Who’s Safe With a Gun? Don’t Ask a Shrink

The Daily Beast, May 2013 Background Checks


Forget any guidance from psychiatry’s bible, the DSM-5, when it comes to background checks for gun buyers, writes the psychotherapist author of The Book of Woe. (Gary Greenburg)

Many years ago, a man I was seeing in therapy decided he wanted to take up a new hobby: high explosives. The state he lived in licensed purchasers of dynamite and other incendiaries only after a background check. He wanted to know: Would I write a letter declaring him fit to blow up stuff in his backyard for fun?

Aside from the fact that this was how he wanted to pass the weekend, I didn’t have any reason to think otherwise, so I gave him the note. He got the license. A few years after he stopped seeing me, I had occasion to visit him at his office. He had all his digits and limbs and, to my knowledge, had committed no antisocial acts with his legally obtained explosives. My note attesting to his mental health was framed on his wall.

I’ve been thinking about this guy recently, ever since our politicians’ imaginations have fastened upon background checks as the solution to our gun problems. I’ve also been thinking about a couple of other patients. One of them, a middle-aged professional, a ramrod-straight retired Marine, father of a little girl, faithful husband, the kind of man who buys a special lockbox just for transporting his weapon between home and gun club. The other: a 27-year-old hothead, an absentee father who never met a drug or a woman he didn’t like. His idea of fun was riding his motorcycle between lanes on the interstate at 100 mph, and he was the proud owner of (by his count) 37 guns. In the three years prior to arriving at my office, he’d been fired from four jobs, arrested for six or seven driving offenses and a few drug charges, and helped to bury three of his friends who met untimely and violent ends.

No one asked me which of these two men I’d rather was a gun owner, let alone which one ought to have a firearms license. But I know what my answer would have been. Or I would have known until about a year ago, when the ex-Marine, inexplicably and without warning (although he’d just been put on an antidepressant as part of a treatment for chronic pain), sat at the base of the tree holding his favorite deer perch and shot himself in the mouth. Meantime, the hothead has cooled down. He’s been with the same woman for two years and the same job for one. He sees his son faithfully twice a week. He’s sold his motorcycle and more than half of his guns, and become obsessed with bodybuilding and responsibility. The transformation is not complete—he’s still dead certain the government wants to come to his house and confiscate what’s left of his arsenal, for instance—and I can’t take too much credit for it. He’s pursuing the pleasures of self-control with the same manic intensity as he once chased adrenaline. But I’m not all that worried about his guns anymore, and I’m really glad no one asked me if he should have them.

Because one thing they don’t teach you in therapy school: how to tell the future. Clinicians can assemble a story out of the ashes of a person’s life; we might even be able to spot what we think are the seeds of catastrophe, but we generally do that best in retrospect. And that’s why, if one of us insists he or she knows for sure what’s coming next, you should find another therapist. It’s also why, to the extent that background checks involve people like me, it wouldn’t do much more than reassure politicians that they are doing something about gun violence without simultaneously threatening their National Rifle Association ratings.

But wait a minute, you may be saying. Don’t mental-health workers have a whole huge book of diagnoses to turn to that can help you assess a person’s fitness to own a gun? No, we don’t. We have the book, of course, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is about to come out in its fifth edition. But while some of those disorders seem incompatible with responsible gun ownership, even a diagnosis of a severe mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder isn’t a good predictor of who is going to become violent. Indeed, only about 4 percent of violent crimes are committed by mentally ill people. We are not going to diagnose our way to safety.

There’s a reason for this. A diagnosis of a mental disorder is only a description of a person’s troubles. A neurologist presented with a patient suffering loss of coordination and muscle weakness can run tests and diagnose amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or a brain tumor. They can explain the symptoms and predict with some accuracy what will happen as the disease takes its expected course. The 200 or so diagnoses in the DSM, on the other hand, explain little and predict less. Until the book contains a diagnosis called Mass Slaughter Disorder, whose criteria would include having committed mass slaughter, it’s not going to offer much guidance on the subject, and, obviously, what guidance it provides is going to come too late.

With the mentally disordered, as with all of us (and let’s remember that in any given year, something like 30 percent of us will meet criteria for a mental disorder, and 11 percent of us are on antidepressants right now), there is no telling what will happen next. No matter how many diagnoses are in the DSM, and no matter how astutely they are used, they will not tell us in whose hands guns are safe. The psyche is more unfathomable, and evil more wily, than any doctor or any book.





The Road to My Father’s Death / RAW DAYS


Freedom is never free.

It’s more than a road that I follow to death’s door. Ahead lies night a continent across – a corridor of loneliness, of absence, and of terror that will return me to my father’s presence. How shall I conquer my own Dark Continent to be at his side, a frightened traveler who confronts an impossible journey, one that is tangled by the difficulties that complicate a personal and fond farewell?

Someone lend me an undivided heart to guide my actions, so that I may show those who attend him that his daughter has not turned out too badly. Let the darkness ahead yield its depth and fold a pocket in which to conceal a breaking heart. Then let my grief be sealed by time, as if there is no mystery to our departures.

My world was injured by driving east to Rawlins, Laramie, and the familiar streets of Cheyenne, where common sense asked me to stay the night, but ahead lay a spiral galaxy that turned toward my father’s death, and I must ride the circumference of that terrible disk in some way.

The truck sped beyond the border of Wyoming and into the Pine Bluffs of Nebraska, where we stopped at the first rest area. The dogs dragged me into the petrified blackness that was transparent to their senses, tugging me along the ghost trails of summer visitors, the dead grass sending aloft stale messages of happy journeys; family trips. The cold wind briefly chilled my fears of what lay within the night of the dark road, and we drove on.

One hundred miles farther we left the highway for the lights of a prairie town; its main street was as efficient as a rifle barrel and lined with cafes and comfortable motels where I might close my eyes to the nerve-wracking night, perhaps to awaken to the comfort of a blue and friendly morning, but I fed my fast food dinner to the dogs while pumping gas at a brightly-lit service station where young Friday-nighters were fueling their vehicles for fun. The black cold emptiness of the prairie was their arena: I was a stranger who counted the distance to my father’s death in gallons of gasoline.

By winter’s clock the terrible darkness was only a summer’s evening, but by my father’s way of thinking, rest was forbidden when so many miles could yet be taken up as if the truck were hauling in a rope that ended at his door. Suddenly, my head floated away over my right shoulder, tethered to the rest of me by the slightest will. Familiar furies escaped from the long-locked suitcase of former journeys and fear seeped in confusing colors between the cracks in my growing disarray. There it was – overwhelming panic and I knew that the road had closed for me as surely as if the highway had been ripped up by its roots.

