Monday, April 02, 2012

I'm Right Here!

So I saw the title of a New York Times article by Benedict Carey, "Where have all the neurotics gone?" and I thought, "Wait, I'm here, who's looking for me? 

It's a strange article, lacking cohesion, just so you know.  I'm not really sure what it's actually about.  

It meant being interesting (if sometimes exasperating) at a time when psychoanalysis reigned in intellectual circles and Woody Allen reigned in movie houses.

That it means little now, to most Americans, is evidence of how strongly language drives the perception of mental struggle, both its sources and its remedies. In recent years psychiatrists have developed a more specialized medical vocabulary to describe anxiety, the core component of neurosis, and as a result the public has gained a greater appreciation of its many dimensions. But in the process we’ve lost entirely the romance of neurosis, as well as its physical embodiment — a restless, grumbling, needy presence that once functioned in the collective mind as an early warning system, an inner voice that hedged against excessive optimism. 

Okay, what exactly does that mean?  I think of being 'neurotic' in lay (not psychiatrist) terms as being someone who worries about things that aren't likely to happen, in a way that makes them, and me, uncomfortable.  Do you want to hear how much I worried about exams in college and medical school?  Or how anxious I've gotten when one of my kids doesn't answer a phone call, even though I rationally know that everything is alright?  And I could give you long lists of the really strange things some of my friends worry about and they think it's perfectly reasonable that they worry about these things (and these are my friends, not my patients).  So if you're looking,  I'm right here, in good company.

Carey goes on to talk about how the term has evolved with the DSM, and the 5-factor personality inventory (the NEO, invented by Paul Costa, who somehow doesn't get a nod in the article, but I'll give him one!)  Apparently, college students are more neurotic than ever.  Hard to believe, but if you say so.

But another way to read those numbers is not as a measure of mental makeup but of cultural change. People of all ages today, and most especially young people, are awash in self-confession, not only in the reality-show of pop culture but in the increasingly public availability of almost every waking thought, through Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
If chronic Facebook or Twitter posting is not an exercise in neurosis, then nothing is. 

Funny, he says nothing about blogging..... And he could have ended the article here, but instead he goes on to talk about how it's more normal to be neurotic, "more garden variety troubled than really troubled..."  or something like that, but then the article goes on to differentiate anxiety from depression and talks about mood disorders and how people might not want their children to marry the child of a parent with mental illness.   I think he should have ended the article with the idea that all the neurotics have gone to change their Facebook statuses, except for those people who are too neurotic to have a Facebook page.

Okay, I'm off to tweet this.  


Sunny CA said...

I always thought my friend was neurotic about storms because whenever a storm was approaching she would fret and spend her time watching the storm approach on TV. She was in a state of "hand-wringing" constantly over weather reports. Then she actually packed her car and left her city when a storm was approaching! I, she is sure taking this fear of storms pretty far.

You guessed it.

The storm was Katrina. Her house was flooded out. She lost almost everything she owned except the odd bits she took along or the few things that survived dirty flood waters.

She still frets over storms. She thinks she will have to pack the car and run again. She sits and watches TV coverage. She moved one state "over" and lives somewhat near tornadoes, too, so she also worries about those.

I no longer regard her as neurotic.

Many worries people have are grounded in reality. The chance of certain bad things happening to us is probably greater than our chances of winning the lottery, even with 20 lottery tickets. It is an uncertain world.

Sarebear said...

Worrying that a fire is going to start in the wall every time you plug something in (kitchen only, I try to keep the fear from spreading lol) is . . . a bit more than neurotic?

I'm wierd. Still, I know it's not a valid fear, but I have it anyway, and fight it.

My day ends up being mentally exhausting with all the fears I fight, the maze of fear I have to work through in order to approach a semblance of normal interacting at all (not that I have much interaction very often beyond my husband and daughter). I've actually had an insight in therapy recently that may help me go be around people more; I have to take the insight for a "test drive" so to speak, see how much fear I can cut out with it.

