Category Archives: Personal Stuff

Don’t Step On My Blue Suede Tooth

According to the DSM, the “official” mental health diagnostic guide, body dysmorphia . The involves an excessive preoccupation with some real or imagined physical abnormality that causes “clinically significant distress in multiple areas of functioning.” I’ve always admired the DSM’s pretension of having definitive criteria. What the hell is “clinically significant”? Who the hell knows? This is the same manual that contains “Math Disorder” – which means that you suck at math. I don’t know how  much weight to put on anything in there.

But the “real or imagined” criterion has come to fascinate me, especially as it relates to this disorder. Almost everyone has some physical attribute they would change if they could. Most Americans say they would like to be thinner, and many people have minor grievances with the universe for giving them some other flaw- a big nose, a receding hairline, a birthmark, etc. Body Dysmorphia is something a little bigger than that. A professor once explained it to me this way: if Marilyn Monroe had a clinical case of body dysmorphia, she would leave her house in a ski mask every morning because she wouldn’t want anyone to see the giant mole that took up half her face. A younger prof would have gone with Cindy Crawford, but you get the idea.

At the same time though, many of us have encountered people who have ideas about their appearance that border on the insane. A common remark you’ll hear from a person with this sort of milder body dysmorphia-if they have the insight to see it- is that when they look in the mirror, they don’t see themselves as they probably are, but as someone who looks very much like the person the world probably sees, just with a GIANT nose or HUGE ass. When I heard that, I always thought that they meant that more metaphorically than they do. And I only really realized it when I discovered a mild body dysmorphia of my own recently.

My left front tooth has been slightly discolored since I was about 9 years old. In fourth grade, I was playing in the playground and I bit the curb with my upper teeth full on – American History X style.  The left front tooth was broken in half and the bone over my mouth, which holds a lot of teeth in place, cracked. That loosened my teeth, and I needed a set of braces temporaraily to make sure I didn’t lose them. When the braces came off, my teeth had been saved, except for that left front one. I needed a whole series of root canals and crowns to save it. The tooth stayed, but it was tinted to a grayish-blue for the rest of my life.

I was self-conscious about it. It didn’t help that one of the favored ways of mocking me for the remaining 5 years of grammar school was to sing “don’t step on my blue suede tooth.” Hilarious. I heard that song all the time, and after a while it just rolled off me, even though it burned at first. Year after year I heard that God-damned song. When I first got to high school, in that brief period at the start when the middle school social rules still applied, I got laughed at about it. A lot of the time it was muttered near me and not said directly; but I heard it.

Dentists didn’t help either. Whenever I saw one, they would marvel at how discolored it was, and they frequently offered me expensive cosmetic solutions for it. I was tempted sometimes, but I always passed. After that early part of high school, I just came to terms with it. I didn’t like it, but there it was. Eventually I  made friends and had girlfriends and everything was pretty much normal. When I had serious relationships later on, I asked how they were able to ignore it. They all said it wasn’t that noticeable. Some even said that they only really noticed it when I mentioned it.

That was sweet of them, I thought. They were clearly lying. It was a white lie, of course, but I knew the truth. It was pretty bad. The women who dated me, and the one who eventually married me, obviously saw something else in me that made my blue suede tooth unimportant. As I got older, and openly mocking someone became uncool, the only time it was ever really pointed out to me was by dentists. And they never hesitated to let me know just how bad it was. To hear them tell it, you would think my tooth was so very, very dark. Depending on the lighting, it was navy blue or battleship grey.

Recently, I went to a dentist who told me the post holding the tooth in place was sliding out of place and beginning to rot. The tooth would fall out unless I got it re-crowned. It would be very expensive. On the plus side, though, I would finally be rid of that tooth. I would have to do it eventually, since I was becoming a therapist and people are often weirded out by ugly teeth. I’d need to get rid of my grayed tooth in order to make sure clients felt at ease. So the time had finally come.

