORSE than the look my father gave me when I told him I wanted to become a ventriloquist. That look on her face! It was as if she were thinking: "He really is crazy -- but without the humor or the social skills." What I had in mind was the Faustian moment, the transcendent "Augenblick." (The Chanin Brothers can translate).
Actually, my statement to Dr. Bash -- my desire to experience the Faustian "moment" -- can be seen to have psychological significance. At least perhaps Irvin Yalom, M.D. (and his colleagues in existentialist psychiatry) might see some connection between the desire to experience the transcendent "Augenblick" (The Moment) and a need to ward off "death anxiety."
What is the Faustian "Augenblick?" It is the all-encompassing Moment in which past, present and future is experienced simultaneously in a single pin-prick of time.
Peter Salm writes: "To experience, in a single instant, the succession of events that mark our existence in time is equivalent to eliminating time altogether; it means an existence in a continuous present tense. As temporal creatures, nervously feeding a shortening future into a lengthening past, we attribute to the gods a timeless mode of being and an [immortal] existence in total simultaneity." To experience The Moment is to erase the future (and necessarily death itself) and simultaneously to recapture one's lost youth from the past. "Give me my youth back!" Faust implores Mephistopheles.
Is it mere coincidence that my mad escapade with you began in the months preceding my fiftieth birthday? Maybe my need to experience The Moment coincides with my increasing concerns with my mortality. (And by the way Brian, I'm still waiting for my 50th-birthday tee shirt).
Dr. Bash neglected to ask me if I'd ever experienced such a moment. If she had, I would have said: "Yes. With my friend Craig the Embalmer (or maybe I should call him "Craig the Gravedigger" in this context). Sitting on a park bench. I loved sitting on a park bench, any park bench, with Craig and talking about nothing: "absolument rien," as Sylvain Boni would say. I never failed to experience those moments as 'sublime moments.'" That's what I crave, that's what I want to re-experience. My Faustian goal remains elusive. Maybe I should ask Earl Segal about getting involved with some land reclamation projects.
The bottom line is that Dr. Bash has no analytic skills whatsoever. If I say something a tad askew, such as, "I want to experience a sublime moment with Brian," she dismisses it as the ravings of a lunatic instead of inquiring into my meaning. What I need is some "50-minute Martinizing." My time with Israella is really "about nothing." But not in the technical, Seinfeldian sense.
Alas, I'm in an irrevocable funk. I experienced my frustration with you, and my banishment from the library, as the last straw, I think. The last straw in a life of frustrations. What happened at the library was insignificant in itself, but for me, based on my past history, it was "Too much, too much." As President Nixon would say: "It was one crisis too many."
I told Dr. Bash that I hadn't spoken with my sister in eight years. I told her that my sister had destroyed me, that she had gotten me fired from my job. "Whatever it was that my sister told Malcolm 'L'assman' (pardon my French) and Earl Segal got me terminated." I really believe that. I think Dr. Bash is unsure whether she is being made fun of, or whether mine are the productions of an imbecilic psychotic. I'll keep her guessing.
Be that as it may.
I had a dream the other night. This is really personal, man. Eyes only. I don't want you spreading this stuff around. The dream was slightly queer. What's interesting is that, despite my obsession with you, you were not in the dream. The dream was an emotionally-laden one for me.
I was a "house guest" on the CBS summer reality TV series, "Big Brother." The house guests were being rewarded with the opportunity to make a brief telephone call to a family member. All the house guests were gathered around a telephone in the living area. I was in a bedroom. I wasn't interested in talking to my family. (An instance of dream life imitating real life). I was just relaxing in bed, and watching my teammates in the other room. One of the male contestants, whose name was "Gary," entered my bedroom, jumped into bed with me, and started to wrestle playfully with me. It was completely nonsexual. I said jokingly: "Gary, people are going to talk." Gary said: "Let them talk." At that moment I thought: "I've found a friend in the house."
It was a sublime moment. A touch of "Rupert and Gerald Do Reality-TV," I suppose. Remember "Women in Love" by D.H. Lawrence?
Check you out next week, buddy. Give my regards to Julie. By the way, after 5 seasons of Big Brother, I'm seeing just how special His Holiness Hardy-Ames Hill was.
P.S. These letters to you are all I have. Schumann wrote before the final break: "I have discovered that there is no more powerful stimulus to imagination than tension and longing for something." It's Faustian, you know. "I stumble between enjoyment and desire. And in the throes of enjoyment, I crave more desire!" So wrote Goethe. Artists are never satisfied. But then, they wouldn't want to be. The Mad Monk doesn't understand that. With her it's always a question of - "This is what you should do if you want to be happy." But what if what it is you really want is to "crave happiness?"

