By Polly Frost
January 7, 2010
SCENE: Me, standing at a podium in front of a group of people sitting on folding chairs.
ME: Hi, I’m Polly Frost. And I’m addicted to diagnosing the personality disorders of my family and friends.
CROWD: Hi, Polly!
ME: It began innocently enough. I’d always analyzed the people around me. It was just something I did, quite naturally. My husband saw it differently. The people around you always do, right?
The crowd murmurs assent.
ME: He called it “picking people apart.”
CROWD (laughing): We’ve been there!
ME: It got worse, of course. This one night? Our friends, Evelyn and Martin, came over for dinner. Afterwards, I said, “Did you notice how often Evelyn put her fork down on her plate and stopped eating?”
My husband shook his head, saying, “Does it ever occur to you how weird it is that you notice these things?”
But I wasn’t listening. “She did it twenty-six times. I think she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.”
While he dried the dishes, I walked over to our computer. I typed Evelyn’s symptoms into Google to see if I was right. Up came the websites: mayoclinic.com, Web MD, DSM, Weston A. Price Foundation.
ME: Yes, that’s how it started. I happily informed my husband his mother was indeed the Narcissist I’d insisted she was since our wedding day. My own family had the entire gamut of Cluster B Personality Disorders. I couldn’t wait to email them about it.
Every time I met someone, I’d make my diagnosis, then check it against those websites. Then I started coming up with my own new personality disorders– ones the psych sites hadn’t discovered yet! The woman who roughly did my nails at the salon had Aggressive Client Resentment Behavior. On our trip to Hawaii, I pointed at the businessman next to us. “He has Plane Seat Hogging Disorder.”
My husband replied with, “I’m reading about the new Apple laptop in Wired.”
“You have Annoying Conversation Changing Disorder,” I informed him.
ME: I know, I know. Dissing a man’s love of his Mac–nothing more dangerous. One fateful Friday, I was supposed to present my marketing proposal for a mini-mall our company was building. Instead I’d spent the last week preparing an elaborate diagnosis of my boss, Sarah. She was not amused to see my diagnosis of her Passive Disorganized Leadership Complex on the PowerPoint screen.
Even then, I didn’t heed the warning signs. I felt nobody understood how much I was trying to help them and took it to the streets. Soon I was living in a box, offering to tell people what was wrong with them.
CROWD: Oh, no!
ME: One day, I saw them, approaching me in a group–Carl, Evelyn, my mother-in-law, and my manicurist.
“We’re here to help you,” they said.
I said, “You’re about to do an intervention with me, aren’t you?”
They looked astonished. “You know?” Eva asked.
“Yes!” I said excitedly. “I have Intrusive Amateur Therapist Disorder! An intervention is the only way to help me. I know just how to do it.”
The three of them looked at each other. Next thing I knew —
CROWD: You were here.
ME: That’s right. In the Rehab Clinic for Out-of-Control Amateur Psychologists. Thanks to you, I’ve been able to face my demons. And I’ve been thinking about your demons, too!
CROWD: No, Polly, don’t go there!
ME: Take Dr. Nelding, our beloved therapist. You have Insistent Shrink Authority Disorder. And Alexa, my rehab mate, you have Shut Polly Up Syndrome, and —
White-suited orderlies approach the podium.
ME: Really, I was just joking! I have it under control, I really do. Now, where’s the cigarettes and coffee?
Polly Frost is a playwright whose humor has appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker. She can be found on the web at Polly Frost.