Doubting What’s Nameless

(Author’s note: The original first few paragraphs on this otherwise still applicable post were quite deeply tied into the Too XYZ blog itself, and thus have been omitted here. –Ty)

There are many named handicaps and disabilities out there. Many that, when properly identified can be lived with, or in some cases eliminated, provided the right resources, knowledge and personnel. Such obstacles have names because they have been studied. And they have been studied because they have a consistent pattern of appearance and of repercussions for those that suffer the impairment.

Take as an example someone who finds they wash their hands more than others. And as they get older, they wash their hands raw to the point of being unable to handle objects. In the extreme this behavior begins to make a person late for appointments, and unable to attend social functions, because so preoccupied are they with washing their hands they can barely concentrate on anything else. Though this may be indicative of any number of things, and a professional evaluation is necessary to determine an individual cause, the literature indicates that such a situation is often the result of something called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (Known as OCD for short.)

There is much we do not know about OCD. But we learn more all the time. Common symptoms like the ones I have described. We have discovered several things that seem to cause it. We have discovered therapies and medications which depending on the patient can lesson and in some cases eliminate the disorder.

While naysayers persist, abundant studies have been conducted at this point in history to convince fair minded people that OCD is an actual condition. And therefore when we know that someone officially suffers from it, we can make certain accommodations in our mind pertaining to the particular struggles and set backs such people experience.

Of course my point applies to far more than OCD. There are whole volumes of mental or intellectual disorders which have been named and successfully treated. Each of them opens a door in the minds of fair people. Not a door which will excuse any and all actions on the part of those with a disorder, but a door which will take into account the particular struggles associated with any given condition. The same with certain physical deficiencies.

There was of course a time, not very long ago, when none of these conditions had names. Or perhaps everything out of the ordinary might be labeled as simple “madness”. At those times those with depression were told to merely, “cheer up.” Those with Attention Deficit Disorder were told to “just calm down and pay attention.” Those with OCD were ordered to just “stop doing that. Just stop.”

These approaches did not work, of course. It was more than simply choosing to be different. And while the causes of any given disorder or illness continue to be debated in scholarly circles, (is it brain chemistry? emotional imbalance? Deep seated damage to the psyche?), these behaviors do have names and are at least seen as things which must be understood and treated in some specific way. In other words it is understood today that people are not going to simply talk themselves out of such conditions.

However despite how much we as a society appear to have learned about human behavior, it seems as though we have in reality learned very little. For in the absence of a named condition that appears in very specific journals and records most people still insist that those who have not succeeded according to the conventional definition must simply be lazy, stubborn, or just plain nuts. And it is not only the general, faceless public that fails to give much leeway in this regard. One of the cruelest ironies of them all is that it is often people with a defined, documented, clinical setback of their own who are most vocal in damning those who have fallen behind without the “benefit” of a specific diagnosis. As though struggling people without a diagnosis somehow take away from struggling people with one. I have been the brunt of such hypocrisy many times over in my unusual life.

I am willing to opine, (at risk of major backlash from the online community), that the self proclaimed most tolerant, open-minded, egalitarian, creative generation of all time, the so called Generation-Y (Gen-Y) is in fact just as much, if not even more prone to this sort of out of hand dismissal as any other previous generation.

As a demographic, the current as well as the upcoming generation is in love with the idea of breaking down boundaries so that everybody can succeed. They don’t need permission, they don’t need approval, and they don’t even need help. They are determined to tear down the status quo once and for all, flip off the naysayers and insist on success their way. On their terms.

That sounds great. Even noble and liberating. Until you consider that one major side effect of this approach is the assumption that “if Seth Godin can do it, so can I. And if I can do it, by God so can you and so can everybody.” Under this life view, there are literally no excuses for anybody to fall behind. Those that run the online world right now cannot as a whole conceive of any reason why anybody should not have exactly what they want, or be well on their way to same all of the time. And if anybody isn’t, they are not trying hard enough. Because, “you make your own luck, and you define what does and doesn’t happen to you.”

Unless of course you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Or dyslexia. Or fibromyalgia. Then you get to say you are going as far as you can given your circumstances. But to those, (like yours truly) who have great strengths but obvious weaknesses and consistent, sometimes problematic personality traits without a name? Well, you need to get off of you ass, suck it up, accept that life isn’t fair, subscribe to 1,400 blogs, read the last 25 books on self-marketing, (never mind they are all exactly the same) hire a life coach, get out there and network, and (my favorite) insist on success. Said as though my whole life has gone the way it has simply because I have failed to “insist”.

I believe in accountability and responsibility. Nobody gets to use their condition, named or unnamed as an excuse to do nothing. And indeed I know plenty of people with any number of certifiable conditions that do not in any way use them as a tool or an excuse. But in our success oriented culture we have got to start considering the myriad diversity of not just our success, but our problems. Our obstacles.

We cannot ever know with certainty what is happening inside somebody’s head or heart. That means that there are times when we are going to be bullshitted by those who just don’t want to put any effort into life at all. Yet we still need to stop and put some effort into learning discernment. Getting to the root of what makes someone do what they do, (or fail to do.) And certainly to create ways to help those who need unconventional help as often as we help those who can be helped in the conventional manner. If we can take the time and energy to read up and master WordPress, SEO, marketing, and all of those sort of “necessities”, we sure as hell can stop and take the time to master the human component.

Not all of our handicaps have names. We must accept that perfectly decent, brilliant, valuable people with a lot to offer the world may be getting held back by something that is deeply ingrained into them but is not mentioned in the DSM-IV. They may not, and often don’t understand themselves what their setback is. They too deserve help. And attention. And yes by God, a little bit of leeway as they make their way on their own terms according to their own timing. You don’t have to help them, (us) but if you won’t, for the love of heaven don’t stand in our way with your sanctimonious self-help platitudes either.

Named or not, we each struggle with something. It’s high time we dedicate ourselves to helping people get around those obstacles when all else fails them, as opposed to labeling, doubting, or dismissing them when they are unable to overcome problems in a conventional manner.


  1. This is a really thoughtful post, Ty. And I agree with much of it. Just because something doesn't have a name doesn't mean it isnt' a problem.

    But I think another point is that just because something doesn't have a name and a treatment, doesn't mean you can't overcome it. You'll have to experiment a bit more to find what helps you overcome your weaknesses, but you can. People with dyslexia and depression and even OCD have the ability to derive great success once they find a way around their limitations.

    The real key is not to get hung up on labels, but to commit yourself to finding a solution that works.

  2. No doubt, Jen, in a lot of cases something can be worked out to overcome the obstacles. In just as many cases it cannot, however, though these are the times I advocate letting people skirt around them in whatever ways they can. The point is moving forward, in the end, in whatever way is possible without killing us.

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