In high school, I was rather dismissive of those therapeutic dabblers in Creative Writing who told “true stories” exactly “like it was”, and therefore resisted constructive criticism. No piece is perfect, but if it’s that personal, keep it to yourself.
What I’m doing here is not “therapeutic writing”, though I can’t deny I usually feel better after blogging. What I’m doing is open for criticism; I don’t claim to have found the answer, and I’m suspicious of the definite article in that sense, anyway. I write because I cannot afford not to, and these meandering experiential tales are my attempts to get some basic perspicuity.
And for that, I apologize. (What? I’m Canadian; apologizing is one of those things we do really well…)
I can remember, in my preteens some time, when I first encountered the word “narcissist”. My mother dropped the word in talking about someone. I didn’t understand it in quite the fuller sense we generally use it today. Rather, it described a person who was self-absorbed and unapologetically; useless, mostly, or vain, at worst.
Then, later, when I read Ovid’s version of the Narcissus and Echo tale, the idea took shape as more mystical, perhaps sad, but definitely somewhat exotic. I still love that story. I hadn’t connected it with the extreme selfishness and manipulative behaviour I now associate with it.
I’m not entirely comfortable calling myself a “true” narcissist, hence the “pseudo” in the title. I believe it accurately characterizes a group of facts that all start from the same problematic point: since getting sick, I have allowed pain to dictate how I make choices.
Early on, when I still didn’t know I had a neuropathy, my supervisor told me that “when you’re sick, it’s okay to be a bit selfish, to take care of yourself”. Problems, however, begin when you do that to the exclusion of all else. All other responsibilities suddenly take second place to the quality and quantity of pain that I was/am in.
Can I work? Well, that’s gonna fucking hurt, so not today; maybe not tomorrow, either. Can I do the dishes? Look at me!! Really? You’re going to ask that of me…and so on, and so forth.
Privileging the pain doesn’t even get “it” what it wants, if we say that the body really wants to be out of pain. What it gets is a sort of space that it understands: a place where it wins all its battles. But this isn’t exactly helpful for the consciousness that still believes there’s some life worth living, things to aspire to beyond the couch and television.
I’m calling “pseudo-narcissism” that personality, who then begins looking for ways to ensure that whatever mediocrity it seeks to grasp then does.
It can steal over you without your being the least bit aware. You’re still thinking that what you’re doing is helping your body out. True, there are many disabilities that totally demolish the state that abled people carry on in. They can’t even conceptualize a world where they’d work, get promoted, get married, etc. Or some, like those who wind up paralyzed from the neck down really are limited to certain spaces and certain tasks.
So, no, I’m not saying that everyone with a disability is a pseudo-narcissist. I’m saying that the condition can prompt a series of choices which end up privileging all of what we euphemistically call the “good things” in life.
So. You then find yourself at a massive remove from what you thought you knew about the world. And, importantly, what you thought you wanted out of it. Travel, relationships, fun…whatever it is that drives people to work and try to get to their ideal place. Furthermore, you’ve actually denied yourself participation in any of those things, even the things you might still be able to do, by allowing the condition to direct your choices.
I grant most of this is really only applicable to acquired disabilities, though one can easily see how such patterns can develop in an individual who is perhaps aware of just how far their manipulation can go. I have someone in mind, but I won’t share that for personal reasons.
At any rate, you’re unhappy because of the pain; and you’re unhappy because you’re unhappy about it. It seems as if everything has just been taken away from you, a massive fucking theft.
So you reach for your little corner of control.
J.D. Harms 2021