Me, me, me
Somewhere up in the attic is a binder, and in that binder, amongst a few surgical reports and many truly dull pages of records of appointments for chest infections and broken feet and any number of routine check ups, is a page full of chicken-scratch notes from an Italian psychiatrist. There are a few pages of his notes, but there’s only one that I remember. It’s the one where next to updated medication lists and dosages, he commented that I was ‘very self-centered’. It wasn’t some new-agey happy with me sort of self-centered he was talking about, either. No, this was a negative character judgement by a doctor of his patient.
Of course, when I got the copies of my therapy notes, I was immediately offended by this. How can some second-rate Jungian sit there hour after hour asking me to talk about myself and manage to call me self-centered? What was I meant to be doing if not talking about myself? Wasn’t he the one asking question after question about me and what I was feeling and what I was doing?
Granted, upon mentioning this to a different psychiatrist, he challenged me. ‘Are you trying to say you aren’t self-centered?’ he asked. Well… no.
I know I’m self-centred. Horribly so, even. I just don’t like it being written there, staring at me, an actual clinical opinion. To a Manhattan psychiatrist, most of whose clients were several socioeconomic strata above me, I was so self-centered that he felt it was necessary to commit that opinion to paper. It was something that, in future sessions, he knew would need to be addressed. It was right there next to an odd family tree that involved people I worked with and names with big X’s through them.
But I can’t deny it. I know I’m self-centered. I can’t even try to argue otherwise. I mean, this is a fucking blog. The entire genre is inherently self-centered and self-congratulatory. Look at me! I’ve written on the internet!!
I can develop any number of theories as to why I’m self-centered. Only child, blah blah, survival instinct, blah blah. It doesn’t really matter why, though. (If I were to go with something, though, it would be the survival thing. That one sounds less spoiled and shitty.)
It doesn’t even really matter that sometime nearing 10 years ago, some guy who was always struggling to keep his notes in his second language (there are brief moments of Italian scattered through the pages) used it as a description of me, or as something that might need to be treated.
Is there even a treatment for it? Isn’t it just a character flaw? If I went through years of intensive therapy to treat it, wouldn’t that just be a roundabout way of bolstering it? What could be more self-centered than to waste hours of my time and somebody else’s time working out the reasons for being self-centered and what I could do to stop being so self-centered?
But there it was.
My brain doesn’t like things like that. I become obsessive about them. I roll them over and over in my mind, thinking of what would have brought that on. Was it the dream about the elevator with green carpet? Was it the mention of a disastrous holiday? Was it the dead mom thing? Even now, I put myself back in that room, the desk to my right, a sofa I never sat on ahead of me, the door behind me. What did I do wrong?
Somehow I think my self-centeredness is connected to my perfectionism. When I’ve done something wrong, said something wrong, written something wrong, I obsess about ways I could have done it better. I get trapped in a Jerk Store feedback loop.
There’s all sorts of self-help bullshit available to explain what I need to do to break out of negative thinking cycles, hug my inner child, and generally block up my brain with guru-based faecal matter conveniently packaged in multiple volumes and a speaking tour. None of that interests me. (The same doctor who challenged me about trying to say I wasn’t self-centered also explained that, due to my stubbornness and intelligence, most of the talk-based therapy methods would fail to treat any issues I’d have, and that I’d probably end up mocking the therapist trying to help me.)
Maybe I’m beyond help. Or maybe I don’t need help. Maybe that whole Me Generation thing had some valid points (other than allowing ketchup to be a vegetable). Is it really so bad to look out for yourself? Isn’t that what blogs and social networking were made for?