Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bob and I

Whenever I take a course in abnormal psychology, they also pay lip service to the need to consider specific contexts when interpreting symptoms and disorders.

So, for instance (a lesson for the day for you), we know that distress is manifested in different ways in Western and Eastern cultures-- what may cause depression and anxiety in a typical North American may instead be displayed in the form of physical symptoms in members of a more collectivist culture. Even more interesting is the culture specific disorders, such as koro, a disorder found in South-East Asia in which men experience extreme distress over the perceived retraction of their penis into their body.

Another example of how symptoms need to be interpreted in a particular context appears to be the case of imaginary friends in childhood. Whereas seeing and talking to someone who isn't there is deemed hallucinatory in adolescence and adulthood, the very same experience is not considered symptomatic in childhood. Imaginary friends are generally excluded from the symptoms of childhood psychosis. In fact, research suggests that children with imaginary friends may be especially creative and socially skilled.

Which brings me to the story (or Pointful family legend, if you prefer) of Bob.

When I was around the age of 6, I developed an imaginary companion.

While most girls my age with imaginary friends, you would imagine, would develop invisible friends who were princess, teenage girls, or even unicorns, I went the opposite direction.

Bob was the furthest thing from glamourous. He was a non-descript middle aged man.
In fact, he was the character from Sesame Street

(Another random fact- Bob has been on Sesame Street for over 38 years! Thus, the Bob of that picture is probably many years older than my 1980s Bob)

The funny thing is, no one even remembers who Bob is when I tell them the story. They remember Maria & Luis, Gordon, Linda, and of course Mr. Hooper-- but Bob needs a little reminding.

I was heavily invested in my relationship with Bob. He would follow me along all day long. In what may have been a bad sign for my maturity, my little sister, who, as far as I can figure, was only around 3 or 4 when this was occuring, actually made up a pretend invisible friend to compete with Bob. The thing is, my sister never actually saw Alice (as she was dubbed). She just wanted to be like me and have an invisible friend. Living on a several acre hobby farm on the outskirts of town, I suppose the emergence of Bob probably led to me neglecting her a bit. Unfortunately, this lead to several petty arguments, in which we would debate whether Alice or Bob was in fact sitting on the swing.

Bob also led to some frustrating on the part of my parents. I was always calling them back into my bedroom after they said goodnight because they forgot to tuck Bob in, or making them get back out of the car to buckle Bob's seatbelt. One of my mom's favourite tales is when I burst into tears after she slammed Bob's fingers in the door.

The funny thing is, I don't remember Bob at all. I remember talking about him while he was supposedly there, but most of these memories are more the stuff of family legends repeated many times than directly from my thoughts. I cannot remember actually seeing this man with me. I'm not sure if it was an outright hallucination, or just a sense of someone, or what.
I kind of wish I remembered my relationship with Bob, actually.


And, please, spare the lame comments about having a man in bed with me at that age. I was six, for Christ sake, and Sesame Street is probably these most asexual show on the planet.


Ant said...

I do remember Bob, but only with the aid of that picture - I can remember distinctly a whole sketch where him and Big Bird debated the need for matching socks because Bob was wearing odd pairs. I always liked him - he had a very fun voice!

Serious question: when did you stop seeing Bob? Is there any overlap time where psychologists would start to get worried and describe the child as having "a condition"?

Beth said...

Interesting - my most socially active/skilled child was the one who had two imaginary friends. They "lived" in the wall by his bed.

Say "hi" to Bob for me if he ever pops up in your world again. I always liked that guy.

psychgrad said...

Sorry...no immediate recollection of Bob. My imaginary friend was named Snoopy. I think he eventually moved to California.

Eve said...

I find the expression of illness so interesting. Apparently in Japanese, they don't have a word for menopause (not illness exactly, but still). Isn't that weird?

And Bob, eh? Strange...

benjibopper said...

I'm pretty sure I had an imaginary friend but I don't remember his name, and I think he was just another kid who liked to follow me around, which is perfect for the youngest.

