Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Virtues

I have a friend whom I’ve know since grade school. We drift in and out of contact; I recently called him up to see how he was doing, part of my checking my moorings, as it were. I got his current phone number from another old school buddy.

Most of our contact over the years have been by telephone; that’s what phones are for, in my opinion. Thinking back, I think we’ve only seen each other once, twice, maybe three times since college. Some of the uncertainty there is that he was in school longer than I; I’m not entirely sure how to place the metal concert we went to. The bill was Chris Jagger (who would have been godawful even if he’d had his brother Mick and the Stones to back him up), Kiss (yes, even metal gods start off as opening acts), The James Gang, and Blue Oyster Cult, though I’m not sure which of them was the main act. Probably The James Gang; they had a big hit “Seems to Me,” and I don’t think “Don’t Fear the Reaper” from B.O.C. had yet hit public consciousness, so that would put the date as sometime in 1974, or possibly 1976.

My friend had a psychotic break in his first year of college at a prestige school, leading to “suicidal mentation” (he believed both that communists were out to get him and that this would be somehow remedied by drinking insecticide), and eventually wound up on powerful and dangerous medication that allowed him to function, albeit in a greatly attenuated state.
He nevertheless transferred colleges and persevered, eventually receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics, and obtained a job with the administration of a school district in a Midwestern city. Eventually he found a mate and they married.

His wife has a chronic disease, which will probably eventually be terminal, albeit probably not for years. She is on a disability pension, and the hoops you have to jump through for that these days are appalling. The drug that best kept my friend's diagnosed schizophrenia in check was taken off the market several years ago, to be replaced by a drug of the same class, with similar side effects.

My friend lives with the fear that his current drug will also be taken off the market. He is afraid of his wife dying. He is afraid of retiring, feeling that he could easily drift into a totally reclusive existence. And sometimes, he is just afraid.

Sounds like a perfect candidate for a support group, wouldn’t you say? Indeed, he has tried to find support amongst other “consumers” as they are called, and call themselves (short for “consumers of mental health services”). And they won’t have him.

Why? Because he is, to them, too successful. Despite his illness, he got a college degree, and not just any degree, but an advanced degree in a difficult subject. He has a job, and a wife. Despite hardships that I can barely imagine, he has managed to create a decent life. I admire him substantially, and I’ve tried to tell him that and will continue to do so. But those who do have an idea of what it’s like to have a mental illness don’t want to know him.

There were even some of the “consumers” that he tried to join with who accused him of lying, either about his condition or his life. Others sneered at him as being “stuck up.” Apparently in those communities that he has so far encountered (which include several on-line groupings), the only acceptable behavior is to be a passive “consumer of mental health services.”

Like Marxists, the Randites never came anywhere close to a workable philosophy or program. But some of the social and moral critique is spot on. Hating people for their virtues and achievements is one of the lowest aspects of the human condition.

4 comments:

TStockmann said...

Although I have to say that giving exaggerated credit to people for perceived talents and accomplishments has been historically more dangerous. Thus are minions gathered. It is only our near-peers we resent with venom.

James Killus said...

It is not enough that I succeed. Others must fail.-Oscar Wilde

I originally heard that quote as "my friends must fail," which I think may well hold the greater truth.

TStockmann said...

I think that's Gore Vidal rather than Wilde, but maybe they both swiped it from Whistler.

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