Familiar Cheyenne was an easy two hours behind us, but it was a distance that seemed unreachable without the sight of the smooth prairie to channel my senses, which had become ungovernable in the claustrophobic night. At that moment I wanted to drive the entire distance home, passing Cheyenne, Laramie, and Rawlins: a great distance with nothing but the cold dark and my anxiety to fill the space between sparse towns strung out along the interstate.

In night-abandoned Cheyenne I found a room with the indecent charm of an interrogation cell. A television set that hung from the ceiling by chains buzzed incessantly. A heater was stuck on cold, rattle, and blow. The dogs had to be dragged through the door, which was a threshold of terror for them also. After long minutes of hysteria, they crowded around me on the frigid bed, and I hung onto them through the night, paralyzed by my own stunning fear of the black road to my father’s death that waited outside.

In the early, early brightness, we fled. A minute’s delay might have broken my glassy hold on the steering wheel. Westward we fled, into the shining mountain plains of Wyoming, into a lens of the whitest fog that had engulfed the town of Laramie. The truck burrowed through that heavenly cloud; a brief journey through peace, but the phone call to my father’s death waited at home and the disgrace of my flight caused my heart to beat wretchedly.

Home: a slow and quiet Saturday afternoon. I ached to be invisible to my neighbors. I wanted to drive into the country where failure has no meaning, but I parked behind the house – a place of poor countenance – a yard of packed mud that somehow gives life to an old broken cottonwood. Why, out of all the miles of western brush and rock is this place home, when any scrap of earth could do as well?

It came to one moment on that dark road to my father’s death, when in panic I traveled the wrong way: not east, from Nebraska to Iowa and Illinois, but back to Wyoming, across the mystical, psychological, soul-bounding border of a hidden corner, to renew my exile in a waste of yellow rock and twisted board houses. None of this was new: I had come west, the wrong way from a daughter’s duty, many years before.

Knowledge folded over me as gentle truth. (Yes, the universe is gentle, eventually.) I hid in the house, hating winter’s early dark. The scene outdoors rippled with change as sunlight worked its way through empty snow clouds. The asphalt street glistened briefly. An old shoe that the dogs have worried to death, and an elk rack propped upright in a barren flowerbed, ought to have comforted me, but it was time to call my father.

His voice sounded oddly high-pitched and raspy, as if a little Egyptian mummy had taken his place. He began by recalling the age at which his father had succumbed, which was sixty-nine. At this far end of the lesson, his mind had returned to counting age in the way of a child and he noted that he had turned eighty-three and a half on Halloween. I wanted to say that eighty-four would come, but couldn’t. Instead I recounted my strange trip; the tide of panic, the terror that I might complete my own journey of death, which had begun five years before. He agreed, but without evident emotion, that I had done well to turn back. Perhaps he had come to expect disappointment from me, but he said that he was glad that I was home and safe and not playing again with chance on that dark road. It was unthinkable to turn around in the night, away from my father’s death, but I had.

Some quiet devil within wanted to know why he didn’t beg me to come home, to share his last dark night, as a daughter should, but he transferred the phone to my brother, who barely disguised his relief at my failure to appear, letting me know how unimportant to him that I had become. Something like a gravity wave passed through my pain, making concrete the fact that my behavior had often been irresponsible. Not in advance, but in retreat, lay progress.

Last night my father was moved into a nursing wing of the hospital. He described the room as being empty except for a hospital bed and a television set, which he complained was too loud.

“I don’t know where your brother is today,” he said. “He’s all upset again.”

“Over money.” I said. My parents had always funded him: I knew that there would be a wretched mess over that later.

“Yes,” he said.

We talked about the coming week, about his treatment schedule and when he might go home. The ability to walk unaided has become an important chimera, but he’s grateful for not being in pain, radiation treatments having knocked back a tumor that encroached on his spine. His raspy voice unsettled me – what is the cause? But the cause is that he is very ill.

His beard has grown too long to shave it by himself, he said. A nurse popped in just then to give him a wash up, which cut our visit short. An image lingered after I hung up the phone, of a cheerful young woman carrying a basin of water as if entering a temple. How has it come to pass that a stranger is more intimate with my father than I have been? Shouldn’t the Good Daughter serve at his bedside, my children gathered like birds in my skirts, to show him, and the world, that life goes on? But I have created no such family, no best accomplishment. Neither has my brother. Crazy ends here.

At the end our relationship was no little different than it had been during the years that we had traded the rinds of our minds over telephones scattered around the West, linked to the one in his kitchen, exchanging factoids about automobile maintenance, home repair, and amazing artifacts from the sciences, so I made a point of thanking him for moving the family in the 1950s to a suburb of Chicago, where my brother and I had access to good schools.

“Growing up where we did provided a foundation for my life that wasn’t only practical, but…”

“Spiritual,” he rasped.

As far as I could remember, my father had not uttered this word ever, but it was apt, coming from the man who had taught me that there is something outside the human ego that must be acknowledged as preceding us and outlasting us. A shared reverence for nature’s depths had helped two damaged people fumble toward love. My mother and brother were alien beings who existed outside reason and were therefore, dangerous.

Compelled by an obsession to make something useful out of everything, I had studied the two as if they were rogue planets, convinced that one more observation might bring them into the realm of order, but nothing is ever solved. People just pass away.


I had no idea I was Asperger at the time I wrote this, but today I see AS as the primary ground of my “differentness”. I believe that many Asberger symptoms are the result of an attempt by the brain to “adjust” to stress created by my dysfunctional family and to The Social Pyramid, an alien environment that is toxic to “people like me.”

My brother was schizophrenic, in denial, refused treatment, and lived with our parents, who enabled his paranoia and protected him from consequences of his disease. He attacked me viciously whenever I turned up, like a rabid fox protecting a hallucination. My parents never intervened, and let him abuse me, as well as adding dashes of abuse of their own, so I stayed away for years at a time.

I didn’t piece together until much later that my father was an “obvious” Asperger – and that I was also, which eventually led to a diagnosis. This revelation explained so much about my childhood that was inexplicable, tellingly, that I understood intuitively that my father’s “odd behavior” was familiar, and yet, it wasn’t. I was aware that my behavior was “out of sync” and constantly pursued the subject; my family didn’t seem to have a scrap of insight. This bizarre situation became a lifelong laboratory that helped to develop my thinking skills.

Despite being bipolar and Asperger, I was the healthy one in the family: the observer, the analyzer, the recorder and decoder, the documentarian. Survivor’s guilt accompanied my daring escape.




