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July 16, 2013


Some People Hoard Books, Some People Eat Them

Sometimes it's hard to really get a sense of how you differ from others, and other others differ from each other. Studying mental disorders is a really good way to learn about how people's minds and emotions can be different in ways that you might not have ever really considered.

For instance, most of us always see one person as one person. But some people don't. They have what's known as Fregoli Syndrome--a disorder that makes them think that two different people are actually the same person, only Person B is just Person A in disguise. Someone with Fregoli Syndrome might become convinced that the waiter at his local cafe is actually his mailman in disguise, or that Ricky from I Love Lucy is actually just Ross from Friends in disguise. He watches TV and thinks, "I can't believe Ross is cheating on Rachel with Lucy! I thought he was a nice guy!"

Sitcom plots become so numbered and complex, that I Love Lucy and Friends end up with more layers than a Leo Tolstoy novel. "Ross got into a fight with his first wife Carol over their son Ben, then Ross's ex-girlfriend Rachel told him that he should spend less time with Ben and more time with their daughter Emma, then Ross and Joey played a game of catch with Ross's son Little Ricky and Ross's new girlfriend Anna Karenina, and then Fred, Ethel, Chandler, Phoebe, Al, Peg, Ralph, Alice, Lucy, my mailman, and Napoleon tried to conquer Russia and sneak their way into a show at the Tropicana."

My neighbor in 4F has Fregoli Syndrome. But he's a little mixed up about the whole thing. Here's what happened. One day he was at a supermarket, and he thought, "There are Cheerios for $4, and there are Tasty-Os for $2.50. They're both pretty much the same--only Tasty-Os are less tasty than Cheerios. And then there's Frosted Flakes. A talking tiger is telling me that they're grrrrreat. Why would I take cereal advice from a tiger. Tigers are carnivores. I think if a tiger is recommending food, he should be saying something like, 'Raw, bloody zebra intestines. They're grrrrreat.'" And then later, my neighbor thought, "Why did I just spend twenty minutes analyzing cereal? Maybe I'm not me. Maybe I'm Jerry Seinfeld in disguise as me. No one else would analyze cereal like that for so long." And now my neighbor thinks he's Jerry Seinfeld. He calls me Kramer, and our mailman Newman. And then a couple of weeks ago, just to make things even more confusing, he became convinced that Jerry Seinfeld is actually Ross from Friends in disguise. "What's the deal with Rachel? And what's the deal with Frosted Flakes?"

I once saw an A&E documentary about some guy who has Fregoli Syndrome. But he also has Narcissistic Personality Disorder--the one that makes you think everything should be about you. He has a strange combination of those two things. In other words, he has Narcissistic Fregoli Syndrome. And at one point during the documentary, he tells his psychologist, "My coworker Bob from accounting isn't Bob from accounting. He's me from accounting. He's me disguised as him. I'm also a few million other people." Then the psychologist replies, "How are you Bob from accounting? Do you even know anything about accounting?" And the guy says, "That sounds like something I'd say. I'll bet you're also me, too. You're me in disguise as you. I'm glad we got to the bottom of this. Good work." And then he takes out his checkbook, and pays himself $100 for the session. "We're a really good psychologist."

As you might imagine, Fregoli Syndrome is very rare. But some disorders are way more common. Like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. It makes people feel like they have to do things like wash their hands 30 times a day, walk around the block three times before entering a building, knock on a drawer before opening it, or play hopscotch after eating vanilla ice cream.

You can find people with OCD in almost all walks of life. Comedian and TV personality Howie Mandel has a serious case of it. And he manages to deal with it. Same goes with many other people.

In fact, I once saw an A&E documentary about a gangster with OCD. At one point in it, he's walking around in the 'hood. He gets into a confrontation with another gangster. The other gangster says something that pisses him off. And the OCD gangster flips out. "What'd you say?! What'd you say?! That's it. I'm going to beat your ass! I'm going to beat your ass! ... Um, but before I do, can you just give a minute to spin three times, touch my ear fifteen times, and sing 'I'm a Little Teapot?' Yeah. I have OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder--and I can't beat your ass unless I've done those three things first. I'm trying to get some treatment for my OCD--but I got a little bit of an insurance problem. I did get some medication--but it's not really working as I'd hoped. But that'a not really relevant right now. The point is, if you're willing ot wait for me to spin three times, touch my ear fifteen times, and sing 'I'm a Little Teapot,' then I'm going to beat your ass!" Believe it or not, his OCD actually gives him more street cred. The other gangsters think, "This guy's crazy. If he's willing to sing 'I'm a Little Teapot,' then he's probably willing to do anything."

There's a popular A&E reality show called Hoarders, which is about people who have a type of OCD known as "compulsive hoarding." People with that disorder accumulate and save tons of newspapers, knick knacks, clothes, books, and other things that are useless to them and worthless to real collectors.

