Tuesday, June 19, 2012

We Ripped Through That Puppy!

The unit test covering the first 4 chapters of Abnormal Psychology is behind me. Unlike my Psych 101 professor, I didn't disclaim myself at the onset of the course by notifying the professor that I have some degree of cognitive dysfunction and short-term memory loss from my years of alcoholism and drug addiction. My former professor essentially said "Pfft. Don't underestimate yourself. Your brain has an amazing capacity to build new connections and function just fine," so I didn't want to make it an issue with my current professor, even though things like quizzes aren't my strong suit, of which we have 20 this semester....like every day. ANYWAY.

I had voraciously studied, having read the book and memorized the Power Point slides as well as I could, in order to answer 20 true/false questions, 70 multiple choice questions and 2 short answer questions. My manic mind felt that the 40 minutes it took for me to complete the exam was more like 10 minutes.

I'm a notoriously fast but thorough test-taker, regardless of bipolar stability or seemingly impaired cognition. My system is to go through the entire test, rapid-firing answers to what I deem obviously correct, leaving the unknown/unsure questions to dissect later. And the professor did try to screw us with some very ambiguous possibilities on the multiple choice. I must say, I enjoyed the question about the current societal deviancy of body piercings so much that I underlined "body piercings" and drew a smiley face underneath it. I was the first one in the class to complete and hand in the exam, not because I was 100% sure I answered all of the questions correctly, but rather, I'm a quick reader and capable of picking out keywords. Overall, not too shabby, given all those dead brain cells (which, via neural plasticity, can regenerate!).

I was, however, tripped up by a question as to the precise definition of, essentially, what you label a factor with regard to coming down with chicken pox. The question had to do with having the virus that causes chicken pox and what the probability is that the patient will actually be symptomatic of the disease, because the virus can be latent in the system without the patient "having chicken pox." (Kind of an old-fashioned question, given there's a vaccine nowadays, but that's moot.) It was followed by a question as to what you label the correlation between and risk of incidence with regard to smoking and lung cancer, given not *all* patients with lung cancer are/were smokers. The differences in the labeling are so coy (to me, anyway), that out of the 3 possible models, I have ill ease that I answered either question correctly. Meh.

The short answer questions were a breeze. The first was on the diathesis-stress model in psychopathology. She said to "write a few words or a sentence" to the question. To The Offbeat Drummer, "a sentence" is equal to "a paragraph." As you're all aware, I'm nothing if not verbose, and when I don't know a dictionary or precise classification of a word or term, I'm really, really good at winging it, either with overtly intelligent twists of wording or practical examples. (Read: The next best thing to knowledge is bullshit, an educational philosophy that has historically served me very well.)

Put simply, a diathesis is the chance anyone of us has to develop a certain psychological disorder at some point in life, based on a number of biopsychosocial factors. (Biopsychosocial = genes + psychological makeup + social environment/adaption.) Stress, defined, is an individual's ability to cope with emotional or physical factors that exceed his/her capacity to adapt or relate. (My definitions, not the book's or the professor's.)

Thus, the diathesis-stress model can vary from person to person. Some folks have a stronger genetic, psychological or social makeup that predisposes them to handle stressors poorly (like me, the comorbid mentally ill addict/alcoholic). Others are built like brick shithouses and nullifying the odds of all of those factors, handle stressors and their ramifications very healthily (like my brother, or my son, 2 of my closest blood relatives, which is called resilience induced by "protective factors").  BINGO! (That's how I answered the question, though I didn't actually write "BINGO" after it.)

I'd been wondering for a long time why, exactly, I turned out book-smart and creatively talented, but two buckles shy of a straight jacket, with a highly addictive personality and clinically significant mental disorders, while my brother, who is biologically very similar to me, is, for all intents and purposes, though not highly academically intelligent, musically gifted, and "normal." If anything, psychosocially, my brother is a thrill-seeker, though it's not of clinical significance that he chooses to ride a motorcycle. Slowly, these queries are being answered in my study of abnormal psychology.

The second short answer question was "What is the problem with 'labeling' a patient?" While I missed one key factor, the fact that it closes off further inquiry into a specific diagnosis, I think I saved face with my (personal) example. I did get correct the notion of stigmatization and stereotyping the patient/client. My example/explanation? Setting: Inpatient mental institution (been there, survived that). Doctor/clinician: "The bipolar in bed 5...." which defines the individual by her disorder, just as a diagnosis, as if that's all she is, bipolar and inhumanly inconsequential. I said it'd be better phrased as "Andrea, the patient in bed 5, who has Bipolar II disorder with mixed-mood episodes, is exhibiting symptoms of hypomania today." Given we haven't even begun to cover specific disorders, my professor is going to wonder where in the hell I came up with that clinically detailed example. In any event, though I may have phrased my answer *not* according to the "clinical model," my answer is nonetheless correct. BINGO AGAIN!

As I said on the first day of class, I decided to "impart my tidbits of insanity" as they came on-topic, instead of unleashing it all at once. I don't wish to overwhelm anyone, least of all, me. But damn, having all these neuroses is REALLY handy!

In summary, I either did exceptionally well on the exam, or I fucked the whole thing up. I've never fallen into the fair-to-midland range, generally landing (remember the standard deviation graph?) on one end of the extreme or the other. I was certain in Psych 101 that I was failing miserably, when in actuality, I scored 99% for a final grade just a hair away from an A+. (That said, when I took genetics as an undergrad, I thought I understood the material marvelously, and ended up with a D, though I *can* tell you why my son had blue eyes as a baby that turned to deep green.) In complaining, over dinner, to my mother last night, that I was indeed having trouble with equations such as the aforementioned factors of disease prevalence (if you have X, you might develop Y, though if you are born with A,B & C, your chances of developing X are only vaguely relative to Y, etc.), she begged the question, "Are you SURE you want to go into psychology as a profession?" My answer was still a resounding "Yes." 

If my divine calling, let's say, is ultimately to counsel and help people whose conditions and mental states are similar to or even worse than my "multi-morbidity," then yes, I will engage in the several years of coursework and practice required to become a doctor, no matter how difficult or daunting the training might be. Naysayers believe I should abandon the pursuit of science in favor of embracing writing, but there's no law written that says I can't do both. 


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