Yesterday, Tina, the pups and I drove back up to Chicago from North Carolina. It took us around 11 hours and 15 minutes.
The drive is beautiful through the south. It gets flatter and flatter as you get closer to Illinois.
Along the way, we see both the most beautiful sights and the worst. The above shot was taken in Virginia, not on this trip, but one in the middle of the month.
Or you have this one in Ohio, which is scary and maddening that we live in country that this pride became emboldened with the former guy’s presidency.
On road trips, we listen to podcasts. Finding one that resonates with us both can be a challenge. I usually drive and Tina will search top options. We enjoy the murder mystery thriller genre(s).
She’ll play trailers for around three or four options. We’ll democratically choose one.
And off we go.
The first one we tried was called “The Devil Within” about a murder in the 80s in the midst of the Satanic Panic. A promising scholar and athletic young high schooler killed his mom in what appeared to be a satanic ritual.
The writer of the podcast was one of those guys who looked in the mirror one day and said, “I can make a podcast. I took a creative writing class in college.” And off he goes to Bestbuy to pickup a microphone and launch his career as a star journalist recounting the urban legend of a mentally unstable young man who killed his mom. Meanwhile, he skipped the day when the creative writing teacher explained language should not interfere with the story. Tell the story and let it carry the audience. This writer wanted to carry the audience with big words and fluff.
Or maybe he wanted to fill up time.
We were bored within 5 minutes, but gave it 30 (which felt like hours). And then turned it off.
The next one we turned on was called “Bad, Bad Thing” about a murder suicide from 2018 stemming from a love triangle in which the husband cheated on his wife with younger boss by 20 years. The husband floundered on the topic of should he leave his wife or not, meanwhile trying to have his cake and eat it too. His wife’s mental state unravelled even more than it already had from years of mental health neglect, and she ended up killing the girlfriend and shooting herself.
It was FASCINATING.
You learn about the murder suicide in the trailer, so please don’t think I’m spoiling something.
What’s great about the podcast is that the wife, named Jennair Gerardot documented her thoughts and feelings to her cellphone camera. She became obsessed with tracking and surveilling her husband and kept it all organized on her computer. It was as if she was inadvertently producing her own podcast, and simply needed for someone to give another producer free rein over the content to assemble the story.
The podcast includes interviews with the husband Mark and video from social media of the girlfriend Meredith Chapman. Also interviews with friends/acquaintances of Jennair as well as Mark’s.
In contrast with “The Devil Within,” the voice behind “Bad, Bad Thing” is a writing/story-telling genius named Barbara Schroeder. She cuts the fluff and goes straight for the jugular. She tells the story and lets voices and interviews take the audience on a ride, a roller coaster tragedy bombshell after bombshell ride of neuroses and human error and misguided honesty.
What I write subsequently may include spoilers. So read on at your own risk.
One of the standout interviews throughout the series is with clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula. Her analysis of the tapes that Jennair left behind creates a sense of genuine insight into the unravelling of a woman’s mental health and man whose narcissistic personality disorder and flaccid conflict resolution abilities pushed a person like Jennair to the farthest reaches of mental instability.
Dr. Durvasula is an amazing mind. She is able to communicate complex psychological patterns and behaviors in ways that are easier to understand and grasp. Her specialty is Narcissistic Personality disorder and how it creates a toxic influence in our lives by people we think we love and adore.
When I was growing up, I remember kids calling me a narcissist, because the guy in the painting loved looking at his reflection in water. Narcissism as we call it today isn’t someone who loves looking at him or herself in the mirror. It’s not youthfulness or anything like that. It’s a personality that exhibits a lot of limited ideas about the world.
I was having conversations with someone about this personality disorder before listening to this podcast, so I was paying particularly close attention to Dr. Durvasula’s insights.
Back in the middle of the month, Tina and I took an online test to see how much we might exhibit the disorder and I came up with a mild case of it and Tina, of course, not at all. When I read through the pages and pages on the internets about the personality disorder, I second guess the “mild case” and worry frequently that I have more than the test results showed. But from what I gather, the mental state of being able to self identify as narcissistic exhibits mindfulness about it. Whereas many narcissists cannot grapple with the idea that they might be a narcissist at all.
The Mayo Clinic defines the disorder as:
Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. People with narcissistic personality disorder may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they’re not given the special favors or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling, and others may not enjoy being around them.
Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder centers around talk therapy (psychotherapy).
Other readings explain that it’s more common among men. The disorder comes up in media discussions about Donald Trump, for example. Notice how he repeats his stories, the same ones, constantly. Notice how he hates criticism so much that he tries his best to bury it. He only surrounds himself with people who can bolster his ego. He can tell you he never did something that we have him on tape doing. Because he wants to control the narrative.
