Syndrome Without A Name?

I read somewhere that Russian psychologists have named a condition “asthenisation” but that most American ones do not recognise it. This does not seem to be right, as Wikipedia has it down as an effect of space flight; Buzz Aldrin suffered from it. Checking this led me to the entry for “neurasthenia”, a nineteenth-century diagnosis now mostly disused, except in China and Japan. Indeed, I knew the word mostly from literature, also as an adjective. I am, however, open to the possibility that diagnoses may fall improperly into disuse, when they are actually capable of telling us something. For decades I observed particularly in one former friend, and to a lesser extent in others, something that I felt cried out for a convenient label. For these decades I thought that such a term did exist, namely “neurasthenia”; I now see that this is related, but not quite the same thing. So we are, I think, still short of a term to describe what I have witnessed.

Imagine a woman who appears to have dialled her sensitivity to the max and broken the knob. By “sensitivity” I do not mean awareness of the interests and needs of others, only one’s own responsiveness to stimuli. This responsiveness is then hypertrophied, resulting in stimuli that to others would be easily manageable but to her are unendurable. This might cover my own detestation of noise, so I would add that her hypertrophy seems deliberate. She enhances the pain of the stimulus by a kind of meditation, concentrating on it to the exclusion of all else. This she calls “having her emotions”. If you do this properly, you can make anything unendurable.

The unendurable stimulus now needs to be escaped, which always involves the avoidance of work or some social obligation. This avoidance comes to be the sole business of her life. She will ostensibly seek a satisfactory state but will never find it, as there is always some unwelcome factor or influence that can be refined into sheer agony causing inaction on all fronts. This is why the Victorians called such people “professional invalids”, for they seem to embrace lifelong disability and imagine that such disability makes them superior to their carers, not to mention the taxpayers. For are they not so sensitive as to be too good for this world? Such invalidity may be the only way to achieve their aim of never, ever, doing anything they don’t want to do. The hypertrophy is actually one of the will; if the world does not comply with my wishes, I shall become sick. That’ll teach it!

This ex-friend (for one day I just couldn’t take any more) will live and die on a disability pension. She is an extreme case, but I fancy I discern something of the same emotional structure in those politically correct persons who are so badly bent out of shape by trivia: the triumph of the will. Like the child I mentioned the other day (, they refuse to accept that life is not always as they wish it to be.

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