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September 19, 2022

Significant Other/Wise

By Sailor Jim Johnston

"He's been at it again, Doctor Roberts!"

The patient was extremely agitated, hardly able to sit still, much less recline. I poured him a glass of water almost to overflowing and said, "Have some water, please ... what's has he done now?" An old trick, but one that almost always worked; extreme emotion tended to dry one's mouth, so the water was always accepted ... but to take a very full glass of water, one has to move slowly. Thus, the patient calmed himself in order to gain a needed drink of water.

He sipped for a moment, then - setting the glass aside - spent a moment cleaning his glasses (a harmless way to kill time while gathering one's thoughts; I do it myself without thinking) before replying, "The same old thing, Doctor. Trying to dominate me, ranting at me when he thinks I'm weakening; I'm nothing but a drag on him, he wants his freedom from me, he could be so much more and achieve so much more were it not for me holding him back, blah, blah, blah."

I made a note ("Oy, not again," if you must know) and told him to continue.

"Continue with what? You know the situation and it's nonsense, complete and utter nonsense; without me, he'd be nothing ... less than nothing! I've made him what he is and, without my guidance and stability, he'd be out of control. I am the anchor that keeps him from simply flying off the planet."

"Yes, very good." It had taken the better part of a year to get him to understand this and I was very pleased with this progress. When the patient first came to me, he was an absolute doormat. Let his co-worker walk all over him, refused to defend himself as the woman he loved made a habit of verbally abusing him, thought of himself in terms of meek and mild. Unable to deal with his reality, he'd manifested a dominant split personality.

His other personality was everything he wasn't, of course. Aggressive, strong, self-aware, confident; which, in and by itself, wasn't all that bad a thing. Who among us doesn't have an inner personality that knows the right thing to say and do, eh? The idealized person who is never caught without a quip, always stands up to the bully, always gets the girl, etcetera, etcetera. However, his alter ego had manifested into a complete split personality, one that all but completely dominated him and required massive amounts of time and energy to even partially control.

Fairly straightforward, right? Ah, but this was where he departed from the classic profile! He'd been adopted as an infant and had been constantly made aware of the fact that he was a foundling by his adoptive parents, the result of which had to be that he'd never truly, in his own mind, been accepted as their own. Thus, he spent his entire life trying to gain their acceptance by attempting to live up to their strict moral codes. (I hadn't asked, nor had he mentioned, but his adoptive parents sounded almost like a throwback to the 1930's.)

As a result, when his dominate personality emerged; he automatically became the emotional and judgmental control of his other personality. His ethics and moral code, a direct echo of his upbringing, put limits on his alter-ego, which - in turn - had caused that personality to rebel, not unlike a teenager revolting against the restrictions of his adult parents' guidance. As he, himself would have rebelled against his adoptive parents, had he not felt so grateful for their presence.

Freud would have loved this guy!

"I certainly hope you realize what you are saying, and how far you've come in such a short time to be able to say that," I continued, jotting down a quick "Bite me, Jung!" for later emphasis.

"Oh, yes. We've come a long way since I first walked in here. As a matter of fact, I might as well break the news to you first ... I've decided to quit my job and start on that novel I spoke about!" His blue eyes gleamed behind his glasses.

"Wonderful!" I read his newspaper column daily and knew from the beginning that his writing skills demanded much more. "Was it this decision, perhaps, that sparked this latest episode?"

He turned his handsome profile towards the window ... when considering, he tended to look - almost wistfully - at clouds. Man's eternal yearning for the freedom of open space, so deeply embedded in all of us that dreams of flying are considered a racial trait, but also indicating the wish for freedom from decisions and strife.

"Yes," he finally replied, turning his piercing look back to me. "Yes, I suppose it must have. He made a point to insist that my job was essential to his needs. 'Essential,' ha! Working with an overbearing ass of an editor and that smart mouthed nosy bitch ..." He paused again, and his face softened somewhat. "Well, I suppose I'll miss her a bit. She really is something special, in so many ways."

"The way you've described her in our sessions together, she really seems like an ideal woman for him, if not yourself." Classic love/hate relationship, perhaps shaded with a woman/mother confusion and an Oedipus complex, but not very important to his treatment. Perhaps down the road ... I made a note to explore this at a later date. "Has he finally commented on her?"

"No, he never does. I swear, if it turns out that he's gay, I'll just .. just .. Oh, God! I won't stop laughing for a week!"

I agreed that it would be extremely amusing, without pointing out to him that this would mean that he had suppressed homosexual leanings, himself. I jotted a quick note to myself to guide future sessions towards this subject as well ... and to wear looser slacks from here out.

"No, nothing about her, but ... "

I looked up in alarm. "But, what?"

"Oh, I dunno, Doctor. He can be so open and honest, such a boy scout, at times. Sometimes I look in the mirror and he stares back at me with that incredibly calm and in control look, and I can actually feel his power, the massive power he holds in check. When he starts talking, when he's not ranting at me for bottling him up and just being me; it's almost hypnotic, really. He's like the living personification of all good things, of justice and country and truth." Clark looked out the window again and I kept quiet, letting him sort it out for himself.

This would be a turning point! Personalities in open warfare, ego vs. superego, with the body on the line. I actually held my breath for a moment; waiting to see which personality would win out.

Finally, after several long moments, he sighed and turned back to me with a grin. "On the other hand, he was also a super pain in the ass! Mr. Bend-Steel-in-My-Bare-Hands. Mr. Faster-Than-a-Speeding-Bullet. Mr. Pu-tween! Mr. ... "

"'Mr. Pu-tween?'" I interrupted. This was a new one.

