The Stuff in the Basement

It’s crazy to believe that I have 3 weeks left of my second year of medical school. We’ve wrapped up neurology and psychiatry in block 6, and are onto orthopedics.

Last week, we learned about somatic symptom disorders–psychiatric disorders in which a patient has “somatic symptoms” like paralysis, pain, palpitations, but there is no organic/detectable physiological basis. Studying this really reminded me of my college days in my Self, Culture, and Society class where I read a good amount of Freud. His case studies on Anna O, a young woman with a persistent cough of unknown origin and Elisabeth von R, another young lady with pain in her thigh that started after the death of her father, were among the first in which psychoanalysis was used. And, they were prime examples of the mind-body connection, and the necessity of talking to patients (ie talking cure) in order to bring to consciousness the thing holding them captive.

I wrote on this a bit in my essay, The Stuff in the Basement in which I opened with a scene from the 2006 film, Rocky Balboa between Paulie Pennino and his 59 year-old brother-in-law, Rocky Balboa. 

“So this isn’t a mental disturbance?”

“No.”

“What? You haven’t peaked yet?”

“Peaked? No. There’s still stuff in the basement.”

“Where?”

Rocky motions to his chest, “In here.”

“Tell me about the stuff. Is it angry?”

“Angry?”

“Are you mad because Adrian left you?”

“She didn’t leave, Paulie. She died.” Balboa’s voice rises and Paulie consoles him. Rocky continues saying,

“You know sometimes its heard to breathe. Sometimes I feel like there is this beast inside me.”

“It’s okay Rock-o. Really, it’s okay.”

“Really? Is it okay?”

Filled with what the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, describes as an “ancient magical power,” the words we say bind us and separate us. Thusly, words must not be depreciated in any circumstance—even in an exchange such as the one above. Paulie, the “analyst,” used his words to elucidate Balboa’s seemingly ridiculous motivation to fight again, and Freud urges us to pay close attention to the exchange words between the analyst and the analysand. Psychoanalysis directs the analysand to confront the stuff in his or her basement, granting the patient a greater knowledge of the self—knowledge that can create a freer society.

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Often essays, poems, and so many different forms of writing can allow us to confront the stuff in our own basements as well as the stuff all around us–to engage with it in a meaningful, cathartic way. Last Friday, Ify, Avia and I participated in the event, Food for the Soul at Case Western. It’s kind of like an open-mic event focused on works related to the civil rights movement and black history in the United States.

Ify read, Let America be America Again by Langston Hughes. Avia read excerpts from Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. I decided to write up a piece on how I started to identify as a black person based on Dr. King’s quotation, “Seeing is not always believing.” It is called, The Day I Became Black

There was soul food, people from the community on campus and beyond, and it was a time for us to talk about what has been on our minds. It was a time for us to confront the stuff in the basement.

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Avia reading from Letters from the Birmingham Jail by Dr. King
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Reading my piece, The Day I Became Black. Photo Cred: Randy Blackford
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Ify reading Langston Hughes’, Let America be America Again
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