- Mental Health
Paranoia: Illness or Personality Trait?
The art of GETTING IT
There's a leathery homeless lady near where I live who sits outside all day, holding a thermos. Her hair looks like straw and she smells like kidney beans. She has a collection of all of her belongings around her. Most of her stuff is in plastic bags but she also has a suitcase. That's where she keeps the really good stuff, probably.
Sometimes she sits cross-legged on top of the suitcase. She talks to herself. When she opens her mouth you can see her gums. Occasionally she stops to laugh. From time to time she opens a little package of something (soup mix? hot coco? I have no idea) and pours it into the thermos.
This lady is clearly crazy in some way. But she is also loving life. In other words she is GETTING IT.
Not everyone likes that this lady is GETTING IT. People walk by constantly, shooting her disapproving glances. I can tell that she notices and understands, because she has a look of arrogance on her face. She knows that she's being gross and offensive. But she's out there doing the damn thing, all the same.
There's a look of rebellious resistance in her eyes that would be absent if she was unable to feel the darts shooting out of the eyes of nearly everyone who passes her.
If this homeless lady is out there GETTING IT, why can't you?
Hell no, Mercury Services. I don't want to be anything like this hobo you're describing. Even if she is "mentally strong" in the way that you suggest, her type of fortitude is not the type of strength that I want to ever have. This leathery lady that you seem to be infatuated with is hardened. Grizzled. Crusted over. Isolated. Weird. Go married and live in a box with your girl, if you love her so much.
Yeah all that is true, italicized voice of reason. Especially the infatuation thing. You definitely called me out on that one-- my heart clearly belongs to Ms. GETTING IT, and my love for her ghetto ways is affecting my objectivity.
However, isn't it also true that turtling up and running away from the negativity is just another path to separation? After all, what's the difference between sitting outside and crusting over and retreating inside of a nice air conditioned house where it's nice and safe, only to obsessively worry about what everyone thinks?
Essentially that's like being a hobo in reverse.
Authoritative advice from an expert with smart looking glasses who is sitting there leaned back in a leather chair with his hands folded across his stomach.
Tinfoil Hats Work: the Proof
Science, personality and paranoia
If you check Google Books you might run across a long, boring book called Organizational Trust: a Primer. (It's very dry, so don't click that link if you're operating heavy machinery.)
There is one informative section of that book, though, that talks about the nature of paranoia.
Here's the info in a nutshell:
Some scientists tried to study the nature of "mild paranoia." What they found out (through a series of weird experiments involving two-way mirrors) is that a person who spends lots of time thinking about how he or she looks in public is generally quicker to assume the following:
- that someone is looking at them
- that people who really are looking are paying special attention and noticing them more than they have any logical reason to believe
- that the people that they interact with are out to get them in some way
In other words, at some point an excessive amount of consciousness tends to turn inward.
Check out Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic Notes From the Underground for an example of how an intellectual mind can be the worst enemy of the person in possession of it.
Once you have something to eat and a place to live, you're free. You can do whatever you want and say whatever you want. Yet, many people squander this opportunity because they are afraid.
Beyond basic needs, there are few serious consequences for any action. Most of the choices we make are inconsequential in terms of impacting "nuts and bolts" reality.
The fear, then, is a fear of feeling a certain way. Emotions are powerful but illusory. Time goes by, and emotions fade away.
Since most of what affects us and motivates us seems to have little to do with securing basic needs, in a way we're all dreaming. So why worry?
Chocolate chip pancakes
A blonde, bird-like waitress approaches the table.
Ken understands "omelet" and "delicious."
Ken and his wife have been saving. Now it's time to enjoy.
But… twenty dollars. For an omelet!
The bird chirps to Ken. He recognizes "fluffy."
Small laughs all around.
Ken bows his head, smiling. Then he looks down.
Oh no. Pineapples!
The bird saw Ken's face. Now she can't stop cooing.
Ken turns to his wife.
"What's the word? Quickly!"
"I don't know!"
Ken taps the menu. Chocolate chip pancakes. The waitress understands. Thank God! And reaches for Ken's plate.