I’m interested in the idea that psychologists are saying that the people who love him the most are more prone to the disorder. They love to think that abortion is wrong, but that caring for people who can actually respond (prisoners, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, etc.) might respond. But little nuggets in women’s bellies that look cute, that’s worth fighting for.
In the case of Jennair’s husband Mark, I was interested to learn that the Narcissistic behaviors started long before the affair with Meredith Chapman. It’s something Mark had been doing all his life, not just in this one moment. Mark had determined at some point in his life that it was a pejorative to step anywhere near conflict. There’s a misnomer, especially in American men, but in women too, to avoid conflict. That it is somehow “heroic” and thereby much safer and mentally productive.
As Dr. Durvasula points out in the podcast, entering into uncomfortable situations with calm decision and decisiveness is a chance to grow and change.
Because of this inability to resolve conflict with someone like Jennair, Mark buried his emotions and avoided the conflict that Jennair created in his world. She didn’t have friends. She pushed Mark’s friends away through jealousy and manipulation. And a manifestation of Mark’s narcissism came out when he had a one-night stand with a woman while in Europe. His lack of empathy pushed him to cause a dynamic personality failure, by thinking it would be okay to have an affair, something easier for narcissists to do than the average bear. He couldn’t see how this might hurt his marriage and then when Jennair hacked his emails and found out about it, her mental instabilities burst to the surface.
Years later, Mark took a job in Delaware from South Carolina. He moved to Delaware to start his job about 6 weeks before Jennair moved up with him. Mark was clearly not in love or attached to his marriage, because as soon as the door opened to an affair with his 30 year old boss, he leapt on it. Another manifestation of his personality disorder. Instead of dealing with the conflict of a marriage he wasn’t happy in and moving on, he betrayed his wife, their agreement to monogamy and marriage preservation.
What happens is that people, like me, learn from our teachers and parents to avoid conflict and if conflict is created, to bury it quick. Dishonesty is one of the first levels of narcissistic personality disorder. For example, when I first started this blog, my family learned about the blog, but didn’t tell me they knew of it. It wasn’t until I wrote about a family gathering and I was critical of my niece’s 10 year old behaviors that landed me an ear full. And maybe they still read this blog, but they won’t admit it. It’s Jeremy’s little secret. Shhhhhhh.
I didn’t learn about healthy conflict resolution until I was in college. And even then it took me years of therapy and attention to it, to start to approach it with a calmer spirit. As a kid, I was told to stifle emotions. “You’re a crybaby … don’t be a cry baby” were phrases I heard all the time. I was always trying to communicate, and felt like a big piece of shit when I couldn’t. Which is why I turned to writing.
I wrote for myself at first, but my mom found a few things I wrote one time and thoughtfully identified that I was articulating thoughts better on paper. What was frustrating was, she wasn’t recognizing that I could express myself in verbal words, but I wasn’t given the proper time to execute the thoughts.
I was never diagnosed with a speech impediment, but I felt I had one, because I never felt listened to. And listening, mirroring and engaging is only the baby steps toward healthy conflict resolution.
Conflict is inevitable. And poorly managed conflict management is, in a way, understandable.
I’ve got people in my life who exhibit narcissistic behavior disorders, and I’ve had to learn to set boundaries with them, because their inabilities to behave as empaths is extremely inhibited. And just like having to set boundaries on paying too much to the former guy’s media appearances, I can only limit the amount of attention and time I allow myself to spend on those in my life who exhibit these behaviors. When I really sit down and think about it, there are too many.
But I can only work on my own mental health regulation and it’s appropriate to appropriate less time and energy to suffering through another person’s incapabilities to identify how hurtful their behaviors can be.
I can attest, though, that even if I create boundaries, what happens is I’m liable to lose track of the boundaries, and I let the narcissists win too much of my time, or I let their behaviors mount my last nerve and I lose my temper.
Narcissists repeat stories a lot. They’re constantly creating a narrative of them-ism. You can start a conversation by saying, “Man, I’ve got this weight that I really need to talk about. I’ve got cancer.” And literally in seconds, the conversation is about them. You get home from that conversation and you’re scratching your head wondering, “Why the fuck do I hang out with this person?”
Or you look at them and you wonder, “Why would anyone else hang with this person?”
But part of their personality is to appeal to their audiences with some level of kindness and goodness.
During this writing, I came up with a new term — at least to me: “Adoration Disorder.”
Regardless, this podcast really got me thinking and combing through my own personality disorders and management of my mental state. I definitely feel like I need some talk therapy. I think we all do.
One of the big takeaways from this podcast was that Mark’s descent into finding out more about his personality disorder meant that he saw multiple therapists, not just one. He read books and wrote a book. He took it seriously, because his disorder landed him a dead wife and a dead lover.
And now the horror of that event will haunt his thoughts for the rest of his life.