Am I the last person to know there is a neuroticism scale? And that I can blame my neurotic ways on my parents?

Ahh...this is so not me

Ahh...this is so not me

A few weeks ago, the Times ran an article about the cool, calm demeanor of our president-elect, and how some of us are not quite as together under fire – staring down a crumbling economy, planning military contingencies against terrorists – or even during the more mundane moments of life. Me, I can’t even cook dinner without getting frazzled, and then risking a spilled dish or a burn to one appendage or another. And cooking actually relaxes me…

This is only a test

This is only a test

The article also said that some psychologists measure one’s calmness on a neuroticism scale. More neurotic equals less calm, not surprisingly. A biggie in the field of pinpointing neuroticism was Hans Eysenck. He and his wife developed questionnaires to assess several different personality traits.  In Hans’s view, here are some of the characteristics of the neurotic type (as if I couldn’t have written out this list on my own): anxious, depressed, guilt feelings, hypochondriac, low self-esteem, tense, obsessive. Now, I am not all these things all the time, but Eysenck was talking about a scale, a continuum, and there are other psychological temperaments in his scheme that interact with the neurotic streak. He also said neuroticism was influenced by genetics, which might explain the obsessive traits of others in my family, in the past if not currently.

Thinking about my neurotic character, I had mixed feelings. Over the years, I have seen various therapists to try to cope with anxiety, panic attacks, the shitty way I often feel about self (often tied to relationships or writing). In Chicago alone, I have seen two therapists and had phone sessions with a third. Then there’s the “alternative” modalities I’ve tried: the psychic, two astrologers, a woman who specialized in past-life regression

(Remind me to tell you about my experiences as Kinsha, an Indian who was killed by a random  arrow, despite the heroic efforts of a passing medicine man to save him. The story I told is still clear in my head, though I’m not convinced it meant anything more than I have a good imagination when under hypnosis.)

And as I write this, I realize a few things. I am obsessive about making myself “better.” I am neurotic about lessening the impact of my neuroses! The other possibility: I am as crazy as batshit as one can be and still be walking the streets and not under heavy medication.

(Perhaps I should follow the advice of the woman who commented on an earlier post about my mental state: “Wellbutrin.”)

Is this meant to look like a happy face?

Is this meant to look like a happy face?

But as much I want to lessen the anxiety and the worry and the pains created/magnified by stress, a part of me wonders what that change might mean. Besides bringing happiness. Would whatever creative talent I might possess dry up if I weren’t endlessly playing “What if” in my head? Isn’t the image of the tortured artist part of our culture, and do I want to disassociate myself from that romantic notion? And isn’t maybe being neurotic an excuse for inevitable failure, huh, huh?


I know I don’t want to be drugged. I know at times I like myself, neuroses and all. Hey, I’m quirky! But I also know at times my anxiety brings me real psychological pain, not to mention what it does to my wife. At one point, I hoped she would be my panacea. She is so not-neurotic. But time goes on and I realize she has her own problems, and it’s up to me to tackle mine. If I truly want to.

I’ve turned to Buddhism, too, though not in the committed way I should if I really wanted to call myself a Buddhist. Isn’t this quote from Buddha himself a prescription for someone like me?

“The secret of health for both body and mind is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

Of course it is. But no matter how many times a day I stare at the paper with those words that I’ve taped to my monitor, I am still neurotic. I have to move beyond the words to the essence of the sentiment. But man, aren’t words, at times, all I have? Aren’t they how I have defined myself  –  a worker with words. And the words keep spinning through my head, creating bad outcomes to possible scenarios, stirring regret over the past, reminding me that this mind creating the words will one day cease to function.

I’m sorry, this was not meant to get so morbid. Or rambling.

The point is, I don’t have a point. Except maybe those truly calm people are really cool, and I would love to be one, but I’m not, and all the therapy in the world will not change that. Only I can change that. If I really wanna.


~ by mburgan on December 23, 2008.