At my father’s house in Illinois / RAW DAYS


At My Father’s House in Illinois

I am accustomed to writing about landscape, but at present the internal picture takes precedence. The outer view encompasses a gray-skied, bare-treed, cold and windy Midwestern midwinter day. Longing overwhelms my inner state and I am thankful that the land is bleak. A blue sky over red cliffs, shadowed hills, or a dark, abrupt mountain side might provoke an unbearable contrast to the lock that despair has placed on my heart.

A fir tree composed of a gently curving trunk, its branches resembling dogs’ tails, stands in front of my truck. I start the engine periodically and slide the heater lever far to the right to counter cold air that sinks through the windows. My brother paces outside, indifferent to the cold. He is not lazy per se, but for some reason he is not productive either, expending energy on the complications that can be made to adhere to any project, and in the process, derailing his efforts into lost canyons. I confess that this compulsion baffles me. A monthly flea market located west of Chicago attracts thousands of buyers, come rain, snow, or as we have joked, nuclear attack, but my brother will not sell there.  He mentioned a dealer with whom he had a disagreement of some sort, hinting that the man had stalked him afterward: that is, he showed up at the same place once or twice. This was years ago, but he will not sell at that market.

Today we have dragged a trailer load of goods to the parking lot of an antiques store, the same store my brother refused to venture into last week. He sent me instead, carrying a box of things to sell. The owner was not in. I waited for an hour, passing the time by dusting egg cups and figurines, and straightening doilies.

My brother urged me to repeat the effort some days later, but I declined. Surprisingly, and to his profit, he went himself, but last night he refused to attend an auction that this same store owner frequents.

I look through the windshield at the gray Illinois sky to where my brother leans against the flank of my truck. Rotund and nearly fifty, with a gray knit cap squashed over his forehead, his greasy black hair straggling from beneath it, he wears a surplus parka with a rip in the sleeve and many stains on the front. He tilts his face toward the dark snow-spitting sky, and I notice that his eyeglasses are dirty, too. He smiles at me and I smile at him. Two people could not be more unalike, but nevertheless, we are family.

Winter’s box besets my father’s house. Barricaded by black trees, it is impossible for me to know what transpires in the larger world. A storm cloaked northern Illinois with ice during the night, and a thick skin mimics the shape of my truck. A red concrete goose, a lost daughter of Juno’s flock, is stationed at the entry to the house; she acquires a mantle of white wood ash that drifts above the sidewalk. The source is a trowel held in my father’s hand.

Last night my brother scrubbed the kitchen floor and I swept the porch. My father knows that we’ll track the mess inside, and yet he shakes the ashes onto the walk like some medicine man describing a chant.

A patch of blue sky can be seen for the first time in days, just above the tangled black oaks growing at the edge of the lot. A small forest begins there, dense and unlovely, like lines of type overprinted by a printer that is stuck. When I was nine years old my father ditched his mother and sister as if they were nothing. The shock of this event caused me to flee to the perimeter of the Garden, but his harsh judgment of the women followed me there, worn into my thoughts like hollows in the rocks beneath a waterfall. My father taught me that contrary to Christian conceit, it is not a supernatural Father that picks and chooses who among us shall suffer, but our earthly one.

Spring ought to have made gains, but the days remain gray and ice-sheathed. Without notice, something sharp and cautionary breaks through. Impulses one could call manic threaten the compliant and silent demeanor I have cultivated these many weeks. Happy hysteria is feared and yet longed for; the green brightness within has become something to withhold – a peculiar, protective, irrational impulse in someone who badly needs a lift.

Tiles fall away from a tub surround that is black in places with mold. Chunks of plaster tumble into the tub. I shower anyway, feeling a shadow of guilt by doing this healthy and normal thing. According to my father and brother, my insistence on bathing is ruining the tub enclosure; the extra and unneeded water will hasten the rot. The two calculate that by not bathing they can delay making repairs indefinitely. I recall seeing my brother with damp hair on two occasions; my father never, but he hasn’t much hair.

My father cuts deadfall with a chainsaw this morning. The branches are about three inches in diameter. He cuts enough to fill the bottom of an old wheelbarrow, and then rolls it up the lawn to the screened porch, which is sealed by plastic sheets that remain in summer. Unavailable as a bug-free haven, the space is reserved for makeshift stacks of scrap wood, which he loads into the fireplace day and night, winter and summer, like bodies into a crematorium. It is my observation that neither the heat gained, nor the life of the flames, propel what he calls recycling.

Broken pallets and dismembered furniture, roof shingles and plastic are burned as a sacrifice to the darker purpose of being perverse for perversity’s sake: he punishes the air we breath in order to punish us. The abundant deadfall is the result of my father’s indifference to the health of the trees on his lot, which are not trimmed, shaped, sprayed, or removed when dead. Infested branches plummet audibly to the ground. Several metal rods dot the yard, each with a rusted can balanced on top, marking where volunteer trees grew long ago from the seeds of a rotted hickory. My father marked them in this way in order to avoid mowing them down. He may have done so anyway: regardless, they died. I offered to remove the rods and cans that remain, but was forbidden to do so.

We never mention my mother, but I thought of her tonight as I plucked giant yellow tulips from the yard in front of my father’s house. The tulips grow in the lawn along a line that marks a relict garden, which is why I thought of my mother. It was only to remark how she would have liked to see the flowers, but as they were before she died, when the lawn was mowed, the beds were readied for planting, and weeds were kept at bay. A section of sidewalk has subsided so that a fault scarp, as well as a pair of overturned urns, must be negotiated on the way to the door. Next to the stoop, a crater of unknown origin is being colonized by bright cones of convallaria that erupt through ferns that lie brown and prostrate as if blown down by an explosion. We never mention my mother, as if there had always been just the three of us.

My brother and I searched the yard for scrap materials to build flower boxes – anything to focus my attention. Our contact over the last three months has been like that of wild animals forced to drink from the same small water hole. At one point I looked at him and wondered, What’s wrong with clean clothes, a hair cut, and polished eyeglasses? Just then a spasmodic cough overcame him: I turned to face a giant pear tree dressed in thousands of fragrant white blossoms. Where did this apparition of life, this white tower of profuse flowers come from in such a place?

My brother halted every few feet on his way to the house to bend over and cough. Whatever is wrong with him, it is none of my business, although if he were an acquaintance or a stranger, I would ask. His health is yet another part of the family’s world from which I am excluded, a world where nothing is open to discussion.

