107. Dubiousity, half true.


Dubious, doubtful, double, indubitable, and other varieties of this word come from a root meaning two, and somehow fear was added to the meaning as the word went through French and into English. I find that fascinating. Actually, I find the word fascinating to be fascinating. I looked into its history once to see if it came from the root fasces, from which we get Fascism. It did not descend from that nasty double ax symbol, fasces. Instead, it originally came from fascinatus, meaning, “to bewitch or cast a spell on“. I told you it was fascinating. As a mental health guy, I work with a lot of doubters, folks who are filled with fear, anxiety, dread, horror, panic, and… you get the idea. Often their disorder is rooted in their origins, like the word origins I mentioned, only their origins tend to be mythical. Let me explain and fascinate you.

Many good persons beat themselves up over the choices that other persons in their lives make. One young man I  know decided as a kid that he had to balance out the drama in his family’s dynamics. He magically became the family thermostat and humidifier. He adjusted his words and actions to neutralize, modify, enhance, or dilute the aggression in the other family members. At first he just observed the raw chaos between his parents and older siblings. He had the catbird’s seat in his family, but he felt compelled to be the hero, savior, messiah  because he also had a great deal of compassion for his dysfunctioning loved ones. And here is where the doubt/myth began: he determined to change his reality rather than confront the ugly reality of his family. When he felt scared or isolated, bullied at school, ignored on the bus, etc. , he put on a blank face with a fake smile for his family’s benefit, knowing that they could not handle one more complaint. Somehow, he figured out that his feelings and attitudes, thoughts and worries, were just not as important as the older people in his family. Though he was the baby, he mythically figured out that he was going on a quest to save his  unaware family.

As you might imagine, he needed to split into two selves in order to attempt the above impossible quest. Part of him had to remain needlessly Stoic while the other part buzzed with mental activity, trying to outwit four older relatives who were often hostile to each other. This splitting, I submit, is the basis for certain types of anxiety. It is a futile attempt to be in two places at once. In this case it was two or more minds at once. More fuel is needed to do this sort of mind surveillance and heart mining. Enter ANXIETY, another cool word to ponder. Once Eric put his plan into effect, he found that he had a nervous tapping energy in his brain and body, something like a mild electric shock ran through him. He could operate faster because of this mild current, but he could not stop it when his interventions were done. Rather, he continued to buzz with mental and physical activity, as if a hive of microscopic bees had been transfused into his blood stream. Like any addictive substance or compulsion, this one would not let go.

“How was your day, Honey?” his mom would inquire.

“Fine. No problem”, he’d respond falsely, assuming that his fragile mother could not deal with the fact that he was mercilessly bullied again for being smart and bold in the upper middle class private school he attended. He had to keep the other world of victimization away from his family, and vice versa. Tornados erupt at the edge of cold fronts and hot, humid low pressure centers. Eric knew in his marrow that his mom could not endure one more tornado, not from him. His older siblings had delivered pain and disappointment in fractured freight loads. He could not follow in that trench of failure, so he moved methodically under this unseen pressure, like a deep sea diver at life crushing depths. There was no room for error or full disclosure of the truth, no margin for leaks or punctures.

It’s not a long walk from double reality to multiple realities and the loss of psychological traction. No matter how smart and adaptive a person is, he will falter at some point in the double spy business. His tension will seep out of the thickest suit of armor, and Eric’s did. It was an odd thing that he began plucking wild hairs out when he noticed one on his unshaven face. Some sort of charge would go off and he felt a momentary relief. A nose hair, an eyebrow hair, a hair in his ear– the search and destroy mission became ritualized. “Ahhh,ooooohhhh”. Some sort of bubble was popped with each hair eradication. He did not connect his hair removal with the anxiety that coursed through him. In fact, hair plucking seemed to provide a momentary antidote to the anxiety. However, when he ran out of wild hairs, he began to look at the neatly trimmed ones as negotiable. After all, his anxiety was not well coiffed; it was a field of thistle weeds that stretched to the horizon. He longed to pull up every one of those prickly weeds, but he knew he would wind up with bloody hands if he started. He could not expose himself yet.

By the time I met Eric he had no eyebrows left, and his hair was patchy. He had begun to harvest and eat his hairs one at a time. Trichotillamania is the proper term for such behavior. His stomach harbored a hairball that a cat would be proud of. Instead of external chaos like his older siblings produced, Eric had cultivated a prairie full of internal gopher issues that could not be seen or counted. They popped up at seemingly random times, out of control like wild hares.

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