Adversity Doesn't Build Character, It Exposes it....
“PUTTING MY WORST FOOT FORWARD” :
Due to only having two General Education psychology classes, I was required to take four pre-requisites at a community college in order to apply to graduate school. During that process, an abnormal psychology professor took an interest in my story, and ultimately lobbied the department head to allow me to take an independent study neuropsychology class with her. Throughout this one on one process, I shared many stories, both verbally and previously written material, about my experiences with sexual abuse, heavy drug use and distribution, my experience with the criminal justice system, my redemptive/vindicating journey to become an attorney, traumatic brain injuries, a subsequent detour into an alternative sexual “lifestyle”, Cluster B personality disorder experiences, an extremely toxic divorce, etc. The cumulative effect of hearing and reading about these experiences eventually lead to the conclusion/suggestion that I needed to write a book. It was not the first time that someone had suggested this, and even after her suggestion I did not completely embrace the idea. But one day after reading something I wrote, she asked me about facing 2-10 years in prison. I spent the next six weeks writing a forty-eight page response to her question. This became the start of a self-doubting process that I struggled with on many levels. Ultimately, I found purpose and conviction in writing this book for my daughter, as I explained in an email:
“…..those who win the wars write the history books. And if for whatever reason I lose the war, however that is defined [suicide/TBI-related cognitive decline], and I’m no longer able to convey my [story], then I won’t have to worry about someone else writing that history book”.
The years following my divorce were spent in almost literal physical isolation, with the exception of periodic email exchanges with women who were intrigued by the depth and substance of my written profile on a dating site. These email exchanges became a mutually therapeutic process because it not only allowed me to perform a psychological “autopsy” of my own experiences, but because it allowed me to analyze, dissect, and catalog the dynamics of quite a few failed marriages…it also was very therapeutic for the women who were opening up, often for the first time, about their own experiences. Occasionally, the exchanges would progress to the point of me sharing some of my written work. In one particular instance, after reading quite a bit of material, the impression the woman was left with as she struggled to try to wrap her head around everything was to say, “It’s just all so human”. Ultimately, that’s what any story is about, the human condition. And for me specifically, it’s about trying to humanize all of these fucked up experiences, poor decisions, bad judgment, crazy adventures, adversity, etc.
During another exchange, woman reached out to me because she was “blown away” by my profile, and followed it up with something about women look for guys like me but aren’t sure they actually exist, etc. As I described to the neuropsycholgy professor:
“I politely responded with a self-deprecating comment about my ex wife not agreeing with her. I tend to be pretty transparent in my exchanges because there’s no way to explain where I’m at without doing so, and I have no interest in being “full of shit” guy. I’m in contemplation of bearing everything to the world in a book, so why the fuck am I going to play hide and seek with certain details in one on one exchanges? I was actually practicing a relative amount of restraint and trying to answer her questions with brevity, so she actually got a relatively light version of everything at the time. Nevertheless, her response was:
“I really appreciate your openness and honesty about your life, the good and the bad. When there is nothing left to lose, I can see how that may have impacted you in this regard. I don’t judge but I would caution you against putting your worst foot forward now that you’re dating again.”
When I read that last sentence I immediately saw an image of “Putting My Worst Foot Forward” on a book cover, with some variation or qualifying follow up summary of a journey through sexual abuse, the drug world, redemptively climbing an academic Mount Everest (law school), the ‘Lifestyle’, TBI, mental illness, and then back again.”
When graduate school started, I had about 400+ written pages for this project, but the demands of school caused me to set it aside.
To be continued….
“TRICKLE DOWN PATHOLOGY”
The majority of people who initially visit this site most likely will have found their way here due to having been affected by my psychoanalytic dissection of Donald Trump, the GOP’s sycophantic metamorphosis into the Party of Trump, Trump’s supporters, as well as the “triggered” reaction/opposition to Trump. In my observation and experience, politics is the primary source of psychological distress in this country. As such, similar to “Poli-Sci” (Political Science), I see a need for what I call “Poli-Psych (Political Psychology).
With that as a backdrop, this project came about somewhat serendipitously due to not only observing the political climate, but also observing and analyzing the toxic effect that politics was having on a personal/romantic relationship (now in it’s 17 month) that, essentially, became a case study for society at large. Maureen, who I met in January 2017, was not only a lifelong Republican, but for the first fourteen months of our relationship, she was also a very aggressive defender of Donald Trump. There had been many stories written about marriages and friendships (“de-friending”) ending since Trump was elected due to hostile political disagreement. The reality is that while Trump isn’t usually the proximate cause, he is both a symptom, and, similar to gasoline to a fire…he is an accelerant. Hell, I could even attribute politics as a straining factor in the decades-long build up to the culminating estrangement of my relationships with my mother and brother in 2013 (I’ve also only had contact with my father twice in the last 30 years). But unlike family relationships, having an opportunity to observe this dynamic affect a relationship that not only had a clean slate from a baggage/issue standpoint, but also observe the negative affect on a relationship where we appeared to be extremely compatible in nearly every other area. On April 25, 2018, while sitting in a mundane blue-collar certification seminar (for the construction job that I still work at), I conceptualized a Cognitive Psychology research paper on “confirmation bias” in the political arena. The response to this paper, my underlying theory and conclusions from it, the continuing deterioration of the political climate/discourse, and the periodic political eruptions in our relationship that, even when dormant, were always just beneath the surface……all resulted in me deciding to set aside years of experience, research, and writing about Traumatic Brain Injuries….and instead choose “confirmation bias” as the topic of my thesis in the fall of 2018. Unfortunately, according to my advisor, the complexity of my underlying theory was not only “something you could spend a whole career on”, but it was something that required resources not available to a Masters level program. Consequently, I was forced to scale it down to a level that was less than personally fulfilling, but kept it in mind as a possible book project after graduation. During the months that followed, I started to become more comfortable posting my observations/analyses/insights on Twitter in long-form threads. After only acquiring about 50 followers during my first ten months of posting (Feb-Dec of 2018), I saw it bump up to about 75 in January of 2019, before finally getting some traction this spring. Although the following is still modest, the response to my work has been rewarding and meaningful….not necessarily because of the focus on politics (which is essentially just a backdrop), but because of the effect that my insights/observations/analysis appears to have on people’s personal well-being. Basically, what I’ve observed through my work/content is that the political climate has been a peripheral contextual backdrop that has allowed people to better understand the primary source of psychological distress in their lives: toxic relationships with family members who often exhibit similar Cluster B Personality Disorder behaviors. This project explores the cognitive and neuropsychology underpinnings of how we consume politics, and the effect that has on our personal lives.