Guest post: Compulsive Ranting Disorder

Originally a comment by Screechy Monkey at Miscellany Room.

Interesting, if a little slow-developing, article in the New Yorker on how psychiatric labels (such as autism, sociopathy, borderline personality disorder) have become entire identities. For example:

Just as personality tests (see, I’m an introvert!), astrological signs (I’m a Libra!), and generational monikers (I’m Gen Z!) are used to aid self-understanding, so are psychiatric diagnoses. When Paige Layle was fifteen, a psychiatrist told her that she had autism spectrum disorder. She describes the rush of clarity she experienced when hearing the DSM-5 criteria: “I’m not crazy. I’m not making it up. I’m not manipulative or trying to fake anything. . . . There’s a reason why I’m the way that I am.”

What I took from the article is that both patients and practitioners are putting a lot of weight on DSM categories that just aren’t that firm to begin with.

A related phenomenon that’s been irritating me is that I see the following progression:

1. Anti-social behavior X is an indication of mental health condition A.

2. Therefore, someone who does X may very well have A.

3. It is wrong to criticize anyone for anything that is caused by a mental health condition.

4. Therefore, if you complain about someone doing X, you’re an ableist jerk.

For example, read any advice column or discussion group where someone complains about how their friend Sally is consistently an hour or more late every time they try to make plans. Dinner reservations and theatre tickets go to waste, people sit around for half the evening wondering when she’ll show up, etc.

It won’t be long before someone will pop up in the comments to say that it’s the letter writer, not Sally, who’s an asshole. Sally probably has “time blindness,” which is a symptom of ADHD, you ableist jerk!

This, to me, turns the whole fucking thing on its head. People typically seek mental health treatment because they’re having problems regulating their behavior or emotions. Diagnostic categories were supposed to be to help define treatment methods (and, of course, to make sure insurance companies will pay for it). But many people — I should stress that I see this more from laypeople than actual professionals — want to say “oh, here’s this label, and it explains why you are the way you are, and now that you know, there is no reason for change because (clap) you (clap) are (clap) fine (clap) as you are (clap clap clap).”

Which — no. Sally is a fucking pain in the ass who nobody wants to be friends with, including, I’ll bet, all the people insisting that she’s wonderful as she is. It’s like someone throwing their empty whisky bottle at your head, cracking open a second bottle, and shrugging it off with “hey, I’m an alcoholic, this is what I do!”

Whew. Sorry, that rant got away from me for a bit. I can’t help it, I have Compulsive Internet Ranting Disorder, it’s just the way that I am, and you all need to indulge me.

One final bit of snark:

In 2020, she posted a video on TikTok slamming a trend that used “autistic” to mean “dumb.” It went viral. With a bluntness easily mistaken for vanity, she told the camera, “Hi, there, I’m autistic. I’m also the smartest person I’ve ever met, O.K.?”

Yes, “mistaken” for vanity. Indeed!

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