A couple weeks ago I had it done. As soon as I got out of the dentist’s office I looked in a mirror, and I was taken aback. It didn’t look that different. Sure, it looked a little better, but I wasn’t looking at a whole new me. That’s when it hit me. My wife, my close friends, my ex-girlfriends- they’d been telling the truth. It wasn’t that noticeable. After I got out of that chair I knew that the old tooth was gone. Nothing short of roofies could make me forget that it was impossible for the Evil Blue Tooth to still be there. So, when I looked in the mirror, knowing the tooth was gone, I was able to see my mouth as it must really have looked all those years. My belief that my tooth was a dark, navy blue hue was a complete delusion.

But I know what I saw. For thirteen years I saw that dark blue tooth every time I brushed my teeth and every time I looked at a photo. I saw it. Of the five senses, sight is the one we almost never doubt. You cannot see what is not there-or so we think. When people with body dysmorphia say they look into a mirror and see something ugly looking back, that is what they are seeing. With their eyes. It’s not that they see what is really there and blow it up in their minds. They see something that is absolutely not there. They hallucinate. Every day. I’ve been having a hallucination multiple times a day for thirteen years.

We think we are rational creatures incapable of seeing things that aren’t there. Our desire to believe something cannot fool our eyes, and we won’t see something that isn’t there just because someone else tells us it is. But for thirteen years I did just that. I believed the things those little monsters said to me so completely that my mind dictated reality to my eyes. Years of certainty and “evidence” only reinforced my ideas. Obviously, my tooth was discolored. Those children had exaggerated that, and the more they exaggerated it, the bluer my front tooth was every time I looked at it.

I am 32 years old. Insults made in fourth grade still stung enough to carry my imagination away from me. I’m not the healthiest person psychologically speaking, but I’m hardly a mess. I am an otherwise sane person, which is why I was so shocked when I looked in that mirror and I saw what had been staring back at me for just a little over a decade.

Is it that big a stretch to think teenage girls and women who watch Gossip Girl and look at Cosmo begin to see obesity when there is none? Is it hard to believe that people come to remember abuse that never really happened if they get told that it did by a trusted therapist over and over for years? People confess to crimes they didn’t commit all the time because they are terrified, strongarmed, starved and kept awake so that the cops repeating that they know you did it over and over begin to convince you that maybe you did.

Normal people hallucinate all the time. You probably do. The world you see is the world you have been told is there. Reality is actually a lie you tell yourself. How big a lie varies from person to person, but everyone is living in a world that they are making up. The Matrix was truer than you think.

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal Stuff, Psychology and Social Work

I am Closeted

I am secretly a nerd. Now, I’m just going to go ahead and cut off those people who say that is not so secret, because of how obviously nerdy I am. Yes, its apparent I am a nerd, but the true breadth and depth of my nerdiness is a secret concealed to most who know me. My wife only discovered the true extent of my geekiness after we were married, and for good reason. If she knew the shocking secret I plan to reveal to you now, I think she might have thought twice about marrying me.

I play D&D. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I’m willing to play D&D, I just don’t have anyone to play with. Whoa. That is pathetic. D&D is, I think, along with Magic Cards,the nadir of nerdiness. It is the line no hipster will publicly cross. It’s fine and good to watch Battlestar Galactica (the new one anyway), and its fine to play video games, and even to dig comics. You can admit those facts about yourself and lose a moderate but acceptable amount of social capital. As long as you dress normally, and wait until people know you well enough to divulge that information you’ll be okay.

There’s this scene in Freaks & Geeks (an excellent and sympathetic depiction of geekery), where the geek clique is making plans to play D&D. There is one holdout. “I dunno, guys….it’s really nerdy”, he says. Eventually he caves and winds up having a good time. I know what his hesitation was about, because I can see D&D from the point of view of someone who hasn’t played, too.

