It has been one year and a day since I learned the results of the PCL-R that was administered for me and it has been fifteen months or so since the word ‘psychopathy’ was mentioned by my psychotherapist as a possible explanation of my personality for those areas that Borderline Personality Disorder could not fill. I agreed to take the PCL-R hoping that I’d finally learn who I was. One year (and one day) later, I still have no sense of identity. I must dig deeper and harder. Something must reside behind the curtain.
I’ve had a few good days of relaxation and not tending to the blog (or much of anything else) but it is time to jump back in.
I’ve been reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, a book devoted to various neurological disorders whose symptoms would seem, to most, incredible. Losses of spatial reasoning, memory, and tales of phantom limbs and their pain line the pages of the work. In each case – each chapter is devoted to a case study – the individual suffers from a debilitating and (usually) permanent condition. They are forced to greatly adjust their lives and expectations in order to maintain some modicum of dignity, but at what cost?
As the author recounts one of the case studies, he makes an interesting observation regarding the afflicted. I forget the specific injury or disease that the patient was stricken with, but they lamented that they were no longer human – simply a shell whose condition now defined them. The author describes it as the struggle between ‘I’ and ‘it’. It can be too easy to let a condition define us. However, we still have choice and our minds – unlike many of those described in the pages of the book I describe. Whether it is psychopathy or Bipolar Disorder, depression or Borderline Personality Disorder, we may face a challenge in separating the ‘I’ from ‘it’, but we must always strive to do so.
As usual, as of late, I am up very late reading. As I get ready to transition back to an academic-filled life – I’m returning to school with the intention of going to graduate school this time, although in a different area than I studied ten years ago – I am training myself to be educated again. Not a passive education, but an active one in which I make it an endeavor rather than an afterthought. I’ve been reading books on neuroscience and psychology, mathematics and programming, but one book that has struck me especially is the one I am currently reading: The Last Lecture by the deceased Randy Pausch. It is a memoir of a dying man, giving a “last lecture” talk. For most, the “last lecture” is merely a theoretical exercise in summing one’s life work under the pretense of imagining what a final lecture would be like. For the author, this was to be his last lecture as he was soon to die from pancreatic cancer.
The book is a page turner and I suspect that I will not sleep this evening until I have finished it, but that is not the point. The point is that, faced with his imminent demise, the author pains a most compelling argument to chase one’s dreams and to set goals that can be accomplished through hard work and a bit of luck. According to the author, challenges are not meant to destroy the trajectory, they are merely opportunities to prove just how badly one wants something.
So what does this memoir by a dying neurotypical have to do with psychopathy? Everything.
I’m presently reading Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. I’ll have further insights once I am finished with it, but for the moment I am still working through the introductory chapters. Having blunted – though, still present – emotions of my own and formal training in mathematics and computer science has left me with a void when it comes to truly understanding emotive processes. My rational mind will always trump my emotional mind, but I am curious as to the mechanisms that I am, more or less, missing out on.
Goleman does a satisfactory job of describing the evolutionary reasons behind humans’ emotive states. Fear leads to mechanisms that allow for quicker retreat. Anger allows one, also through biomechanics, to strike harder and faster in a retributive fashion. Love allows for self-sacrifice in order to ensure the survival of one’s children, thus passing the parents’ genes far into the future. All of this makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. So, then, what exactly am I missing out on? I’ve written that I feel that I am not missing out on anything, but upon further introspection, that may not be quite right.
Yes, the majority of psychopaths give nothing to those around them. They take and pillage without a hint of redeeming value. In addition, most psychopaths cross the line society has drawn and will spend (or are spending) time in prison with little hope of ever contributing to society in any meaningful fashion. I’ve been struggling lately with respect to my own place in this world. I have never been convicted of any crime and I am trying (gods, am I trying) to walk a path of restraint in the post-diagnosis world of relative clarity. However, many do not care. They discount any endeavor that I engage in as being tainted by psychopathy. There is no escape from those that would rather see me fail in every way imaginable. Likewise, I cannot flee the footsteps at my back that seek to discredit anything I do regardless of whether my psychopathy influenced such endeavors.