I don't think being neurotic is romantic, I didn't like that he finds neuroses, old-style or new, romantic. It's exhausting, no romance at all.

I have to comment on my hubby's puter or slooow laptop, no matter the browser mine will NOT show the word verifies. UGH.

Anonymous said...

I thought the article made sense. Once upon a time,there was some mystery about it. It had to do with all that psychiatry stuff. Now, everyone is neurotic and knows it. Who could help being neurotic in this crazy world? That makes it normal to be neurotic and that takes the mystery out of it. mystery is another word for romance in this instance. No one goes to the hospital for being neurotic. College students who are neurotic probably do better in school than the ones who are not as neurotic. They study more instead of playing pool. I bet you studied a lot for those exams.
As for splitting depression from anxiety, the author is referring to Shorter's comment that it backfires and as for the comment about people not wanting their children to marry the child of parent with a mood disorder, I believe that the author is referring to Shorter's book about 18th century notions that nervous illness (neurosis) was less of a concern than mental illness ( a mood disorder). Perhaps ideas have not changed much but most parents today have a lot less say in who their child marries than they did in the 18th century.

rob lindeman said...


I get that you're kidding, but Carey was making a serious point about diagnosis shifting over time.

Some diagnoses mutate into others, as was the case of neurosis. Others disappear entirely, as though they never existed.

Neurasthenia is an interesting diagnostic category in that no one believes it exists, yet there is an ICD-9 code for it (300.5)

Sideways Shrink said...

When I first read Freud (for fun with a friend) in high school at about 14 or 15 we both deemed ourselves "neurotic". We had never seen Woody Allen but we understood projection and the immature defense mechanisms Freud described and thought that meant we were "neurotic". Oh, how wrong we were. I might be anxious and overly self disclosing such that it discomfits others, but I mostly only do this face to face when asked as question I answer honestly. I don't worry excessively. I actually can compartmentalize. I can and do put others first, depending on who it is. I embrace my crazy to the extent that it helps me see the world clearly, but actual neurotic people are a whacked out pain in the ass: Woody Allen married his erstwhile daughter for god's sake!
We live in an era in which if someone is not anxious, at least sometimes, either due to their own unemployment/financial strain or crisis or due to thinking about the economics of the demographics of our health care/retirement situation then they must be in a coma.
But as to the current generation: I am a GenX-er and, compared to the current college aged students we were barely anxious at all. Things were not as easy and as inexpensive for us as for the Boomers--we graduated from college and could only get jobs at Starbucks after all. (I quit my graduate program because the demographics said I could never get tenure in my field-none of my friends also from the best schools have yet to get tenure in their mid-40s....) But these kids today can't even get into 4 year colleges. With very good grade point averages they have to start at community colleges in many states that are not overrun with colleges. These kids are so anxious about admissions and then about student loan debt and then about getting a job afterward to pay off that job, I am not sure all of this equals any kind of interesting neurosis--but it is pervasive. Many of their parents who "worked their way through college" certainly don't understand and this is how they end up at community colleges, I am guessing.
But these Boomers with guaranteed social security benefits and Medicare may be neurotic, but they certainly shouldn't be worried because they are being looked out for.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Why am I feeling borderline contempt for this?
Not the author, just, well, THIS.

Anonymous said...

Sideways, You are so right. All the Boomer docs I know had pretty decent marks but knew how to party. Not one of them had to go off to save a village on the other side of the world to prove he or she was worthy. Now a kid has to be in the top 3 per cent of the class and volunteer any time left after studying all night to a humanitarian organization to prove the desire to save the world. This is still no guarantee. They must prove themselves over and over in interviews and then be told, well you aced the MCAT, you GPA is outstanding but there are only so many so seats so sorry event though you do also play the oboe and you saved the varsity football team in that game you played after you finished your shift as a waiter.
They may or not be neurotic but they will dead by 30.

Roy said...

Guess I should read Dinah's posts before posting.