The drive home from town lends a reprieve when the highway crosses a valley edged by low glacial ridges. The view ahead clears and the sight of a narrow asphalt thread snaking eastward toward my father’s house reminds me of roads that cross western plains. The rolling gray road lets me know that I belong to the universe, not to my family nor to anyone else.

My existence tears and flutters like tissue, and yet I survive. Last night I checked inside, looked into the goo that resides at the bottom of the well. The stuff began to rise like a gas bubble in heavy oil and strange things appeared as it broke the surface; bouquets of sea creatures appeared black and metallic, and yet glinted with color. A nuclear wind reduced me to a crouching corpse transformed into a lump of ash. I breathed a short gasping breath. Someone spoke and I was encouraged: my father entered the room where I cowered in bed.

“I’m in bad shape,” I told him, a confession of weakness that pegged me as the perfect audience for a monologue about what a clever lad he had been. The man possesses a remarkable memory for data such as the height of the fence posts at his childhood home, or the dimensions of a boat that he constructed as a boy, but he can’t recall that I’m staying at his house because I’m quite ill. Despair overcame me as he droned on, but the ordeal helped to pass the time.

Days slide underfoot, passed from front to back like buckets of debris in a rescue brigade; my days are wasted in the knowledge of the Gothic cathedral and its chain of souls, the apex of daring among men and women who imagined heaven as an experience. Love comes to me in post cards of traveling stones and earthbound sagebrush, of grassy islands in the dust, of seed wands that nod beneath boiling clouds.

On the morning that I didn’t leave my father’s house for the 5th, 6th, or  7th time, I can’t remember which, the air was cold and the sun was shining. The rumble of a prop plane carried into my escape pod, a travel trailer parked in front of a shed nearer to the road than to the house. The dogs lay with me on top of an electric blanket, unaware of the journey that they would miss that day. I was sick with confusion, cigarettes, and self-hatred and I wanted to lie in bed until I died. I lit another cigarette and tried to imagine that the three of us were parked along a clear stream a thousand miles west. Soon I must go up to the house: hunger and humiliation called. I closed my eyes and sought relief in the warm blanket, but the airplane circled and my stomach dipped and dived with it.

“You are a coward,” my throbbing head observed. Two days earlier I had informed my father and brother that I must leave: this was true. My confidence slipped as I spoke, but having declared that I was leaving, I had to. My father reacted as if I were planning a vacation; he brought a dusty bundle of fishing rods up from the basement. He looked as if he would cry. I felt dismal, and worse, I felt my strength and resolve dissolve.

I didn’t have the courage to leave this morning, but went up to the house and drank three cups of coffee, saying things like, “I hate myself,” which I did.

My father said to me what he used to say when my mother was ‘blubbering’ over something: “Quit getting all worked up.” He still doesn’t know that lamentation is the result of distress, not its cause.

“It’s good that I’m crying – I haven’t cried for ten terrible months,” I said.

Signs of life were brief, so it was out to the trailer and back to bed, the aluminum hull a serving as a second skull that protected me from whatever would happen next. The sun went down and I walked back to my father’s house like a shipwreck unwilling to let go of her leaky raft despite having washed up on a beach.

The day that I left my father’s house, my destination was a motel a mere eight miles away, a small affair attached to a dairy farm. A German shepherd met me inside the office, so I was encouraged that my dogs might be welcome.

I returned to my father’s house to tell him what I’d done. He may have been upset; it was hard to tell. He was likely thinking that it was a fool thing to do when I already had a roof over my head. The empty motel called to my confused grasp on the idea of salvation, but I spent one more night at my father’s house, gathering some clothing and a box of food.

In the afternoon I left for the motel, but the room seemed ugly and smelled like vomit. Feeling silly, I asked the manager to move. The new room proved to be warmer in color, the carpet was newer, and the room didn’t smell, but I panicked around dinner time  and felt ridiculous.

The next morning I didn’t feel well, but this had been going on for months, so I did what I’d done every morning: brushed my teeth, showered, dried my hair and dressed, then pulled on rubber boots. It had snowed overnight and a drift blocked my truck. Two orange shovels leaned on the wall by the office door, but no one was about. There was nothing to do but dig in. Eventually the owner joined me.

“That shovel you’ve got doesn’t work too well,” he said. We kept digging until the truck was free.

I drove to a coffee shop and surprised myself by eating a plate of eggs, hash browns, and toast, with three cups of coffee. Encouraged, I drove to my father’s house where I discovered that whoever had plowed the driveway had also piled the snow in front of my trailer.

The dogs burst into the yard when I opened the truck door, running circles around the big oak trees and plowing trails through the snow with their noses. No one was at home: the house felt less awful now that I no longer lived there, but I crept around like a thief collecting shampoo and a scarf, my electric teakettle and mouthwash.

Back at the motel I felt all right, perhaps relaxed. That night I lay sleepless as the curious situation played on my mind: eight miles from my father’s house and homeless. What did that mean? Was I capable of hooking up the trailer and driving away? If so, where would I go and what would I do when I got there? Could I pull off my own rescue without ambition or desire?

On the second morning after I left my father’s house, I began removing the snow that blocked my trailer. The plow had scraped leaves and gravel into the pile, and the resulting melange was difficult to dissect. My father came out to see what I was up to: an irritable comment escaped my lips.

On the third day after I left my father’s house, I didn’t go there.

On the fourth day it was time to finish off the snow that barricaded my trailer, since more bad weather was predicted. My father again appeared, this time carrying a garden shovel. He jabbed at the snow and leaves looking for an entry, then mumbled something about his failure to dispose of the snow pile for me.

“Don’t help her!” My brother shouted as he emerged from the house. He pushed past me, as if I was no more alive and present than a concrete statue. “This doesn’t concern us,” he added. No surprise, but why antagonize me now, when I would soon be out of his way?

“I didn’t ask for help,” I said. This brought a vicious reprimand from him, so I called him a jerk. He countered by hurling grudges from the stockpile of warheads he keeps armed like a Russian who aches to launch a few missiles, for old time’s sake.

Our father stood aside like a wounded sack of coal, passively sanctioning the bullying initiated by my mother and perpetuated by my brother. When I was a child there had been no escape, unless turning into a nervous wreck is a form of refuge.

“I’m leaving for Wyoming,” I told my father. That was the last time I saw either one of them.


raw days editThis piece is from RAW DAYS, a book about being bipolar.

I had no idea I was Asperger at the time I wrote it, and now I see AS is the primary ground of my “differentness” with bipolar symptoms the result of an attempt by the brain to “adjust” to stress created by my dysfunctional family and to The Social Pyramid, an alien environment that is toxic to “people like me.”