I think it is the play – acting (I suppose I should probably call it role – playing) aspect of the game that makes most people balk. There’s something about pretending to be an elf swordsman with your friends that seems profoundly childish. It hits at what people really find unsettling about the very nerdy, which is that most nerdy pastimes are essentially just refusals to give up on childhood. Most nerdiness is really just an unwillingness to grow up – to stop playing make – believe and obsessing about the shows you watched as a kid, or to stop enjoying the adventures of the Caped Crusader.

That unwillingness to fully enter adulthood creates discomfort in the non – nerdy. It’s like talking to a grown man whose brain somehow became frozen at age nine. The nerds socially astute enough to notice that discomfort are often hostile, and they create a reverse marketplace of social exchange, where your worthiness as a person is determined not by how socially skilled or mature you are, but by the degree to which you have eschewed those “artificialities”.

There’s something pathetic about the staunch refusal to give up on childish pursuits that eventually becomes the contempt with which nerds are widely regarded. To a certain degree, this pity (or contempt) is merited. There are many nerdy people whose refusal to move out of their Mom’s basement and empathize with people who don’t give a shit about Boba Fett is a sad rejection of living. They are like grown Linuses, terrified of losing their Spider – Man bedsheets. They desperately need to grow up or forfeit their claim to a productive, useful life.

I am not one of those nerds. At least I think I’m not, anyway. While I fully understand that nerdiness can mire you in pre – adolescence, I also think there is something healthy about being able to revisit childhood and return again. Growing up, in many ways, means submitting to bullshit superficialities, to surrender your imagination to the tedium of a nine to five existance, and to become a cog in the machine. Healthy geekery is a refusal to submit to the ridiculousness of adulthood, even if only in secret, while at the same time moving on from fourth grade. It is having friendships with different kinds of people and respect other interests, and, not for nothing, to have consensual sex with a living human at some point or another. To do that, you have to do some growing up. Just don’t do too much.

Maturing to the point you stop playing make -believe is a bare minimum of normalcy. That’s why the part of us that is not utterly ridiculous revolts against the idea of doing that again as adults. That’s understandable. Most normal D&D players keep a balance between the strategy elements of coordinating rules and the elaborate mechanisms for determining who wins a fight and talking with a preposterous accent or something like that. Most people who play D&D can do that. Some can’t, and it is those sad cases that force people like me to conceal my interest in D&D from almost everyone in my life. My wife is strictly forbidden from revealing this secret to anyone, even family and close friends. I choose when to come out or risk being ostracized. Jokes on 30 Rock and Community are making it easier, but it’s never easy.

But I am not a complete nerd. And I am not alone.

A short list of people cooler, funnier, better looking, richer, or just plain more important than you who have admitted they enjoy D&D: Robin Williams, Moby, Jon Favreau, Steven Colbert,Vin Diesel, Mike Meyers, Tim Duncan, Ben Affleck, Duwayne Johnson, Matt Groening, Matt Damon, Judd Apatow, Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson), Eddie Izzard, Jenny McCarthy.

I’m sure there are more. I don’t think the number of celebrities who confess they play will ever reach the critical mass necessary for D&D to be de-stigmatized. I’m not positive it should be. I’m just saying that someone you know might harbor this geeky secret,  and if it’s someone you love, be kind. It’s very hard admitting that you play a character named Brutus who comes from the Tarsian Empire, can wield two swords simultaneously, and once he reaches 4th level will take a Multi – class feat so he can do some spell – casting. I’m just saying is all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Action Figures, Comedy, Comics, Cult Hits, DandD, Fantasy, Games, Geekdom, Horror Movies, Humor, Internet, Mental Health, Movies, Movies - Sci-Fi, Movies-Fantasy, Parenting, Parody, Personal Stuff, Playstation, Pulp, Roleplaying Games, Sci-fi Comedy, Tabletop RPGs, TV, TV - Kids', TV - Sci Fi, Web Findings, Webcomics