I'm twenty-five. Not particularly old, I know, but more than old enough, I thought, to be familiar with every ugly, broken, defective, and/or unholy thing about myself. But recently, in the continuing process of trying to explain why everything I say or do is wrong and nothing is ever his fault, my father gave me the unwelcome revelation that I was diagnosed well over a decade ago with something I'd never heard of called "oppositional defiant disorder". I mean "unwelcome" in the sense that the revelation that your house has burned down is unwelcome, even though you'd probably like to be aware of it. Needless to say this is an unpleasant surprise, but I believe it's almost always best to know the truth even when the truth sucks, as it frequently does. An institute teacher of mine once succinctly defined life as, "You have problems and then you die."
Of course, this may not be the truth, because the diagnosis may have been wrong. This whole time, I thought the reason I was oppositional and defiant toward my parents was because they hit me, yelled at me, and pulled my hair when I violated arbitrary social norms they hadn't taught me. (There's actually a lot I could complain about regarding my parents, but I've tried to keep it out of this space and save it for my memoir instead.) And maybe that's actually still true and the therapists pretended I was the one with a problem because they subscribed to the philosophy of, quote, "Rule one: The parent is always right. Rule two: if the parent is wrong, see rule one," close quote. And I'm not entirely convinced of the quality of the very limited options (for therapy in this case, but also literally anything else besides trees, deer, mosquitoes, and drugs) in St. Lawrence County, New York. But if the diagnosis is correct, it probably goes a long way toward explaining why I'm so critical of everyone in the world. And that's another thing that I just assumed was shaped both by my parents and the bullies I dealt with throughout my formative years.
Look, if this is actually a thing, I would never presume that it absolves me of responsibility for my actions. But contrary to what some Neanderthals continue to believe well into the twenty-first century, brain chemistry doesn't exist just to take up space. Without having a ton of expertise on the subject, the mere fact that identical twins frequently choose to wear the same colored outfits on the same day without consulting each other strongly implies that the extent to which our brain chemistry dominates each one of us is freaking scary. This is why only God can issue final judgment on people. This is why it isn't our place to say that even Adolf Hitler might not someday go to heaven. Not that I think he will, but it isn't my place to say. I'd love to see Brock Turner hanged from a lamppost, but if God decided to forgive him afterward, good for him. Judging two brains that are wired differently by the same standard and condemning one for failing to measure up to the other is incredibly asinine and harmful, and it's exactly how I was raised. But never mind that. I said I was going to save that stuff.
If all my criticism of other people has made it seem like I blame them for everything and consider myself perfect and guiltless, I'm sorry, and you should know that nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody is less forgiving of me than I am. I still hate myself for losing my sister's camera in 2009. I still hate myself for pulling all of a daddy-long-legs' limbs off longer ago than I can remember, though in my defense that idea came from the girl I was hanging out with. I still hate myself for asking my grandmother how much my Christmas present cost. I still hate myself even just for saying stupid things that had no actual consequences for myself or anybody. But I've never signed an executive order based on fearmongering lies to block terrified, impoverished, homeless refugees from finding safety in the so-called greatest country in the world, so I don't think criticizing Trump more than myself makes me that much of a hypocrite. What else am I supposed to write about? The weather? I have occasionally felt like I should apologize for being so abrasive, but I would just keep being abrasive afterward, so what's the point?
As far as me not knowing about my alleged "oppositional defiant disorder" I get that labels can be limiting and detrimental. But they're also crucial for any human to understand the world. Refusing to label an issue doesn't make it cease to exist. I don't know that it would have caused me any harm to know about this label a long time ago. It's not like I didn't already know as a child that things were wrong with me. I knew it wasn't normal to have to go to psychologists I knew it wasn't normal to have to go to a mental health clinic. I knew it wasn't normal to have to cycle through five kinds of antidepressants. When I learned about the label "Asperger's" - well, first of all, when I heard it of course I thought it was "ass burgers" and I wasn't crazy about that at all, but when I learned what it actually was and what it entailed, all I felt was relief and comfort that I wasn't the only person on the planet whose brain was wired this way. You would have thought I was, from the way other kids at school treated my existence like a crime against humanity. That's going into the memoir too.
Every human's brain, even the healthiest one, is specially evolved to prevent him or her from thinking rationally. When one is aware of this, one can try to overcome one's biases. So for example, I used to be very conservative and proactively seek out evidence for conservatism and downplay any evidence for liberalism, and this is a pretty common thing for conservatives to do and liberals to do in reverse. Conservatives/liberals seek out conservative/liberal books, websites, etc. to convince themselves of what they already believe, not to learn. I now try to recognize my confirmation bias and ignore it, and consequently I now choose my views on political issues on a case-by-case basis instead of preconceived loyalty to a certain worldview. I believe what I feel compelled by the evidence to believe, and that's why, for example, I cannot in good conscience go around saying "gun control doesn't work" while the United States is having a gun violence problem entirely unique among first-world countries. I recognize that I'm undoubtedly still wrong about many things and lack the answers for many things, but unwillingness to think about them is not the reason why.
As arrogant as I may sound, it is nonetheless a fact that if more people were this honest with themselves we wouldn't have thousands of fools bending over backwards to defend the most repugnant and indefensible things their chosen politicians say and do. We wouldn't have idiots who claim to follow Christ trying to explain that it's okay for the president of the United States to refer to African nations as "shithole countries" (pardon his French) because, come on, they actually are. Trump could literally eat a baby on live national television and he would still have supporters complaining about how the media try to make him look bad. Don't even try to pretend he wouldn't. I feel like I should apologize for making this more political than I intended, but then it's not about politics so much as basic decency, and I wouldn't be letting him off the hook if he had a D next to his name. It's funny how people call me a liberal nowadays after the countless hours I spent trashing Obama, who, for all his faults and scandals and poor decisions, had more class in his pinky finger than Trump has in his everything.
Anyway, judging by the context, which also included yet again bringing up unremembered incidents from my childhood as if they happened yesterday and define my current personality, the only reason my father bothered to mention "oppositional defiant disorder" to me after all these years was as part of his mission to invalidate the way I see the world. If anyone had mentioned it to me a lot sooner with the object of actually being helpful, I could have potentially made far more progress in life than I have so far. I'm unclear on how exactly I can be expected to address problems that I don't know exist. If I had known that something outside of my control was making me oppositional and defiant (if it is, which I'm still a bit skeptical of) I could have made a conscious effort to resist it. I could have looked at situations where I was inclined to feel oppositional and defiant, recognized that my feelings were the irrational product of a mental defect, and reacted differently. I've done this with confirmation bias and I've done this with irrational negative emotions that I've poetically compared to screaming children who just need to be ignored until they shut up.
But I'm twenty-five, and I've been trying to lead an "adult" life for seven years, and I don't really feel like starting this now after so much lost time. So we'll see.
Disclaimer: My parents are good people, I don't hate them, and as I said I try to avoid publicly discussing their shortcomings. But since this is entirely pertinent to me and my life this very week, I saw no reason to self-censor this time.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.