A Robot Speaks to Ralph Waldo Emerson (Part IV)

Matt Maday

While I’m away at college studying psychology, my family counselor dies. I keep my last appointment with him: his funeral. I hate how close I was to feeling better; how much I relied on him, how much I emulated him, how much I thought, one day, we would be colleagues: true equals. I take myself off the last of the meds, the SSRI’s, without telling my psychiatrist: not exactly the commonsense approach, but I’m done with the way their drugs make me feel. I aspire to be a mad genius who treats his own madness using a loose collection of advice from counselors, independent research, brainstorming, and a post-secondary education in psychology. I don’t refill my prescription when it runs out. I think about whether I’ll be able to call myself a “psychiatric survivor,” but I don’t have a vendetta against the psychiatric industry. Because medication helped me make it through a time when I was worried I wouldn’t survive OCD, I owe my psychiatrist at least one last visit. I also owe the visit to myself and those around me to ensure my medication transition goes smoothly.

Instead of making one last visit, I clear my calendar of psychiatric appointments. I drop out of counseling. I obsess over my own diagnosis, spending extracurricular time reading the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV-Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). The DSM-IV-TR contains criteria for diagnoses officially recognized by the American Psychological Association, but gives me little in the way of proposed causes for disorders. The diagnostic criteria form a smug blanket of inductive reasoning. The complex reasons (i.e. psychological causes) for disorders are speculative apparitions that hide behind a diagnostic veneer composed of observable behavior and expressed thoughts: a manifest evidentiary curtain hiding the psychological event. The psychological event is a group of actors backstage asking the stage manager not what their lines are, but why their lines are written the way they are. And also, how many characters do I play in this one? Are we in the one called Dissociative Identity or Dual Diagnosis? How much can one character trait affect your identity?

One summer, I peruse Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance,” an essay I’m familiar with but find myself rereading every now and then. This time, I halt when I read the line “imitation is suicide.” The thoughts and behaviors of OCD are attempts at establishing order and conformity, at imitating an almost mechanistic ideal, but they become fractured, anxious imitations of humanity that appear as helplessly tangled, human, and vulnerable paths to altruistic suicide in the face of impossible individualism. It would be nice to pick up a loose collection of precut electronic parts and meld them into my organic-electronic brain, “fix” myself in an obsessive fantasy about cyborgs, but really, I know my fellow humans aren’t robots, and that’s what scares me.

I have to ask myself, “Should I stay caught in my moments of deepest disjuncture, living as an assortment of arbitrarily categorized variables disconnected from a community I can’t relate to or predict, but at the same time I’m locked into my wildly individualistic identity?”

Sometimes I’d rather take conformity because it’s cleaner than individualism.

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