As soon as I read about that, I called up the editor of the official book on mental disorders, and I told him, "If someone were to save a thousand copies of the books I've written, he wouldn't be a compulsive hoarder. He'd be the sanest person on the planet. Make sure you put that on page 1 of your book." And he replied, "You have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Read page 43 of my book for more information on it." And of course, I told him that he was heading a conspiracy of psychologists who want to prevent people from hoarding my books. And that's when he said, "You're also a Paranoid Schizophrenic. Read page 75 of my book." So I hung up on him. And then he called me back and said, "You also have Asshole Personality Disorder. Read page 423 of my book." And three days later, I received a $300 bill from him for the three diagnoses he gave me. I sent the bill back, and included a note that said, "I can't give you the $300. I have a major case of Bill Non-Payment Syndrome. Make sure you add that to your book."

Aside from book hoarding, also known as "bibliomania," there are a few more disorders related to books--like book-eating, or "bibliophagy," compulsive book-stealing, or "bibliokleptomania," and book-burying, or "bibliotaphy." Which reminds me of a great joke I heard the other day. "A bibliophage, a bibliokleptomaniac, and a bibliotaph walk into a bar." No. Wait a second. It's actually, "A bibliophage, a bibliokleptomaniac, and a bibliotaph walk into a library." Wait. No. It's, "An Italian bibliophage, a French bibliokleptomaniac, and anAmerican bibliotaph walk into a Canadian library." I don't remember the rest. But I'm pretty sure the three of them come across a librarian who's a Pakistani bibliomaniac, and a psychologist who's an Australian book collector. It's a very complex joke. It's 300 pages long, and takes up an entire book. I know someone who owns a thousand copies of that book. And zero copies of my books. He's insane.

My favorite mental-disorder-themed TV show is a sitcom called Romaine Joe. It's about a guy who has a rare disorder that makes him unable to tell the difference between money and lettuce. He's played by Ray Romano. And his wife is played by Leah Remini. Here's scene from episode 8. His wife says, "Damn it, Joe! Did you eat all of our money again?" [Joe:] "I don't know, honey. I might've. Earlier today, I ate what I thought was lettuce--but I suppose it could've been money." [Wife:] "Damn it, Joe! Can't you tell the difference between money and lettuce?" [Joe:] "No. You know that, honey. I can't tell the difference between money and lettuce. That's the disorder I have." [Wife:] "Well why the hell would a bunch of lettuce be in our bedroom drawer? Did you ask yourself that question?" [Joe:] "Listen. I saw some lettuce in the drawer, and I like lettuce, and I wanted lettuce--so I ate it. If you saw a bunch of lettuce in a drawer, you'd eat it, too." ]Wife:] "You're not even taking context into account! What about the time you walked into a bank, and you withdrew what you thought was a pound of Romaine lettuce? You ended up eating our life savings!" [Joe:] Honey--we've been through this a thousand times. I was walking past some place where people appeared to be walking out with lettuce. So I went in, waited in line, and filled out what I thought was a lettuce withdrawal form. And I withdrew what I thought was 35,000 units of lettuce." [Wife:] "Well why don't you just stop eating lettuce? That way, even if you think money is lettuce, you won't eat it." [Joe:] "Honey--it's lettuce, I like it. I'm not gonna give it up." [Wife:] "That's it! This is where I draw the line. It's me or the lettuce. Which one is it gonna be? Pick one." {Joe:] "Honey--I just got back from work. I'm tired. I don't feel like making decisions right now. How about I go into the den, watch some TV for an hour, and maybe eat a few pounds of romaine--and then I'll get back to you?"

Let's move on to bipolar disorder. It makes people have extreme moods and personality changes. A bipolar person might be very high for several days, and then very low for a few weeks.

If we want to make CNN more entertaining, we should make a bipolar person our president. January 10th: "Free healthcare for everyone." January 20th: "Give us back that Tylenol!" February 20th: "I'm going to pardon everyone for everything." March 5th: "My mother's a terrorist. Let's kill her."

It's a good thing I don't have bipolar disorder. I'm not the President--but I'm more powerful and influential than he is.

OK. Let's move on to our next disorder: megalomania, which is "delusional fantasies of power or relevance." The President has that one. After all, he thinks he's more powerful and influential than I am. What a lunatic.

Nowadays, psychologists and psychiatrists have to talk to someone to figure out what disorders he has. But some people are saying that in the future, a patient will just spend a few minutes getting a blood test and brain scan--and then a computer will examine the results and tell the guy, "You're 43% depressed, 74% narcissistic, 34% obsessive compulsive, and 20% antisocial. Pull up to the window with $473.69, and we'll give you a Happy Meal of 10 grams of Prozac to increase your serotonin, 1 gram of Topac to decrease your meraphozin, two all-beef patties of Effexor to boost your norepinephrine, 500 grams of French fries to control your oxytocemine, three packs of ketchup, and a Shrek promotional toy. That'll fix your internal chemistry. Standardized emotions, standardized sanity."

To some extent, one of psychiatry's main goals is to make someone normal according to society's current standards. Nowadays, if you do things like watch The Voice, read Fifty Shades of Grey, and eat five lunches a week at McDonald's, no psychologist is going to find any fault with that. Because that's normal in today's society. But if you don't do those things and you eat books, you're abnormal and in need of some treatment.

I don't fully agree with that idea. That's why every week, I protest it by standing outside of a McDonald's and eating a few bestselling books.