Who you tryin’ to mess with, Ese? Don’t you know I’m loco? – Cypress Hill
Despite significant recent advancements in the field, neuroscience is still a speculative discipline, leading experts having barely scratched the surface of the intricate workings of the human brain. It’s no wonder so many of us have to engage in such a frustrating and chronic struggle with our own thoughts and emotions.
In an effort to isolate and classify intensely personal mental experiences into more ubiquitous categories, psychologists and others engaged in medical research created catch-all terms like depression, anxiety and alcoholism for multi-faceted mental and physiological disorders whose causes and catalysts are manifold and various. In the 1930s, the AMA, in what I consider one of its laziest abdications of responsibility, decided to blindly accept the unfounded contention of Alcoholics Anonymous that alcoholism is a disease akin to cancer or diabetes. Take it from someone who has grappled extensively with addiction: it’s not a disease. The most common prescription for its treatment – the attendance of religion infused 12 step meetings – is its own proof that this perplexing disorder is not a disease in the true definition of the word. But admitting that, of course, would necessitate actual research into the types of psychological underpinnings that tend to inform this mental abnormality and its corresponding self-destructive behaviors, a tall but necessary order considering how intensely personal are the emotional factors in each individual case.
To illustrate just how sweeping and therefore vague and incomplete classifications like depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and alcoholism really are, I’m going to describe a completely innocuous (albeit annoying) recent effect that some subtle misfiring of neurons seems to have brought about in me. For the past month or so, I’ve noticed that I suddenly over-utilize the phrase “you bet”. If a client thanks me for assistance with his loan, my unconscious reply has become “you bet” instead of my previously more usual response of “you’re welcome”. When someone asks me for a favor, rather than saying “Yes, I’d be happy to do that for you” or “it would be my pleasure” or even just a simple “ok” or “sure thing”, I’ve been unconsciously blurting out “you bet” before I even realize what I’m saying. Now, of course, there’s nothing all that strange about saying “you bet” in either of the above situations. It is something that people say. It’s just that it was never something that I said with any sort of regularity, and now it’s coming out of my mouth like I’ve suddenly developed the most boring and prudish case of Tourette’s ever documented. “You bet!” Last night, I sat up in bed reviewing new and recent influences in my life in an effort to pinpoint where I may have picked up this annoying unconscious auto-response. I thought about the friends and co-workers with whom I communicate most frequently and found no one who habitually used the term. Then I thought about the TV shows I watch with any regularity and could pinpoint no actor, actress or cartoon character whose catchphrase is “you bet”. Books I’ve read lately? Nope, the source isn’t to be found in the pages of a novel. All possible outside influences exhausted, I came to the conclusion that there was no external source that kick-started this verbal hiccup, leaving the most likely culprit an undetectable and probably impermanent anomaly in my brain chemistry. Since this curious symptom doesn’t hold a candle to the debilitating effects attributed to the all-encompassing terms of depression and anxiety, I can continue to calmly monitor its persistence and frequency, the worst possible side effect being that people might occasionally remark behind my back that I’ve been saying “you bet” so often that it’s becoming ludicrous. The real causes may be similar to the underlying factors informing full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder but manifesting in a comparatively weak display of repetitive you bets.
Today I will count my blessings. The dark scourges of depression and anxiety are at bay and I find myself in a cheerful mood. Alcohol has been out of my orbit for quite some time, so there’s little risk of self-sabotage. Spring has sprung. But if I’m right to embrace days like today as the merciful “salad days” of my existence, it also stands to reason that this fortunate state of affairs can be improved upon even further. Why settle? I think I should maximize the enjoyment inherent in these periods of comparatively stable mental health by treating myself to any fucking non-alcoholic indulgence my heart desires. Because sooner or later, my brain will resume its role as my primary adversary and when it does, don’t you think I’ll be glad to remember that I had seized the fleeting good times with all of my might? You bet.
*Post Script: I realize that just two days after proclaiming my intense desire to slap Tom Cruise in the face, I used a photo from one of his movies for this post. I’m a complicated guy.