The final chapter of the textbook for our human development psych class isn’t a chapter. It’s an epilogue, a conclusion, a summing up. We all know how life ends. And it’s over. The textbook-reading portion of the class, anyway. Much writing remains and that’s what I should be doing now, that or sorting through the clutter, but instead I want to think about the solidity of self, what is real and why it is real, and what happens to it after our bodies give out.
I’ve spent the last five weeks taking furious notes and multiple choice quizzes (17 of them!). I’ve watched two Frontline videos on topics of interest to the human development crowd. I’ve written up three very long homework assignments and put out several stilted, overly researched contributions to our class discussion board. Sadly, I am a rule follower, at least when it comes to things like schoolwork. And this class has been all about the rules, with various instructions and admonitions, the kind of stuff that makes me doubt my ability to write in an academic style. (Do I need to write in an academic style? Isn’t it time for some real style in academic writing?) I am also congenitally curious and value data that come from sound sources. If I have a question about, for example, the prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder among men and women as compared to in soldiers returning from combat,* I locate a reputable source, fit it into my work and cite it dutifully. The end result is that I feel like a goody-two shoes who unnecessarily creates mini-research papers for very little reason except my compulsive need to do things the right way.
I’ve done a lot of complaining about this class, but the fact is that I am grateful for it. Change comes slowly to a person -- for example, people dependent on nicotine and heroin relapse an average of six times before getting clean for good (something I have in my abnormal psych notes, but haven't been able to verify from another source) -- even when change feels like a watershed. It is so much better for me to have externally motivated goals and lots of food for my mind. My mind has been starving and so I fill it again and again with facts and knowledge and still it demands more. At the moment, I’m also missing more regular human interaction, something that is intermittently important as I work, rest, work, rest. And, just as I knew that the coursework would come along to challenge me eventually (because I planned it that way), more social interaction awaits. At the moment, swimming alone in a sea of facts on adolescents, small children, and emerging adults, I feel a familiar yearning. It reminds me that having too time much time alone in my mind is dangerous and not particularly useful. It is not wise to create and occupy that airless space. It leads to desolation and deprivation.
You have to recognize the initial sink, the way the floor sudden gives, that which seemed solid and real just yesterday revealing itself to be a cloth stretched thin, a cracking length of plastic, a brittle sheet of wallboard. Then you attempt sniff out a reason. Maybe it's a lack of sleep (early morning followed by late night followed by early morning, waking up after Neil Young pushed you on a swing on the roof deck of some dive bar in a city you once knew and the woman you had drinks with, a blonde gone sour, the mother of his baby, and the night air was cool on your bare arms). Maybe it's that you don't have a good reason to get out of the house, so you don't get out of the house. Suddenly taking a shower overwhelms, food is merely fuel, brushing teeth a reward for answering another question on the final. More sleep, you promise yourself, and tomorrow getting out is built into your day, and the shower is a given. A few days of darkness may be only that.
*According to the National Comorbidity Survey, women of all ages and both women and men between the ages of 45-59 are the most likely to receive a diagnosis of PTSD over the course of a lifetime ("National comorbidity survey," 2005). But the lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 39% among male combat veterans (National Comorbidity Survey,as cited by Hamblen, 2009).
Hamblen, J. (Instructor). (2009). PTSD 101: what is PTSD. [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/ptsd101/course-modules/what-is-ptsd.asp
National comorbidity survey. (2005). Retrieved from http://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/index.php
Image from Management of Heart Disease and Depression as Comorbidity.