My brother was schizophrenic, in denial, and refused treatment. He lived with our parents, who protected him from consequences of his disease. He attacked me viciously whenever I turned up, like a rabid fox protecting a hallucination. My parents never intervened and let him abuse me, so I stayed away for years at a time.

Despite being bipolar and Asperger, I was the healthy one in the family: the observer, the analyzer, the recorder, the documentarian. Survivor’s guilt accompanies my daring escape.




Human Perception / Aesthetics as Equilibrium “The Optimum State”

Humans have more than five senses, according to how “sense” is defined. As usual, there is a range of opinion about the subject, so the reader is welcome to plow through the debate elsewhere. But, however many there may be, the brain must coordinate sensory information as perception.

I think that there is an aspect of perception that sets some of us on a special path through reality: the aesthetic conclusion or judgment. For social humans this perception is attached to other people and is experienced as emotion, as connections to family and friends, but emotions are short-lived and fickle. The euphoria lasts but a few seconds and people are stuck trying to regain those feelings of “aesthetically pleasing emotions” by obsessively manipulating their own feelings and the feelings of others. For all but a few relationships, it’s an exercise that is doomed.

If emotions are the aesthetics of life, life will be perpetually dependent on momentary satisfaction, followed by a letdown (change in body chemistry) and the subsequent struggle to regain the external certification of self-worth that comes after social acceptance. Emotions are temporary reactions to the environment, but this doesn’t stop modern social humans from elevating “feeling” to an experience that dominates everyday life. This dependence restricts aesthetic satisfaction to a fleeting experience that lacks continuity; and when emotional connections aren’t there? The artificial “high” supplied by drugs and other addictive behaviors is pursued.

Other animals experience their environments via a wide variety of senses, many of which are entirely alien to humans, and even with technical help, we cannot “see” or “hear” the electro-magnetic spectrum as many animals experience it. Aesthetics may or may not be expressed or experienced in a fish or a bear; we tend to assume that “lower” animals are robotic and lack deep connection to the environment.

Aesthetics may exist as a reference point around which an animal’s behavior is contained; interaction between the bear or bird and its physical environment achieves equilibrium, and allows for rest, recuperation and play.

I think that “aesthetics” has a similar source in humans; awareness of what constitutes equilibrium can be formed or “intuited” – a state of calm, receptivity, a “joining with” nature and one’s surroundings; a letting go of the attempt toimpose behavior on oneself and other human beings. It is commonly believed by social humans that a specific cluster of behavior defines “being human” and can be applied to every human on the planet. Imposing our own warped and egomaniacal conditions on other humans is disastrous, and yet we persist with all our might in remaking the world. What we have managed to do is to create environments that are disordered, unhealthy and out of balance: social environments lack “aesthetics” as the fundamental guide to optimum functioning – nature’s primary aesthetic.


I would have to say that exposure (confinement) in a chaotic or unbalanced environment is the trigger for many of (my) Asperger symptoms. When I was a child, my reactions were unconscious, immediate and inexplicable to other humans. I was told over and over that I ought to love “people” events: crowds of pushing, shoving, loud, incoherent, aggressive beings – with no escape. I was supposed to say things I didn’t mean, to suppress my awful discomfort, to pretend that unlike the bear or tiger, I had no internal sense of my proper boundaries. Only after a lifetime of living with “invasive and alien” social requirements have I come to understand that an intuitive “aesthetic” that is inherent in animal sensation may underlie the conflict.


Asperger Perception / Poetry, Emotion, Sensation

My particular perception of reality is concrete, which means I use my senses a lot, with little to no “distance” separating “who I am” from my sensory information. That is, I don’t “supernaturalize” information. I don’t use words to create social scaffolds of “meaning” that lead farther and farther away from understanding the environment. Meaning for me is the experience of being alive. Sometimes that experience is painful, precarious and uncertain, but “certain” is exactly what existence is not. Social humans have all manner of delusions that help them feel safe.

I wrote poems (not exactly my thing) when I first moved to Wyoming. Looking back, I can see that it was a way to become familiar with a magnificent new landscape that I already seemed to know, because the sensations it produced were similar to  sensations that began when I was a child and found familiarity, contentment, and beauty in particular images – real or artistic. In a way, it was if I was completing a picture of my reality, as a child who was did not belong where she was supposed to belong, and found it necessary to “jump ship” and swim until she either drowned or survived.


A Cold Evening

The screen door is open to the full moon

and to telling-of-snow clouds that push across its white face

and to a rip saw wind that breaks our few trees,

and the empty sound of a can that rattles along the street. 


Barren town, barren land, sand in my boots, a cobble in my hand:

Fifty million years is a short trip into earth’s history,

But it’s a nice distance from humanity.


Dry Land

Wheel tracks cut the flanks of yellow hills,

as if the lowly sagebrush and bitter creosote end somewhere,

and a person could drive that far.


Years vanish as if I had been sliding across glass instead of living:

my fingernails have left skid marks on time.

It was a happier life that I knew before this year, and yet,

I managed to digest my father’s death

and to end a cold war with my brother, who pampers an ancient grudge

like a Russian who aches to launch one last missile

for old time’s sake.


Beyond the simple life my capacities are wanting:

I know my house, the rocks and flowers in the garden,

and listen for the dogs’ overblown defense of our mundane perimeter.

I was made for this place, and insist on the right to set my limits low

but my horizons high.

Refresh Icon

The arrant light of daybreak restores our desert province to precious clarity,

but as the world turns, the gray chaparral and yellow cliffs bloom white hot

and the banded hills become a picture that is overexposed and uninviting.

The reward for our endurance comes at twilight, when nature’s products,

and man’s efforts as well, are suffused with the crimson wavelengths

of the sun’s farewell. Until tomorrow then; the earth’s rotation is our refresh icon.


Sagebrush stains the air a chemical color,

with a smell that is dark red and orange and concentrated, like piss.

A lone receptor in my nose approves of the bitter stink and passes it to my brain,

where it connects to all Octobers.



Small tasks become precious ways to gather time:

a thread, when pulled, makes emptiness into a pretty ruffle.

On sunny days, when isolated clouds throw shadows

across the land, it may be said to be pretty, as a plain woman

may be pretty if she takes pride in her plain face.

Unjust Summer

Summer to the third power –

no clouds, no shade, no escape

from the blue spaces, from the yard

burning hot and red and pink,

as if the chimes and lawn chairs

and a whirl-a-gig were featured

in Home & Garden: MARS. 