7 Responses to “Neurotica”

  1. Allow me to speak from the perspective of someone who has been “as crazy as batshit as one can be”, is currently walking the streets, and takes medication, including Wellbutrin, daily (whether that dosage is “heavy” or not is a relative concept).

    One of the most important characteristics of a Major Depressive Episode is that it has physiological aspects. You can’t sleep… or you sleep too much. You’re never hungry… or you’re hungry all the time. That sort of thing. And it’s those physiological aspects that medication will treat. Wellbutrin will help you sleep right, will help you have a normal appetite. It will regulate the chemistry that controls your physiology.

    It will not, will not, WILL NOT solve an existential crisis.

    I cannot stress this enough.

    For me, the most useful tool that my outpatient group therapist gave me in 2006 was a wheel labeled “The Roots of Depression”, or something like that (I just looked for a copy of it online and I couldn’t find it anywhere, sorry… I have my copy somewhere but it’s buried, I still need to straighten out my Important Documents drawer post-move). It displayed in pie chart form all the factors that can come together to create depression. NEUROCHEMISTRY WAS ONLY *1* OF THOSE FACTORS.

    What I’m trying to say here is that depression has cognitive aspects, situational aspects, spiritual aspects, that medication will never and can never treat. This truth is critical for someone in my position to remember, because it means I can’t just take my meds and be cured. To keep myself healthy mentally, I have to WORK, every day, on those other aspects. It’s a juggling act, comparable to that performed by a person with diabetes or hypertension, but arguably more complex. I wish certain members of my family would grasp this concept, but so far it’s just proved too tempting to turn to the crutch of “you’re taking your meds, right?” whenever it looks like I might be having a problem. What an irritating question…

    I’m babbling. Forgive me. My point is that while the person who gave you the word “Wellbutrin” as advice surely meant well, and may have been speaking from personal experience, I can also speak from personal experience and deep in my heart I know that I wouldn’t be living, working, and loving as successfully as I do these days if I had spent the past two years relying on my meds to magically fix me.

  2. dillywren said “I can also speak from personal experience and deep in my heart I know that I wouldn’t be living, working, and loving as successfully as I do these days if I had spent the past two years relying on my meds to magically fix me”

    Exactly..i lived for 2 or so years on meds one to sleep one for depression…i had panic attacks, paranoia, and possibly a touch of OCD. (thank god that has passed). but its not just the med, or just therapy…its a combination and having lots of people that you can trust to talk to…and not letting those negative people in…(ya you know there are some)…

    and how “And that I can blame my neurotic ways on my parents?”…please enlighten me.

  3. Wow. Well, thank you Cheryl and Dillywren for sharing all that. I was not, in my somewhat flip way, trying to denigrate the power of meds or what they can do for some people. I know too many people who have had their daily existence preserved because of them. I guess I am in more of the existential crisis mode than true clinical depression — and I know what that can be like, after doing group therapy for several months with 4 or 5 guys who had that diagnosis. I was the token anxiety/panic-attack person in the group — though I was veering toward the depression path, I think, about 18-24 months or so ago. My depression seemed to be mild, though getting out of bed everyday and going to work was quite a chore for a while, and St. John’s wort, which I still take, really seems to help me. It is, of course, not recommended for people with more intense depression. But I also agree that it takes more than meds to have a meaningful life. And I do believe it’s more than genetics and neurochemistry that makes us all what we are. I am clueless about what my ongoing mental state really means. I do have faith there is something better ahead of me than what I have experienced the last 4 years (and even more; it’s just been more acute lately). Again, you two, thanks for sharing. I guess what I take away is meds have their purpose, but they are not the cure-all. It’s daily work at who we we are that keeps us functioning. And hopefully more than just functioning.

  4. What do to mean “possibly a touch of OCD”? I almost wrote a play about it…

  5. a touch meaning..having to check things a few times before I left the house…having to check all the doors…rearranging things…just a touch mind you…i’m completely cured now… LMAO…just left with the paranoia!!! i really love that you have this and I can post on it…

  6. We aim to please here at C?WC?

  7. Try pot.

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