Monday, 13 October 2008

Am I Insane?

Internet Celebrity gossip source “Popbitch” – Birthplace of many questionable (and sometimes disturbing) rumours, once printed this piece on America’s grave struggle with the minds of the populous.

Caught in a trap: Everyone’s got a disorder

Dr Robert Spitzer is probably America’s
leading psychiatrist. In the 80s he
identified a vast number of disorders –
Obsessive Compulsive, Attention Deficit etc.
In 2007 more than 50% of Americans have been
diagnosed as suffering from a psychological
disorder. But Dr Robert says he now thinks he
was wrong, and that his diagnoses just
confused these syndromes with ordinary human
behaviour and unhappiness. Which is, I guess
bad news for the highly-paid therapists
on Robbie, Britney, Gazza etc’s payroll.

Popbitch, 1/3/07

When I read this, there was one defining moment in my life that the article seemed to tie into.
In 2006 I applied for a job with an Australian custody company, GSL. They had branched out and had recently signed a contract with Manchester courts. The position of “custody officer” appealed and I went to yet another company assessment day.

Imagine an entire series of The Apprentice slammed into one day, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the hoop jumping and grilling dished out by the hard-nosed businessmen running the company, putting on the event – and eventually hiring the shining, jammy assets of the group.

After the initial personal detail form-filling a second form was handed over to us- a grid of numbers starting at 1, with each number followed by the letters A-E.

I had lost count of how many of these “psychometric tests” I had filled out. There had been loads, mostly from companies that didn’t hire me- and some from companies that did (and then proceeded to fire me when they realised I wasn’t quite the heartless-bastard salesman they wanted). I had no faith in this method of gathering information.

My competency was actually tested after this, when we were put through our paces on English comprehension, Maths, memory and cognitive group exercises. I was becoming doubtful that I would be hired: if memory and maths were relevant to the job, I wasn’t going to be hired. These areas of the brain are the two Achilles heels I walk around on, and this test had just stepped on both of my feet. However, people had already been whittled out through the selection process and I was still there. I must have done something right.

The remainder of the applicants were all a certain breed: One had graduated in criminal law and, despite being my age, was already married. Others had a background in security and looked somewhat dangerous. I was the smallest guy in the room, but the next guy wasn’t that much bigger than me. The rest, I guessed, were steroid-munchers.

Had I beaten the system? Had I just known how to handle certain questions and behaved in the way the conglomerate company wanted me to? Or would I really be better than half the other applicants at looking after the convicted scum of Manchester’s society? I was about to get GSL’s professional opinion.

One by one, the applicants were taken out of a waiting room. I assumed the interview room was on the other side of a corridor. But when a manager called my name he led me out of the building, past the cricket ground that they were using as a venue, into a different building and into a very stereotypical interview room- too large for purpose, with a solitary chair facing a long desk. Three of the managers were sat behind the desk, doing their best “Dragon’s Den” impressions.

“Okay Matt,” said Dragon 1. “Sit down, please.”

Let’s get this over with, I thought. It’s going to be interesting to see what angle they take. Perhaps, “We don’t hire innumerate morons in this organisation Matt. The shed’s that way…”

“Before we start, Matt,” said the stern late-thirties man on the left, “I’ve got to ask you- is there anything you need to tell us?”

My guilty conscience immediately gave me flashbacks of the year before. I had tried a couple of stints in the world of Media sales: Flogging adverts to arrogant company directors. This had proved not to be my forte and I was, needless to say, sacked both times. In an attempt to only show my better side, I had left these off the application form. They had, thankfully, overlapped onto other jobs so there was never a gap in my CV. But had they done research? Had they contacted the Inland Revenue, who had in turn grassed me to GSL? Was that possible?

I stuck to my story. If I changed it, I definitely wouldn’t get the job. If I kept things as they were, I probably wouldn’t. That’s a minor improvement.

“Erm…” My composure was slipping. “No?”

“Matt- we’ve analysed the results from your psychometric test. It suggests the possibility… that you could have some instabilities in your character. It basically says you’re a time bomb waiting to go off.”

My brain took off like a fighter jet. I wanted to laugh, but I was too freaked out. Something had been exposed, but I couldn’t place what it was. First, I always joke with my mates that I’m a nutcase. When you portray yourself as having sociopathic tendencies, the jokes are endless. My style of humour is disturbed. Second, and here’s what I wasn’t prepared to tell some arrogant cunt-in-a-suit seemingly denying me a job- There are a lot of things that make me very unhappy. I’m normally a “smiling motherfucker”, as Ving Rhames would say, but beneath the surface… I have more problems than an applied maths anthology.

I wasn’t prepared for my mental state to be grilled. Someone who has never met me before has picked up on something deeply personal and highly problematic- on a day when I am trying my hardest to impress.

“We can’t afford to have someone like that on our team, Matt.”

We were all trying to do the same thing- figure out whether the said assumptions were valid. I was thinking: has this test uncovered something dark about me? Is this confirmation of something I have suspected for years?

Suffice to say, I left the cricket ground still unemployed. Days later, a letter was to arrive on my doorstep confirming my lack of success. It did not mention any reason.

In retrospect, the idea that you could assuage somebody’s mental stability through a multiple-choice questionnaire is ridiculous, and a company like GSL should have known better than to use “psychometric testing” for these purposes. They should also have known better than to have suggested that a well-intentioned applicant had a mental instability. They are not psychologists. They are custody officers.

It’s annoying how it can sometimes take hours for the world’s best comeback line to pop into your head. I think it took me a few weeks.

On every application form, companies are obliged by law to have a section asking, “Do you consider yourself to have a disability?” Due to my memory difficulties, I always tick “yes”. Nobody at GSL had asked me about this, or the results from the memory test today. In an attempt to figure out what my memory difficulty is, I have visited two educational psychologists, numerous support tutors, and have been tested in far more advanced ways than this, including brain scans. I am quite sure that if I did have “instabilities in my character”, these methods would have picked up on any psychological irregularities.

Stick that in your blunt and smoke it, GSL. Any excuse to whittle the numbers down, eh? As says, “one person’s liveliness is another’s distractibility”. You ask me to assess my own personality then turn me down on the basis of my own tick-box decision. How about assessing me yourself? Don’t assume that my perception of myself is going to help you judge my abilities. This test was two years ago- I’ve been through further struggles in life, but the “time bomb” still hasn’t gone off. Despite the urges we all get, I still haven’t stabbed anyone in the neck with a pencil. And I doubt I will, despite temptations from custody managers insulting me over issues they know little or nothing about.

I have thought too much about it. Months later a former employee of GSL told me he resigned because the managers were all twats, and the atmosphere of working for the company was sour as fuck. He also mentioned that through his recruitment process hey had turned people down for an array of ridiculous reasons.

So what do you think? Am I a stable but challenged individual? Or is there a possibility…

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