Zinc, Lithium, Manganese, Magnesium, Iron and your Brain / SciAm

SA Mind

Metals and Mental Health

Deficiencies in zinc can play a role in depression and a new way to enhance lithium may hold promise for bipolar disorder

  • By Tori Rodriguez on September 1, 2015 (Click on author for access to a variety of interesting articles.)

An Elemental Effect on Mental Health
Zinc, copper, iron—these and many other elements play a crucial role in health and sickness. Beyond the well-known toxic effects of lead, it can be difficult to determine the precise impacts of these metals because they interact with one another and with many types of molecules found in our body. Recent research has led to some key insights, however, which may lead to new treatments for mental illnesses.

Linking Zinc to Depression
Depression is tricky to treat because many patients do not respond to antidepressant medications. A growing body of evidence suggests that zinc deficiency may be a factor underlying depression in some cases—and zinc supplements can be an effective treatment for people whose levels are low.

A meta-analysis published in December 2013 in Biological Psychiatry analyzed 17 studies and found that depressed people tended to have about 14 percent less zinc in their blood than most people do on average, and the deficiency was greater among those with more severe depression. In the brain, zinc is concentrated in glutamatergic neurons, which increase brain activity and play a role in neuroplasticity, explains one of the paper’s co-authors, Krista L. Lanctôt, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto. “Those neurons feed into the mood and cognition circuitry,” she says.

Newer results increasingly point to a causal relation. Last September researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia reported findings of two longitudinal studies that demonstrated an inverse relation between depression risk and dietary zinc intake. After adjusting for all known potential confounders, they found that the odds of developing depression among men and women with the highest zinc intake was about 30 to 50 percent lower than those with the lowest intake. Although previous studies have shown that zinc supplementation can augment the effects of antidepressant medications, research published in May in Nutritional Neuroscience is the first to investigate the effects of zinc alone on depressive symptoms. In the double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, researchers assigned participants to one of two groups: every day for 12 weeks, one group received 30 milligrams of zinc; the other group received a placebo. At the end of the study period, the zinc group showed a steeper decline in its scores on a rigorous inventory of depression symptoms.

“The future treatment of depression is zinc sulfate,” says Atish Prakash, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of pharmacy at the MARA University of Technology in Malaysia, who co-authored a thorough review of studies on the role of zinc in brain disorders, published in April in Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology. Researchers strongly caution against people trying zinc supplements on their own, however—when levels are too high, zinc can cause other complications. Working with a doctor is essential, and in most cases, eating a healthier diet is probably a better way to ensure optimal zinc levels than supplementation. Yet for those with depression who are also at high risk for zinc deficiency, including vegetarians, people with alcoholism, gastrointestinal issues or diabetes, and pregnant or lactating women, zinc may be just what the doctor ordered.

Improving Lithium Treatment

Lithium has been providing relief to patients with bipolar disorder for decades. Although it is considered the standard treatment for the illness, how it works—and why it does not work for at least half of patients who try it—remains largely a mystery. Recent study findings suggest that a hormonal mechanism may be a factor.

In research published in July in the Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, scientists from several universities expanded on earlier work investigating the role of insulinlike growth factor (IGF1) in lithium sensitivity. (Scientific American is part of Springer Nature.) A 2013 paper by some of the authors of the newer study had found higher levels of the hormone in blood cells of bipolar patients who were responsive to lithium treatment, as compared with nonresponders. In the current study, researchers tested the effects of administering IGF1 to the blood cells of those same patients.

Adding the hormone increased lithium sensitivity only in cells of nonresponders, which “proves that indeed IGF1 is strongly implicated in determining clinical response or resistance to lithium,” says study co-author Elena Milanesi, a postdoctoral fellow at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University in Israel. Further research will be needed to discern treatment possibilities, including supplemental use of the hormone or a similarly acting drug in lithium-resistant patients. Synthetic human IGF1 is already FDA-approved for human use in other kinds of disorders, Milanesi says, so she hopes clinical trials can get under way quickly.

Other Metals and the Mind
IRON. Iron deficiency impedes neurotransmission and cell metabolism, and research findingshave linked it with cognitive deficits in children and adults.

MAGNESIUM. Low magnesium intake has been implicated in anxiety and depression in studies of humans and rodents, and new research published in Acta Neuropsychiatrica suggests the relation is mediated by altered gut microbes, which have previously been linked with depression. In the study, mice fed a magnesium-deficient diet displayed an increase in depressive behavior and alterations in gut microbiota that were positively associated with neuroinflammation in the hippocampus.

Supposedly sources of magnesium

Supposed to be sources of magnesium

MANGANESE. In research reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, scientists from China and Japan investigated the role of manganese—a known neurotoxin at high levels—in the progression of cognitive decline. In 40 older adults, they found that manganese levels were significantly correlated with scores on assessments of cognitive function and dementia and that levels of the characteristic protein tangles of Alzheimer’s disease increased as manganese levels did. Excessive manganese is usually caused by airborne pollutants or pesticides, but eating too little iron can increase manganese absorption—so a healthy diet is key here, too.

Beware of Supplements
That headline may sound alarmist—if your doctor advises you to take a supplement, by all means, you should take it. Yet we cannot emphasize enough the importance of consulting a health care provider before starting any kind of supplement regimen, especially one that includes the trace elements discussed in this overview. Many of these elements can cause serious complications at high levels as well as low levels, and it is easy to accidentally go overboard. In addition, it can be hard to tell whether a person truly needs supplements—zinc, for example, cannot be reliably measured in blood or urine. Researchers use a complex variety of measurements and indicators to determine patients’ zinc levels—something the average doctor’s office cannot replicate. (Supplements are NOT regulated and may or may not contain the ingredients on the label or may have contaminants.)

In addition, most researchers and physicians believe that improving a person’s diet is a far better way to reach healthy levels of these elements. Eating whole foods such as fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds will give most people the nutrients they need. Avoiding highly processed foods with added sugars and fats is key, too, because those types of foods can impede your body’s absorption of nutrients. In other words, that spinach salad is actually rendered less healthy if you chase it with a candy bar.


Mental Illness / Media and Mass Shootings

This is a long article: Go to: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC43182861

U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health

Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms

Jonathan M. Metzl, MD, PhD and Kenneth T. MacLeish, PhD

Jonathan M. Metzl is with the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society and the Departments of Sociology and Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. Kenneth T. MacLeish is with the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society and the Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University.