Wait... what am I doing? How incredibly... fat!
Ken titters and tries to shoo the waitress away with a jerky motion.
But she won't leave. The pitch of her chirping rises. People are staring.
Ken's stomach folds up and sinks. He lets the pineapple pancakes slide out of his grasp.
Ken's wife giggles and glides a spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth. But her eyes have no sunshine.
The bird returns with fresh chocolate chip pancakes. With a stiff grin, Ken accepts the new plate and slides down in his seat. Bite-by-bite, Ken shovels the food down.
What a horrible way to start a vacation.
Sometimes someone really is watching you
So I'm sitting here in a coffee shop, writing this. For the most part nobody cares. But a few minutes ago, some guy flip-flopped over and tried to look at my computer screen. I turned around.
Immediately: "Paranoia..." His eyebrows bounced up and down. "I think it's a personality trait!"
Then he took a long drag on his e-cigarette.
"And if you add drugs to the mix... it's baaaaaaad."
Sometimes paranoia is real
Right now I'm staring at a woman at the mall and making up a story in my mind about her. Here's one possible reason why she's here.
You're an Unsatisfied Wife
Maybe the act of shopping in a clean, air-conditioned environment is a soothing pacifier that you occasionally need to suckle on to maintain your sanity. Maybe you need that because you have a shitty, boring job. You may not necessarily mind having a job. You may not even need to work because maybe your husband does...
But going to work fulfills an important function in your life: it keeps you busy. Your crappy job, whatever it is, occupies your mind and gives you something to do, something to talk about, new people to interact with and so on. At the same time, though, your job also wears you out. It sucks away all of your energy. You're feeling drained. That's why you go to the mall. Buying things cheers you up and helps restore that missing energy.
The other thing that is draining you is that your husband is obviously getting bored of you. Or you are getting bored of him. You're not exactly sure what is going on with your relationship, actually. You've searched the Internet looking for advice. You asked your pastor. You watched an Oprah episode about it. But nothing seems to really satisfy that itch that nags at you. Something isn't right.
One thing, though, is clear: all your husband wants to do on a Sunday is sit there like a lump and watch the football game. He keeps burping and farting. Gross. Who is this slob? Not the same guy I married. That's for sure.
But you cut that lovely thought down at the stem before it can fully blossom into a very mean flower. Because it's not polite to think mean thoughts. So, you don't. Because you love your husband. Thoughts like that aren't supposed to come to mind, if you love someone. So instead of being mean to your hubby in your head, you think about the past. Dating. You think about how you weren't sure how to respond to a simple text message because you were too nervous. You wanted to make the right impression. Your mind was constantly wrapped up in wondering about whether or not he liked you back. You laugh to yourself, because you were so young, girly and ridiculous back then.
He farts again. Then, so do you. Clearly, all of the nervous tension in the relationship is gone. You're all grown up now, and this is how it is. This is life.
You begin to chastise yourself for thinking in a negative way about your situation. After all it's a nice house that you have together... and a nice life. But you don't see what's so interesting about a football game. You try to turn your frustration around on yourself. Maybe football bores you because you don't know the rules.
You turn things around on yourself in this way because guilt feels better than disgust.
Those are some troubling thoughts. So now you feel a bit uncomfortable and restless. You need a distraction. Something to do. You see your car keys resting on the white kitchen counter and you snatch them up and start walking toward the door. The jingling sound of the keys turns his head for a second. "Where you going babe?"
"Shopping, I'll be back in a bit. Love you."
"Love you too," he says. Then he scratches some popcorn across the bottom of a plastic bowl. He's trying to collect all the salt and butter at the bottom.
Now you're strapped into your brand new SUV. That makes you feel a little better. You're all big and bad in there. Elevated. And when you walk into Macy's, your pupils expand. You catch your breath. The lights and the rising action of the escalator hits you in just the right way. A feeling of calm overtakes you as Kenny G's smooth saxophone stylings glide into your ear canal and cool down your over-stressed brain.
You pick your way through some sexy lingerie. Hmmm, maybe this will get his attention.