Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I’m back now, and feistier.

You’re probably aware that a certain percentage of babies are born prematurely, before the calculated due date. But did you know a similar number are born post-maturely?

That’s right! Some of us are born later than we should be, and during that delay their fetal brains secrete an abnormal hormone, procrastinin, which makes them late for every postnatal event. So if you’re perpetually late for everything, it’s not because of some moral failing; you’re a victim of postmature birth syndrome, or PMBS.

There, now doesn’t that make you feel better? Others of us suffer from the silent killer, Testosterone Poisoning Syndrome (“My cojones made me do it”), Pathological Niceness Disorder (“You sit right there and I’ll do the dishes. And the laundry. And raise the kids”), and a host of other entities that in sum release us from responsibilities for our own lives.

I coined a passel of these disorders a quarter-century ago and explained them on our local community radio station. Afterwards, friends would stop me on the street to ask if they were “real.” Some offered innovative diagnoses of their own. Since then, it’s gotten harder to write satire ahead of the surreal twists our culture takes. Just about every infelicitous behavior now has a medically oriented name which people take seriously.

No, I wasn’t just playing around outside marriage: I suffer from “sexual addiction.” The list of disorders goes on and on. The upcoming fifth edition of the psychiatric handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is likely to be twice as heavy as the current edition.

It’s a touchy subject, so I need to be clear. In no way do I want to diminish or dishonor people who are suffering from anything, whether from a “real” disease or the results of their chosen behavior. But we need to put brakes on our tendency to label ways of being in the world as “syndromes,” for then we wind up addressing them not through normal life navigation, but through expensive pharmaceuticals and arcane procedures. Worse, by convincing ourselves that our problems can be addressed only by professionals, we mystify ourselves about our own lives.

1 comment:

  1. So true! Did you see the New York Times Magazine article, "My Life in Therapy"...classic case of this, gone utterly awry..
    also how I feel watching my mother...I always felt if you added up the amount you spend on treatments, versus where you could go with that money...say, 3 days in Paris versus 6 weeks on the therapist's couch...I'd save my money for France...but then I tend to be so frugal by nature, I'd end up saying, I really should instead give this to a homeless person, or Planned Parenthood, or Sierra Club, or DemocracyNow, or the PTA...
    but basically if you aren't depressed, you have strength to give to others... and if you become depressed, therapy may or may not help, but realizing how you could use that money later for travel or helping others should you ever feel better or more motivated, for me, always made the cost of therapy never look worth it, not even remotely...