Clark shrugged. "The noise of a bullet ricosheing off of him. Bang, pu-tween ... He's bullet proof, you know."

"Ah!" He was obviously using another superhuman metaphor, this one plainly indicating that no guilt or blame could stick to his other personality. It followed my diagnosis perfectly.

Clark shrugged again, continuing. "Before I started seeing you, Doctor, He used to make the noise all the time while I was trying to get a column finished by deadline. He really thought it was great ... Oh, and 'whoosh!' He really loved 'whoosh.' I'm sitting there, doing my best to make some stupid human interest story sound at all ... well, interesting, and all the time he's making with the 'Pu-tween! Whoosh!' in my head. Do you know that I'd actually type them into the occasional piece? Honest to God, 'Pu-tween' and 'Whoosh.' Got to the point that the typesetter just automatically skipped any that happened to show up."

I nodded, then glanced at my watch and sighed. "Clark, that's it for our time today. I'd like to congratulate you on this breakthrough. I look forward to seeing you this time next week, and to eventually buying your novel when it comes out. I hope you wouldn't mind autographing my copy?"

He leapt to his feet with an energy I envied and shook my hand with both of his. "I'll do better than that, Doctor. If it won't embarrass you, I'd like to dedicate my first novel to you and our time together. Also," he continued, over my sputtered - yet flattered - objections, "I've made a point of mentioning your name to several of my friends. I hope you can use a few extra patients."

"Clark, Clark ... you do as you see fit, but I'm sure a dedication to your late adoptive father would be more fitting to what you've learned about yourself, eh? As for recommending me to your friends, how do you think we shrinks stay in business?" We shared a brief laugh over my mild jest. "Seriously, I'm always willing to see new patients. I only hope they turn out to be as delightful as yourself."

He left shortly after that, giving me a few minutes to transfer my handwritten notes to his record, to be typed in by my clerk later that day. I quickly consumed a sparse meal, sandwich and iced tea, while watching the clouds. (Yes, yes; I know. "Man's eternal yearning for the freedom of open space ...," blah, blah, blah. Sometimes it's just a cigar, y'know.)

As I thought about Clark's breakthrough, a superhero flew across my line of vision. I watched him until he was out of sight and sighed. Several hundred of my fellow APA members had started a pool when the first superheroes appeared in the early 1900's and it had become somewhat of a tradition to toss one or two percent of one's earnings into the pool. Needless to say, the first psychologist or psychiatrist who scored a spandex patient would win quite a bit of money, in addition to the unmitigated envy of his peers.

Not likely to happen, though. What kind of problems could a superhero have, eh?

On the other hand, the very presence of superheroes electrified my chosen profession. Many citizens were unable to deal with the existence of such obviously superior beings, resulting in a massive surge in emotional problems. Culture shock to the nth degree, only slightly comparable to when primitive cultures are exposed to the modern world. How does the entirety of human achievement compare against what one superhuman can do in mere seconds? (I remember when the first earth born superhuman child completely rebuilt the legendary Seven Wonders of the World in one afternoon, simply because she was bored. Suicide rates soared.)

Even today, there are still those who cannot tolerate their very existence ... in extreme cases, they adopt that rather grandiose title of 'archenemy' to one of the superheroes and deliberate fiendish machinations towards their destruction. (None of which amounts to anything more than a few snide comments by reporters after they are easily defeated.)

On the more amusing side, quite a few of my patients tended to verbalize their issues in fantastic, almost comic book, terms. (A practice encouraged by the popular media and their super-reality shows, I'm afraid.) Take Clark, for example. He's a print reporter, a writer, who made his career writing about the greatest superhero alive, so - of course - his own split personality bent steel, leapt tall buildings, and was bullet proof ... He was, after all, the ideal that Clark secretly aspired to and, therefore, must be that very superhero!

The fact that Clark was, in fact, just a fairly mild-mannered guy who grew up in an adoptive family in Kansas was meaningless to his belief that his other personality, his secret identity, was a super powered being from a distant destroyed planet, where his real father had been a big shot scientist, and so forth. (The single most common fantasy of an adoptive child, as seen through the distorted lens of a world with superheroes. It was good for a small professional article, but, actually - compared to some of my other patients - Clark was, on the whole, rather unimaginative.)

I disposed of my wrappers and pulled out a new folder. I didn't want to mention to Clark - patient confidentially, and all that - but a few of his friends had already dropped by and arranged for appointments. This was the first session for one of them and I could already see he was going to be a doozy. Apparently bipolar, with a progressive sleep disorder, as well as compulsive fitness issues and - as his medical record showed by numerous unexplained injuries - perhaps a masochistic streak. Perhaps Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as well, considering the tragedy of his childhood.

Finally, he was close to being the richest man in America, which could make his slightest whim a reality. Given this extremely unlikely combination of events, this fellow's supported version of reality could be quite ... unrealistic, to say the least. (Even while commiserating over his background, I made a note to bill him at my premium rate ... even shrinks need to eat at fancy restaurants every once in a while, you know.) I took a deep breath and tapped the telephone button that signaled I was ready.

A moment later, the door opened and my nurse ushered my new patient in. I stood, extended my hand and greeted him, "Ah, Mr. Wayne! A pleasure to finally meet you ... please, either sit or recline, as you wish."

Article © Sailor Jim Johnston. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-08-07
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