Only in the 1960s and 1970s did US society begin to link schizophrenia with violence and guns. Psychiatric journals suddenly described patients whose illness was marked by criminality and aggression. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) most-wanted lists in leading newspapers described gun-toting “schizophrenic killers” on the loose,76 and Hollywood films similarly showed angry schizophrenics who rioted and attacked.77

Historical analysis14,78 suggests that this transformation resulted, not from increasingly violent actions perpetuated by “the mentally ill,” but from diagnostic frame shifts that incorporated violent behavior into official psychiatric definitions of mental illness. Before the 1960s, official psychiatric discourse defined schizophrenia as a psychological “reaction” to a splitting of the basic functions of personality. Descriptors emphasized the generally calm nature of such persons in ways that encouraged associations with poets or middle-class housewives.79 But in 1968, the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)80 recast paranoid schizophrenia as a condition of “hostility,” “aggression,” and projected anger, and included text explaining that, “the patient’s attitude is frequently hostile and aggressive, and his behavior tends to be consistent with his delusions.”80(p34-36)

A somewhat similar story can be told about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), another illness frequently associated with gun violence.15 From the mid-19th century though World War II, military leaders and doctors assumed that combat-related stress afflicted neurotic or cowardly soldiers. In the wake of the Vietnam War, the DSM-III recast PTSD as a normal mind’s response to exceptional events. Yet even as the image of the traumatized soldier evolved from sick and cowardly to sympathetic victim, PTSD increasingly became associated with violent behavior in the public imagination, and the stereotype of the “crazy vet” emerged as a result. In the present day, even news coverage drawing attention to veterans’ suffering frequently makes its point by linking posttraumatic stress with violent crime, despite the paucity of data linking PTSD diagnosis with violence and criminality.38,81

Evolutions such as these not only imbued the mentally ill with an imagined potential for violence, but also encouraged psychiatrists and the general public to define violent acts as symptomatic of mental illness. As the following section suggests,

the diagnostic evolution of schizophrenia additionally positioned psychiatric discourse as authoritative, not just on clinical “conditions” linking guns with mental illness, but on political, social, and racial ones as well.

WOW! A dangerous granting of authority to psychiatrists, (and indeed psychology and the social sciences) and further evidence that the “caring, fixing, helping” industry has taken on vast power to define individual “destinies” since the 1960s. Most Americans have no awareness that this shift in dominant authority has occurred and how negatively this philosophy of pan-human dysfunction has eroded the American quality of life.


Whatever behavior is disapproved, becomes a ‘symptom’ of mental illness. That symptom can be attached to “acting black” or any other chosen origin of behavior.

Social arrogance? In the 1960-70s Black activism was promoted as 'mental illness" which could be "treated" with medication - Haldol.

Psychiatric racism: In the 1960-70s Black activism was promoted as a mental illness, which could be controlled by the application of Haldol.

In a 1969 essay titled “The Protest Psychosis,” psychiatrists postulated that the growing racial disharmony in the US at the height of the Civil Rights Movement was a  manifestation of psychotic behaviors and delusions afflicting America’s black lower class. “Paranoid delusions that one is being constantly victimized” resulted in black male anger and misplaced desire to overthrow the establishment.


Memoir / Impossible for an Asperger?

A photo that tells me of a time when my inner and outer experiences were undivided.

A photo that tells me of a time when my inner and outer experiences were undivided.


Rethinking a Life

A few thoughts on writing memoir:

How much talent is lost because society doesn’t like the package it comes in? The individual is a rare creature: she is self-made and not designated by a political system. A political statement of rights does not make one an individual: those rights are defined and held in check by the society that grants them. As a young woman who not only wanted to achieve financial equality and independence, I was told that the ticket to “getting in” to the system was to adopt the very structure that denied opportunity to women. I was also horrified to learn that I was expected to drop my gender at the door, as well as my personality, values, individual potential, and most surprisingly, talents that might benefit an employer. Another shock: I learned that this defacement is what men have been required to accept for centuries.

Individuality is a function of personal qualities that are cast against the vast historical canvas of culture, and in many ways the individual exists in opposition to that picture. Identity is a package prepared by generations of ancestors, as well as the living family, long before a child is born. Father and mother shape a child’s beliefs, behavior, and future. The larger society sets the rules of membership, which can be extremely harsh. The individual is born and dies when each of us is assigned a role dictated by ideas, prescriptions, and absolutes that the individual has no part in creating. The result is that when one looks into a mirror, a shadow feeling haunts the body: that is not any face; it is my face, unique in all the world. Why then, do I not know myself?

To write a memoir is to tear oneself loose from social conformity and to declare that one’s life is not the same as any other life, regardless of how similar human lives are. A modern trend in autobiography has lead people to think that the writer has amazing secrets to reveal, and that he or she will do just that; why else would one write a book about a life that has yet to be concluded? A memoir is expected to erase the public person, to replace the mask with a livelier, racier, and more interesting person. Family members and close friends are expected to be shocked by revelations, and will claim that they did not know of secret individual choices on the part of someone they thought they knew. The public loves it when a willful individual goes bad. Confession and repentance, in the form of a serial memoir (the trek from talk show to talk show) or a best-selling book, return the stray reprobate to the group. In this sense, a memoir is a religious document.

What then, is an individual? The test is simple: Only an individual can care about the welfare of other individuals. The group, by definition, cannot. The group survives by enforcing conformity and does not recognize that each person has a valid interior life, only that inner lives are suspect. The group pressures and grooms the individual to vanish into a pre-assigned role: the American idea of an individual is someone who utterly conforms to social norms, but does something like skydive with a pet dog, or paint the bedroom orange, or pick a cartoon graphic for a credit card that claims, “I’m whacky! I’m crazy! I’m creative.”

From the point of view of a person with a mental illness, this is ludicrous: normal  people have no idea what crazy is. Any deviation from the suffocating religious-patriotic complex of American belief, including what have been called criminal acts, is increasingly regarded as mental deviation and not diversity. To be diagnosed as having a brain disorder automatically puts one outside of society, forcing one to embrace a strange, dangerous, and unsought individuality. The memoir of such a person cannot be separated from this predicament, which can be described as the terror and the mystery of the conventional.

A social view of life as a program to be fulfilled, and only completed at death.
“No one ought to be said to be happy, until death and the last funeral rights.” Ovid



Looking Back on Bipolar / Seasonal Transitions and Disruptions

See also related Circadian Rhythm posts –

I used to be bipolar; diagnosed long ago, before Asperger’s was a recognized “thing” (1994) and not considered applicable to females. Looking back, I think this was a mistake – the “bipolar” symptoms I experienced can logically be seen as evidence for “Asperger-ness” as a brain type that processes the environment in a distinct and even radically different way than the overwhelming majority of Modern Social Humans – neurotypicals. One notable problem for me, was and is, a response to seasonal change; lack of sunlight and outdoor activity in winter produce a direct physical effect: extreme restlessness (anxiety) and a longing for the world to “come back” – to revive, to be washed in sunlight and present a landscape wide open to movement. This is not an uncommon condition for many people! The experience can be grossly represented as  claustrophobia. Winter is a time, that once adjusted to, can be very productive; a time of internal focus, mental activity and concentration.