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Love That Bob!

Hey, buddy. How was your Fourth of July? I think I reached new depths of misery this weekend last.
Brian, Brian, Brian. What are we going to do? I just see nothing going on for me, occupationally or socially. I've been out of work now for almost 13 years. Who would hire me in any type of job worth doing? Socially, I just had a bad breakup with my girlfriend. She claims I threatened her, and called the cops on me. Women!
It just seems that, at age 50, I'm at that point in life--and in a life situation--where most normal people would give serious thought to committing suicide. Fortunately, I'm not normal.
Dr. Bash popped the question last session. I knew the question was coming--if you'll pardon the pun. "Do you have sexual feelings for Brian?" "No," I said. "I don't have any feelings for Brian below the neck."
I've decided to come clean. Fess up. Yes, I've had one homosexual experience. It happened years ago, in Pittsburgh. I've never mentioned it before -- to anyone. We were both crazy kids at the time. His name was Bob. His father was a German immigrant who came to the States to pursue a career as a solo flugelhorn player. The old man never made a go at that (big surprise!), and settled for a career in dry goods. Bob said his mother wanted him to grow up to be the first Jewish President of the United States. Obviously, that never happened, at least so far. I think about Bob now and then. I wonder if he ever made anything out of himself, whether he ever did anything with his life.
We slept together. He would get up in the morning and rush off to work, scrabbling through piles of our mingled trousers and briefs, running his head under the sink, slamming the front door in farewell, and after he was gone I would spend the luxury of my extra hour by bathing in the claw-foot tub and in the strangeness of it all. We lived well. Bob cooked elaborate dinners; in the refrigerator there was always pasta in the colors of the Texas flag, a variety of weird wines, capers, kiwis, unheard-of fish with Hawaiian names, and stacks of asparagus, Bob's favorite food, in the rubber-banded bundles that he never failed to refer to as fagots. We sent our dirty clothes out to be cleaned and they came back as gifts, tied up in blue paper. And, as often as possible we went to bed. I did not consider myself to be gay; I did not consider myself, as a rule. But all day long, from the white instant when I opened my eyes in the morning until my last black second of awareness of Bob's fading breath against my shoulder, I was always nervous, full of energy, afraid. The city was new again, and newly dangerous, and I would walk its streets quickly, eyes averted from those of passersby, like a spy in the employ of lust and happiness, carrying the secret deep within me but always on the tip of my tongue.
In any event, the fling with Bob didn't last. I woke up one morning and found a note on my bed stand. "Freedman. You rubbed me the wrong way -- literally and figuratively. I'm taking a trip to Russia; will be backpacking through the Urals. Bob." I never saw him again.
Be that as it may.
I find it absolutely impossible to talk to The Mad Monk. First, she simply invalidates everything I say. Her standard responses include: "No, that's not true." "No, I don't think so." "You need to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather." "Do you speak Hebrew?" "Do you eat out?" "Do you play chess?" Yes, that was the latest addition to her repertoire of recommendations: "Do you play chess?" I rely on you, Brian, or references to you, as a mantra--as a defense against the pain inflicted on me by her inanity. I just keep saying: "I want to see Brian. I want to talk to Brian. Couldn't you talk to Brian?" It's a never-ending cycle. She: "Do you speak Hebrew?" I: "I just want to talk to Brian." She: "Do you eat out?" I: "I just want to talk to Brian." She: "Do you play chess?" I: "I just want to be friends with Brian." I think she's getting sick of me. Good! She should understand that so long as she interacts with me as if I have no valid opinions, no unconscious wishes, conflicts or prohibitions--she, in turn, will suffer the consequences. Frankly, I see no end to this stalemate. Dr. Bash is not smart enough to comprehend how her behavior elicits the responses that she gets from me.
I badly need the support and corroboration of people whose opinion I respect, and when I don't get it, it's a terrible strain for me. Sound familiar?
Last session, she said to me: "I see by your chart that one of your previous psychiatrists, Dr. Taub (she proceeded to spell his name, "T-A-U-B"), recommended that you take the anti-psychotic medication Zyprexa in the year 1998. And that you refused to take it." My response: "Well, I in fact took Zyprexa in the year 2001 and it didn't do anything for me." The Mad Monk replied: "Well, if you had taken the medication when it was first recommended, it would have worked." I said: "But I took the medication eventually." She said: "But you took it three years after it was first recommended. If you had followed your psychiatrist's recommendation initially, the drug would have worked." As the sisters say in the 'hood, "Oy veh!"
