Everything reminds me of something else. It's been that way as long as I can remember, and it comes in handy. Analogies are easier, not to mention puns. And when I make a really good pun, I remind myself of my favorite rappers. It feels good. I feel confident, and everything gets a little easier. But the analogies come on just as strongly when I make a mistake. If I say something awkward, I remind myself of people who do that all the time. Soon, I'm comparing myself to those people, or even starting to wonder if something's wrong with me. That's the worst. The first thing I really thought I had was Asperger's.
Asperger SyndromeMy mom works in Special Ed., so I knew the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome before every celebrity's kid suddenly had it. You're anti-social, oblivious, and you get obsessed with weird stuff. It explained a lot of the things I used to think when I was a kid, and every time I couldn't hold eye-contact or got turned down by a girl it might as well have been because of Asperger's. But as I got older I started to meet other self-diagnosed "Aspies," and it occurred to me that they were all just nerds. Lots of kids watched Dragon Ball Z. Lots of kids had swords. It doesn't mean you can't shake that stuff off and roll your eyes at it later. Self-diagnosed Aspergers is just a superstition, a fortune cookie for unpopular kids; some of the symptoms match, and suddenly you connect the dots and think you're this generation's Bill Gates. I didn't want to be one of those kids, but I still made mistakes and they still reminded me of mental conditions.
OCD was next. I thought maybe I talked abruptly because I felt compelled to use the most precise words. I bit my nails and my iTunes was categorized by genre and subgenre. I mostly gave up on this one because I can turn off the tics when I need to meet someone's parents or get interviewed for a job. Maybe I just get bored. Why should it be OCD? I never completely got rid of it, though; I still have "intrusive thoughts," and I still hate walking back on the same route I took to get somewhere. But I never get into too much of a rut about that stuff, so I hardly think about OCD.
Attention Deficit Disorder
ADD made the most sense. "Intrusive thoughts" were really just new things to pay attention to. The immaculate iTunes was just because I got tired of bands so quickly. The bad eye-contact was just a problem with having other things to look at. I was satisfied. It gave me an explanation for my problems and it was treatable.
Right before I moved to New York, I asked my doctor for Ritalin. He was like a fortune-teller. He said I probably had a good memory if I was able to keep my thoughts coherent. He said memories often distracted me in the present. He said I often had multiple thoughts at once. He said I fetishized Ritalin.
And then he said he'd prescribe it, but I changed my mind in the waiting room and decided not to get it. If I have an attention disorder then I also have a stubbornness disorder. If I needed medicine to fix me when I was hyperactive then I wouldn't get to enjoy all the benefits of an excited mind.
I decided I would just experiment with holding a train of thought as long as I could. I started by playing longer songs when I walked around with my iPod. Then I tried keeping track of my trips around town, hoping to notice where one neighborhood ended and another began. It seemed to be working pretty well. That's why I remember the rough night so clearly.
After that night, I suddenly didn't have such an urge to diagnose myself. I'm not going to reproduce the details here, it's just that I realized maybe I'd be better off not telling my mind how to think about itself. If I told myself I was always going to have awkward conversations, that would be the only thing on my mind during my next conversation. I'd probably get distracted and say something weird. A self-diagnosis might give an explanation for a few little details, but then I fixate on it and start getting worse.
All this time, I'd been giving myself too much credit. Even if my ADD treatment seemed to be working, that was just another symptom. Hypochondria isn't just about imagining you're sick. It's no different to imagine you're getting better when you aren't.
When I "had" ADD, I figured I thought about it so much because I was distractible. When I had OCD, I figured I felt compelled to think about it. When I had Asperger's, I figured I always thought strange thoughts like that. It's no wonder I like metaphors; I make them automatically, constantly. I just don't usually have a name for what I'm doing. Social scientists call it "confirmation bias," and I wonder if they worry all the time that they're falling for it.
It's not that complicated. First, hypochondria makes you notice the symptom. But if you treat that symptom by feeding it more hypochondria, then you notice more symptoms and things start to snowball. You never step back and look at your logic, because you don't have time to step back when you think you're getting worse.
But don't be afraid. It's how you cope with a world that's more complicated than you. It started when you were born. Real problems wouldn't get solved if you didn't have practice turning your imaginary problems into symptoms. And symptoms are addicted to diagnosis.