In Nicaragua there is an illness that effects some people on occasion that basically drives them mad, makes them extremely agressive and superhumanly strong. It is attributed to bad spirits, and no science-type seems able to figure out any other cause for it. I read about it in the Walrus. In some parts of Indonesia, some folks believe what we would call schizophrenics to be gifted shaman, in touch with the spirit world. Such people are exalted. Makes me wonder about all our pills.

chris said...

Never had one myself...but I made one called bubbles. Except when I actually made bubbles into something physical in an art class, he looked more monster than friend, so I decided imaginary friends were not a good idea.

John said...

Imaginary friends?! Where are you people FROM?!

I'm going to leave, I'm getting scared...

Actually, have you seen Drop Dead Fred? If not, find a copy, IMMEDIATELY! Incredibly funny. Trust me, it's related to the topic.

iFreud said...

I had two imaginary friends - G.P. & Tisha. They lived on my hands, sort of like finger-puppets.

Yeah, I was a weird kid. Even wierder adult.

I remember Bob!

brandy said...

Oh I loved this! Sadly, I never had an imaginary friend. I wanted one really bad and faked one for a day until my little brother (who had an imaginary friend name Chuck) caught me lying about him. Lying about having an imaginary friend. Is there a sadder story than that?

Crashdummie said...

Omg, you are just so darn adoreable! Bob?!? Hahah you are killing me and will probably get me fired from work, cuz I almost fell out of my chair giggling! *wipes a tear*

We didn’t get Sesame Street in Sweden, just the muppet show. Although it would be weird if my imaginary friend looked like Animal, cuz that is kinda my look.. hehehe


Heart Of Darkness said...

Your post brought me back to University - psych student myself... now just certified psych-O... :)

Concerning Bob - are you sure he was your imaginary friend? My family tell me lots of stuff that happened when I was a child that I don't know if I want to have associated with my name... I think they make those things up to have cute stories to tell - I'm pretty sure I was a very boring child... LOL

Great blog, btw

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

I don't think I ever had an imaginary friend. I always feel like I'm missing out in this department.

I liked the story about shutting Bob's fingers in the door. Good job you had a word, otherwise Bob would have just been dragged along behind the car.

Princess Pointful said...

Ant- I'm not terribly sure, in all truth. I can't remember him ever existing in the context of a school year, so I wonder if it was just one summer in particular. I would actually be inclined to think I was only 4 or 5 if I didn't know my sister had faked her friend (and she would have been too young at that point). As for age at which this stops becoming "appropriate", I am not tremendously sure. I would assume getting to the later elementary years.

Beth- I'm glad you are a mutual Bob fan! And I'm glad your son helps support the idea that I wasn't too off as a kid.

PsychGrad- Was it actually Snoopy? I love the stories that I hear about why the imaginary friend goes away... I can't remember if Bob just disappeared.

Eve- That is crazy! It's funny how something that is so culturally normative here can not even have a name elsewhere.

Benjibopper- Cultural specific disorders are super interesting. They say a lot about the actual nature of that culture. For instance, eating disorders used to be primarily Western specific, but now, with increasing globalization, their prevalence is spreading a great deal.

Chris- I wonder even more about the motivation to make up an imaginary friend. Especially such an apparently horrific one!

John- Hey now, I'm not the only one, as you can see from the comments.
Yes, I did see Drop Dead Fred, many years ago. Bob was much more placid than him.

iFreud- Handpuppets! That is fantastic! Probably if Bob lived on my hand it would have spared a lot of grief.

Brandy- Too funny! That sounds a lot like my litle sister!

Crashdummie- Animal would be pretty much the best imaginary friend ever. What a blast!

Heart of Darkness- Thanks for stopping by! Always happy to have fellow psych-os around :).
While, from what I can piece together, I'm pretty sure I believed in Bob... but I wonder if the story has gotten exagerrated through different sources over the years.

Princess Pointful said...

Ultra- It is a nice little thing to remember from one's childhood. You should just make one up!

psychgrad said...

I don't remember if it was actually snoopy. He was male. I wonder if imaginary friends go away when we realize that we have an internal voice.

Jocelyn said...

I'm ALL about Bob. Thanks for this happy-making post.

Interestingly, in the field of rhethoric, there are some large distinctions between cultures and how people express themselves in writing, too.