I pointed out to Dr. Bash that it's a recognized fact that anti-psychotic medication rarely is effective in cases of delusional disorder. Its effective in schizophrenia, but not delusional disorder. "No," she said, "that's not true. Anti-psychotic medication is effective with delusions; it doesn't matter if the delusions are symptomatic of schizophrenia or delusional disorder." She doesn't know what she's talking about. Even Dr. Barbot said to me a few months ago, "anti-psychotic medication is frequently ineffective in delusional disorder."
In any event, the fact is I've taken three different anti-psychotic medications (in addition to lithium for my non-existent bi-polar disorder). None of the meds worked. So Dr. Bash's comment is somewhat moot. Even assuming anti-psychotic meds can be effective in delusional disorder, the fact is the three meds I've tried haven't been effective. And get this. Dr. Bash said: "So what medications did you take?" I said, "Zyprexa, Abilify, and Risperdal." Her response: "Oh, I don't think Abilify is the right medication for you." Like she knows. Where did she get her medical degree?
As I've pointed out to countless psychiatrists, I have very severe personality problems independent of what would be termed psychotic symptoms. Even if you removed the psychotic symptoms, I'd still be left with a debilitating (non-psychotic) personality disorder. Keep in mind, I've been seeing psychiatrists for 27 years now. It was only in 1992 that anti-psychotic medication was recommended for me. The fact is I've had a life-long history of social isolation that pre-dates the year 1992. I've had serious, debilitating personality problems before Bob Strauss started to spy on me in the fall of 1988!
At one point Dr. Bash asked me what it is that I'd like to do with you, Brian, if we were to get together. I said: "You know, I've thought about that. There's a park bench in front of the library. I'd be happy just to sit on the park bench with Brian and talk--shoot the breeze. Maybe for a half-hour or so, once in a while. We could just talk and eat lunch. Talk and have a sandwich or something. That would make me happy." And, of course, Dr. Bash proceeded to invalidate that with an absurd tangential response. "Well," she said, "that's not a friendship. That's something you do with an acquaintance. Do you know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance? Do you have a dictionary at home. Look up the word "friend" and look up the word "acquaintance." You need to that." ("You need to do that"--you just knew she would get that phrase in somehow, somewhere). "A friend is someone you do things with, go places with, share experiences with. An acquaintance is someone you just chat with. You're confusing an acquaintance with a friend." Does it matter? She missed the point. I feel comfortable with someone, namely you, buddy. I'd be happy just to talk to you, precisely because I feel a bond, a connection with you.
Based on what I said about you, she proceeded to offer her recommendation: "Well, if you're happy just to chat with an acquaintance, why don't you just go to a park and strike up a conversation with a stranger?" Yea. Right. Is that really what I'm talking about?
I can just imagine a conversation between Dr. Bash and Nancy Reagan:
NANCY REAGAN: I miss Ronnie so much, Doctor Bash. I feel I was robbed of my last ten years with him. I wish I could have some time with him. Just an hour. Just sit on a park bench and talk to him for an hour, the way he was before his illness. That would bring some closure to our relationship.
THE MAD MONK: Well, Mrs. Reagan, if that's all you're looking for, why don't you go to a park. Are there any parks in your neighborhood? Just go to a park and -- you'll see I'm right -- there are a lot of old men sitting on park benches who you could talk to. It's not hard to find old men sitting on park benches who'd be willing to chat with you for an hour. Really, Mrs. Reagan, you're making this more difficult for yourself than it needs to be.
Well, maybe that's what I need to do. Get myself a pair of double-knit slacks, some white shoes and find some old geezer on a park bench to chat with. And my problems will be solved!
With Dr. Bash, there's just no recognition of any internal psychological functioning: no recognition of internally-generated psychic pain. In her way of thinking, everything comes down to finding some soothing object in the outside world. It's all a matter of speaking Hebrew, finding a park bench, playing chess, or eating out.
Once again--as I've said countless times in the past--if it's so easy to make friends and if conventional social adjustment is the ultimate source of happiness, why are there so many lonely and miserable people in the world? Or even better: why are there so many miserable drug addicts who shoot up with their conventional friends? If dope-heads have friends, why do they need drugs to make them happy? Even more: why are there people who by any reasonable measure have enviable lives, but end up committing suicide--people like Vince Foster or Edgar Rosenberg (Joan Rivers' late husband). I guess these people never mastered the Hebrew language, the font -- or mikvah, as Fred Cohen would say -- of all joy!