The transition into summer, while eagerly embraced, can be disruptive, unsettling, and “mind-blowing” – Where I live, it’s a long process; inter-leaving of days of increasing sunlight that fool fragile plant life into attempts to emerge, but which are discouraged by snow storms and overnight freezes. The energy gained by extended sunlight at high altitude (6,000-7,000 feet) hits a certain point – and suddenly, our tan and brown,  heavily dissected desert is GREEN. It’s “shocking” to the eye; strange and brief. The sagebrush steppe is covered in prickly shrubs and myriad bunch grasses, which  must reproduce in the short window of mid May through June, and then pack away their chlorophyll for another year, leaving only yellow leaves and seeds to be dispersed by the famous Wyoming wind.  A palette of rich yellows, pale earth, and dusty gray green returns; a much more interesting landscape for sunlight to change in appearance, from moment to moment, throughout the day and evening. A “light show” transforms our two-part landscape of land and sky – a daily cycle of color and shadow that passes into cool night.

I don’t know if this experience of reality is common to Asperger individuals; that is  – the direct influence of the environment on mood, emotion and energy. This responsiveness to the land is not exclusive to Asperger’s types.

This desert has no “social” uses; agriculture is futile. Few people can live here, and without resource extraction for “dollars” and importation of food, even fewer could, or would stay. There is something extremely luxurious about a landscape that can’t be “socialized” – unitized, divided, owned and exploited by human agriculture, trade, commerce – made useful or productive. There’s something extremely luxurious about a life that grows to fit this type of land. I was made for this place: finding it meant “letting go of things not meant for me.” The Bhudda.


Original post about transitioning from summer into winter:

This is my 65th transition from summer into fall. Of course I don’t remember most of these changes. Fall is a bit of a drive-through season; the way we get to winter. It says so on the calendar: First Day of Fall, but for me it’s a long drawn out state of confusion, instability, moodiness: doom. What has disrupted my normal, careful, mostly peaceful days? Normal for me: my “writer’s routine” of coffee, computer and coming awake. Sometimes writing is easier while I’m still a bit stupefied by sleep.

Anticipation: that’s my experience of Fall, as if something momentous is about to happen, but it never does. One morning the garden plants have frozen, cells bursting; really physically dead; mush with frost rimming the remains. Light snow that melts quickly, the rocks damp and shiny, their colors deep and revealing.

It’s not that I don’t like winter, but some innocent intuitive organ believes that the earth is dying, and me with it. These experiences are so strong and consistent year after year, that I’m sure that being bipolar has something to do with ancient humans -tropical creatures who pushed too far north for their mental health. People whose brains and bodies were extensions of the seasons: work like mad in Spring and Summer and semi-hibernate in winter. Expend the least energy possible obtaining food and water; curl up like most of nature and sleep and dream an alternate existence filled with giants, heroes and mortal powers.




Growing out of Autism / Personal Experience

Please read previous post: https://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com/growing-out-of-autism-fact-or-myth/

Most of my experience with “Asperger, the label” is quite recent; before that I was diagnosed as bipolar. Even that diagnosis took decades to “find” – I was 36 years old, and had lived all that time with “mysterious” symptoms that today would most likely be recognized as “a problem” but which would still most likely be misdiagnosed or under-diagnosed. It wasn’t that “mental illnesses” weren’t recognized; they had been for hundreds of years. The problem came down to a social prejudice: No one who looked like me, or “functioned well” in terms of having a career and supporting myself, COULD HAVE PROBLEMS! No one wanted a pretty, talented, hard-working young woman to be anything but perfect; an object; not a living, breathing and vulnerable  human being – this was, and is shocking. The attitude among many people, including medical-psychiatric people – was that I was a “bad person” for even claiming that I had problems. The summation was pretty much:

“How can you be so selfish? I have patients who are really sick!”

In a way, this was nothing new: the same attitude prevailed when I was growing up, and had severe chronic anxiety and related “school problems” – not that I wasn’t “good at schoolwork” rather, I was “too good” at schoolwork and the target of social bullying. Imagine the complexity for a young girl: being praised for good grades and precocious talents, but then “slammed” for displaying those talents. I was repeatedly told to “hide” my intelligence because it upset other children. (Boys never received this message of self-mutilation) Those little teacher checkmarks next to “socialization markers” (Does not work well with others) erased every praiseworthy quality I had. It was assumed that because I was “smart” EVERYTHING was easy for me: I must be intentionally “socially stupid” – a troublemaker with “character flaws”.

There was a slight nod to “the problem of being a gifted child” in that it was possible that I might develop socially, if forced to, by being ignored, the hope being that somehow “being an acceptable female” would magically happen at puberty.

What no one recognized, and it’s still a “fact” which normal people ignore, is that all those years of social bullying and attacks on a child’s positive attributes as “bad” – if only you’d been born a boy, your intelligence and talent would be acceptable and “good”; just suck it up – being female is a life sentence of servitude to others; it’s all on you to solve YOUR problem, and on and on, further damaged any hope that I would see “being social” as anything but emotional and intellectual suicide. Angry ? You bet!

Heaping responsibility for the “breakdown of the social order” on a 7 year-old kid is really outrageous abuse!

Things got better in high school; a very large school with AP classes, which I was placed in. Lo and behold! There were girls like me – and for the first time I had peers who were girls – some very social, others not, and I became close friends with several – one or two who were far “brighter” than me, and I could relax – not stand out as a female freak. I gained much confidence in myself and “blossomed” as a female, but in my own style. The pressure was gone to “stuff myself” into prevailing definitions of “girly”.

It is fortunate that my path to developing as “me” took its own course, with the environment supplying the motivation and feedback for my reactions and choices. It was a “rich” experience that was never all bad or all good; really tough and painful at times, even life-threatening, but essential to seeing life as a complex challenge, the ultimate challenge being; How to be an individual in this monstrous mess that is human society?

What I had to grow out of was a monumental socially-imposed definition of people like me as freaks of nature; as mistakes of birth; as an insult to the “word of God” and a social order that declares “being female” a pathology.

More later….