Seeing a Fellow’s Nuts§

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: January 10, 2008; revised: April 24, 2018; readers in past month: 572

Two Strangers in Milan

While in some ways my mental health is stabler than that of most people I have encountered, I’m not completely alright. As I get older, my mental health seems to be getting worse in some ways — or I’m becoming more aware. Often in films and in novels we’ll see a character that seems moderately sane when living for a long period of time in isolation. However, when the character encounters someone else, when he encounters the rest of the world, his insanity becomes visible by contrast. Although living alone and in isolation for the last two years has helped to center me and to calm me, it also seems to have given me the freedom to let various idiosyncrocies to become visible — since there has been no one from which to hide them. It may be normal for us to hide our quirks from the outside world. Operating regularly amongst the living, we learn to hide and surpress our oddities. When we’re in isolation, though, we lose the habit.

Lately, a friend of mine from the United States has been visiting me in Milan. He was here for a week in December when I returned to Milan and then went to visit his relatives in Germany for a few weeks during the holidays. He came back this week. Nothing major has happened, per se. However, some quirks of mine have been visible to him. He’s here day and night, sleeping on a mattress on the floor in my bedroom, waking when I do, working at his computer while I work at mine, going to dinners, parties, and running errands with me. I have little practice surpressing my demons and he is with me non-stop. It has been inevitable that he would spot some and he has. So far he’s said nothing and I’ve pretended like they were nothing, coughed over my verbal outbursts, shuffled around immediately after a physical reaction, turned away rapidly with a joking comment when making a contorted face about a passing thought. It’s difficult to describe: difficult in part because it involves subtle moments that happen in split seconds, but moments or actions which would be unmistakable to the trained eyes of a psychologist. To him, although he knows that the moments are odd and indicate something, he’s either not sure what he witnessed or he doesn’t want to embarrass me by commenting on them. It’s also difficult to describe these moments because I’d afraid to expose them so publicly as in a web log.

This web log entry is not an admission of my mental health problems: I’ve certainly admitted that in many ways through several web log entries on this site. No, instead I’m observing that we are all probably disturbed or strange in some way or other. Normal people are people who spend a normal amount of time with others and therefore have practice checking their outward behavior to align themselves with the collective behavioral norms of others around them. Of course, this means that what passes for normal in one area isn’t normal elsewhere. For instance, when I lived in Memphis, Tennessee — actually in two suburbs of Memphis: Cordova and Colliervile — I occasionally observed backwoods or mountain people when they would come into town for supplies. They tended to be very quiet, kept to themselves, and observed us city folk strangely. I don’t believe that they didn’t talk extensively amongst themselves while in their homes or communities. I think they kept quiet in the city or in town because they both saw us as strange and they intuitively realized that anything they said would make them seem strange in return. Living in my hermitage in Milan, culturally separated in part from others, when I come into contact with others I feel a bit like a mountain person: everyone else seems crazy at times. And when someone from the outside like my friend infiltrates my cave and stays with me too long, my true nature seeps out and becomes visible.