I was struck by something I read about Suze Orman. You know her? The money guru? She appears on public television stations from time to time, giving advise on managing money and investing. She's Jewish. She said that when she was young, she moved to Israel to find spiritual fulfillment. One day she was riding on a bus in Israel, and she struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to her. She explained her whole story: how she grew up in the States and moved to Israel to find spirituality. Her companion mocked her. "You're looking for spirituality? So you moved to Israel? You won't find spirituality here or anywhere else. Spirituality comes from yourself. From inside yourself. It doesn't come from outside. Spirituality comes from inside. You don't need to live in Israel to find spirituality." Of course, if Suze Orman had been sitting next to Dr. Bash, she'd probably still be looking for spirituality in Israel. "Do you have a synagogue in your neighborhood?" "You need to master Hebrew. Right now your Hebrew needs improvement. That's your problem, Miss Orman."
By the way, Brian, did you know that there are no lonely, unhappy people in Israel? It's the only country in the world where nobody's unhappy. You know why? Everybody speaks Hebrew! That's why Dr. Bash moved to the U.S. to practice psychology. There's just no client pool in Israel. So she learned English (the perfect language to be miserable in), got a psychology degree at N.Y.U., and the rest, as they say, is hysteria. "People, people who speak Hebrew, are the luckiest people in the world!"
I just don't know what to do. I gotta get out of this relationship. I keep thinking about Dr. Caesar, the psychoanalyst in my building. You know, I really think one dollar per session's not a bad deal for him--at least that's what I thought before I learned that he drives a Porsche and subscribes to "The Wall Street Journal." My current thinking is that any psychoanalyst who drives a Porsche and reads "The Journal" everyday is not going to be too keen on a patient who pays one dollar per session.
So where does that leave me? Maybe Dr. Akman would take me on. Jeffrey Akman. I think I told you about him before. He's the head of psychiatry at GW. He's homosexual. He's in a long-term relationship with another guy. Maybe he'd find my case interesting. Maybe he'd see some research interest in a gender-confused, obsessive letter writer who's been looking for love in all the wrong libraries. Jeff Akman is a cool guy. He specializes in gay male patients. His patients all love him--literally, I suppose.
I don't know. As far as I can see, I'm ready to go to work in therapy. Do some hard, in-depth therapeutic work -- without the Hebrew, the chess, the park benches, the synagogues (Reform or Conservative) or the "all you can eat" breakfasts at Denny's. It seems to me that Dr. Bash can't meet my needs. She just perpetuates my role as the "professional patient." That specific phrase she used: "I see by your chart . . . " That's so typical of the mental outlook of therapists who perpetuate the professional patient syndrome.
It reminds me so much of what Erik Erikson wrote about the professional patient: "Hospitalized patients, having been committed, are often ready to commit themselves. They expect 'to go to work,' both on themselves and on whatever task they may be asked to do. But too often they are met by a laborious process of diagnosis and initiation which emphasizes the absolute distance of patienthood from active life. Thus literally 'insult is added to injury' in the uprooted one, already considered expendable or abnormal by his previous group of affiliation, who finds himself categorized and judged by those who were expected to show him the way through a meaningful moratorium. Many a man acquires the irreversible identity of being a lifelong patient and client not on the basis of what he 'is,' but on the basis of what is first done about him [as described in his medical records]. "Insight and Responsibility" at 97. Incidentally, Dr. Bash's motto is: "I have no insight and I take no responsibility."
Everything The Mad Monk recommends doesn't pan out. So how can I take her seriously? When I first saw her, she said I was employable. She would harp on that endlessly. "You can work. I don't understand why you don't work. It's sinful in the Jewish religion for a person not to work." Apparently, she subsequently got her marching orders. "Don't tell him he's employable." She no longer talks about my getting a job.
You should ask Brian if he would go to lunch with you. -- Yea. Right.
You should do group therapy. -- And that turned out to be a dream come true, didn't it?
When I asked Dr. Bash last week why I had problems in group, her answer was "you have no social skills." In fact, nobody in group even alluded to my lacking social skills. They said they found me personable, charismatic and outgoing. The Mad Monk is giving me symptoms I don't even have; that's great for my self-esteem!
Months ago, Dr. Bash said I was fabricating evidence of delusions. She said I really didn't believe that the Pope and The Prime Minister of Israel were involved in my case. Now, she's dropped that idea, and chastises me for not taking anti-psychotic medication to rid me of my ideas about the Pope and the Prime Minister!
She asked me to tell her why I'm obsessed with you, buddy. I said: "Would you accept a written explanation?" "Sure," said the Mad Monk. The following week I told her I'd written a ten-page letter about you, Brian. "Ten pages!" she said. "That's awfully long. You just keep repeating the same things over and over again in your letters. And you think people are interested in reading what you write? Nobody's interested in reading the same thing over and over."
I've had it. Really, Brian. Dr. Bash is the last straw in a lifetime of disappointments. Lock me up for saying this, but "Somebody's going to pay for my pain."
Check you out later, my Faustian friend. Write to you again on the 12th, buddy.