Sunday, August 19, 2007


You probably don't know this about me, but I suffer from an extremely rare condition I like to call psychochondria. I cannot read / learn about any form of depression, mania or other mental illness, without being convinced, from reading the symptoms, that I have it too.

For two weeks after I first read The Bell Jar I went around convinced that my natural summer holiday laziness was the first sign of an overwhelming depression that would end in my killing myself (not that I would have minded, if it had meant that I also had a third of Plath's talent). I've watched As Good As It Gets three times, and each time the similarities between me and the character played by Jack Nicholson just seem to get more uncanny (I wasn't the only person who thought this by the way - the year the film came out practically all of my friends came back and said how much that Melvin Udall guy reminded them of me). When the New York Times ran an article about Seasonal Affective Disorder I was convinced I suffered from it, until I realized that I'm depressed through most of the summer too. I suspect the truth is that I've always suspected, deep down, that there's something wrong with me, so every time I see an explanation I just naturally latch on to it.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I started to read Tim Page's piece about growing up with Asperger's Syndrome in last week's New Yorker (not, alas, available online). For a while the evidence was equivocal. Okay, so I get obsessed about things. Okay, so I tend to compensate for my complete lack of athletic ability by developing obscure interests and amassing vast amounts of arcane knowledge [1]. Okay, so I'm socially clueless and inept. But I've never had trouble concentrating on anything, even if I wasn't in the least interested in it. And I was always good at school.

Then I got to this line and experienced that terrible deja vu like feeling of having your own life described by a total stranger:

"I suffer little stage fright when it comes to public speaking or appearances on radio and television, but I continue to find unstructured participation in small social gatherings agonizing. It would be easier for me to improvise an epic poem at a sold-out Yankee Stadium than to approach an attractive stranger across the room and strike up a conversation."

Yes, exactly. Ah, well. At least now I know what's wrong with me. At least until something more plausible comes along.

UPDATE: The article's now available.

[1] In the article, Page remembers reacting to a muffed attempt at playing kickball thus:

"So?" I wanted to scream. "There are things I know; things that I can do. Can you name the duet from La Boheme that Antonio Scotti and Geraldine Farrar recorded in Camden, New Jersey, on October 6, 1909? What was the New York address of D.W. Griffith's first studio? How many books by David Graham Phillips have you read? Who was Adelaide Crapsey? I learned to play the entire Chopin Prelude in E minor in a single night!"


Tabula Rasa said...

wait -- is this day falstaff or night falstaff on the line?

Aishwarya said...

Anonymous said...

Omifuckinggoddess. We are starting to think alike. Or you are getting into my head. I need those whatchamallit powers. Now. Else you and I will morph into something really really ugly. Either you survive or I do. Etc etc.

All this because I read the article over the weekend and was going to ask you on Monday morning whether you had Aspergers.

I bet you've already checked out Emily Post's Etiquette!


Tabula Rasa said...

thanks much. i got 27. any takers?

Cheshire Cat said...

With me, it's quite the opposite. I've always suspected, deep down, that there's something wrong with me, but no explanation ever seems to fit.

As for the test, 30. (I've always been good at tests.)

Falstaff said...

TR: Good point. Well, well, what do you know - I'm schizophrenic and only one of my personalities has Aspergers.

aishwarya: Thanks. 36. So it's official then.

n!: Nah, what do you think all that consulting training was good for. I don't need Emily Post.

And it's that obvious, is it?

TR / Cat: Hah! Don't talk to me, sane people! *demented laugh*

Space Bar said...

22. More than the average female physicist (whatever that means)and less than the average math contest winner.

i'm going to take that test again and get a diferent score.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

nosophobia :-s self respecting nosophobic wud call themselves psychochondria'cal

??! said...

does online comment-chat help towards "intense" social interaction? or does it make it work?
and 19. sheeesh. one is now Plaid.

Szerelem said...

32....does that mean I'm a gone case or am I on the border line??
I don't even think I'm geeky...I even sometimes think I am a complete airhead! Maybe the test is flawed?

Tabula Rasa said...

congratulations. i hear you're an excellent driver.

Falstaff said...

space bar: Ya, me too. I'm sure my score is at least a little inflated, if only because my competitive streak took over while I was doing the test. Plus, I should really let day falstaff take it.

N / ??!: see comment to TR / Cat above

anon: oh boy! Imagine being irrationally afraid of being irrationally afraid of having a disease. Recursions recurse.

szerelem: Yes, most people's first reaction is denial. Don't let it get to you. Be proud of who you are.

TR: Man, don't even go there. You know, this might actually explain why I've never managed to learn how to drive. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to see about getting some maple syrup for my pancakes.

Anonymous said...


Are you also an alcoholic?

If so, consider yourself part of the great American writer's pantheon.

(Terribly doomed, most likely to die alone and penniless (sorry, its true), unable to function to civil society but remembered for years to come...)

Can't have the cake and eat it too, as they say. ;)

km said...

OK, who here is dangerously, violently psychotic?

//Meeting at 11. Drinks and knives will be served.

Anonymous said...

ADD ? don't think you would suffer from that. hah.

I scored so low on the AS test, I had to look up other disorders to avoid sinking into a deep state of depression.

Space Bar said...

suddenly i'm 18. oh bryan adams.

that makes me an average man. where's the tv remote? (since we're doing the wholesale generalisation thing here).

Anonymous said...

With ref to the same comment to TR/Cat, here's an extract from the latest Princeton Review.

Top 10 Toughest Colleges to Get into

8. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Penn students say their peers are "insanely smart. On our first day, the dean asked everyone to stand up in the auditorium who had been valedictorian. The number of people who stood up almost scared me to death." ...The competition in the applicant pool is formidable. Prospective students need to be one of the strongest students in their graduating class in order to have a chance at gaining admission.


That's insane alright! ;-)


Anonymous said...

I apparently am the Average Man.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness?


Falstaff said...

thungachi: No, but I'm getting there. Now if only Asperger's and alcoholism was all you needed to be part of the pantheon. I rather suspect, however, that you actually need to have written a book as well.

km: Who isn't?

BM: No, that I'm pretty sure I've never had issues with.

space bar: Good for you. I retook the test and my score came down to 34 from 36. Big deal.

N: These would be undergrad rankings presumably. Don't be fooled by them. All undergrads are clueless, no matter what university they're in.

n!: Ya right.

Anonymous said...

"All undergrads are clueless, no matter what university they're in."

Oyyy! I went to Penn!

Watch yourself. ;-P

Anita =)

Anonymous said...

24? i'm alright then? wow

Raj said...

Reminds me of the opening para of Jerome K Jerome's "three men in a boat".

"“It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch--hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into-- some fearful, devastating scourge, I know--and, before I had glanced half down the list of "premonitory symptoms," it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.