Written Up as Lady Macbeth
I recently read the report for my MCMI assessment, and it gave me the distinct sensation of receiving an eerily accurate palm reading. Written in suspiciously broad terms, it used a lot of dramatic language (Treacherous! Manipulative! Tearful!) that reminded me of nothing less than Shakespeare’s most famous femme fatale. Some of it was wild mischaracterization, but other parts did resonate with me. Being an ‘official’ document that aids in clinical diagnosis, it was intimidating to challenge the parts of it that I did not agree with. For example: I drink maybe four or five times a year, but the assessment suggested I would struggle with debilitating addiction. Was this now a dire prophecy? Should I cut down on my reckless alcohol abuse?
Also uncomfortable was the fact that the assessment asked me to mark down my gender at the beginning, and I had chosen woman. Treacherous tearful manipulation, we all know, is a woman’s weapon, just after poison. Would the language of the report have been different if it was written for a man? What if I had left gender unmarked, like my first instinct had been? Would I be Iago, a devious backstabber still? I cannot say for sure I would be cast in a different role, but it remains something to side-eye.
Having reluctantly received a medical education, I’m not unfamiliar with the dehumanizing language clinicians sometimes use to refer to patients. Partly for efficiency of communication, partly to preserve anonymity, and partly to distance ourselves emotionally, “That empyema case,” we might say, “the patient with the diabetic foot.” Even so, the damage language can do is untold. “Drug seeking behavior” on a chart can prevent someone with chronic illness from getting the pain relief they need.
It is upsetting to hear bodies discussed in a frank manner when the body in question belongs to you. It is worse when the discussion is about your mind, because that is the core of you, the very being of you. Therein lies the grief of a mental health diagnosis: therein lies the rage and relief of being found to be neurodivergent. Being seen, and understood, can feel like being flayed open for consumption.
As you might imagine, being told by a poetically drafted report that I was essentially Lady Macbeth was a shock. But when I discussed it in session, my therapist pointed out that while my alleged gender had been taken into account, my queerness hadn’t. A lot of the report was talking about how my personality presented to others: what it looked like to them, how it might inconvenience them, how they might feel about it. There was little interiority to it. There was not much about how it might feel to me, to live with this mind and body and look outwards. Her insight resolved a lot of the conflict I felt about the report, and allowed me to appraise it without fear of contradicting an indomitable authority. Yes, parts of it were useful. Other parts were not.
Femme fatales, whenever they are found in literature, are more about the perception of dangerous women than the reality of them. And, well. There are worse things to be than Lady Macbeth.
This article is part of our Reflections from Lived Experience Series where we document folks who sit with experiences of the systems and wonder and help us deepen our intentional meanderings to access cracks in these systems. Thank you Nakshatra for this thought provoking piece