Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Triangle-Shaped Room

In most of us, there is a longing to be with someone who may or may not be there. Alone, we look for that person, and that drives us into places where people congregate. Today, we have the Internet, which makes it easier to do so for those of us who are socially awkward, or simply disinclined to risk humiliation and tense unease under the eyes of another human being. For some of us, the potential result of social contact or a relationship isn't worth the effort of reaching out, for fear of rejection.

Rejection reinforces the idea that one is not worthy of the attention and commitment of another. A recluse can endure his loneliness by not trying to find another, by seeing himself as a misanthrope, ascetic, eccentric, or what have you. A positive spin, as opposed to the possibility of an awful truth; that he is genuinely disagreeable and unpleasant to be around. In Eugene O'Neill's play, The Iceman Cometh, a travelling salesman kills the hopes and dreams of a bar-full of failed men by encouraging them to follow their dreams. The pleasant pipe-dreams of success are ruined with experience. One tries to become a writer, and fails. Another tries to run for public office, and fails. In this way, a barroom of romantic dreamers becomes a room full of drunks.

Mental illness provides an awkward space for one to hide, or be hidden, while possibly maintaining a modicum of self-respect. The space is shaped like a triangle, and each point represents something different. One is society, people in general who may be friends, acquaintances, neighbors, family, co-workers, etc. These days, it could also be people who talk to us through the media. They tell you that you're this or that, ensuring that you will be that thing to one degree or another, with your consent (at least unconsciously). In this case, mentally-ill, sick and "disabled." The second point is the medical community, which theoretically provides a guilt-free reason for your failures and renders you blameless ("It's a disease, it's not your fault."). The third point of this uncomfortable, triangular room is a conclusion reached through careful self-examination. For whatever reason, this person cannot function in society, and the cause is defined and provided for by a collaboration of the other two points, filtered through the complicated mind of the person contained within.

Regardless of the reasons, an inability to function (to be employed, particularly) definitely exists and governs the life of the person in the triangle. And one corner of the triangle could be opened, as it governs to presence of the other two. Improved self-perception and functionality would render the opinions of doctors and society irrelevant. Repeated attempts are made, with a cost at failure.

So, for a person like myself, little comfort is found in a diagnosis or comforting television mantra. Whatever fuels the inability to function is within, the rest is perception or an attempt at aid via medical intervention.

Simply put, there is a problem (lack of function) that needs to be addressed, and only the non-functioning person can do so. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of employment and resulting poverty is the signature of social impotence that is most clearly discernible to others. It is also the primary cause of the stigmatizing of those with mental illness; as lazy, stupid and/or con-artists gaming the social welfare system.

My days are filled with guilt over not being in gainful employment, of being useless, and it leads to an overwhelming sense of loneliness and separation from others. The problem I'm attempting to overcome is within me until it isn't. Whether those in my life see me as lazy, crazy, good for nothing, or a con-man, it doesn't having any impact on a very real and very crippling situation, "medicalized" or not.

How many failed attempts to leave the room does it take to kill the fighting spirit within? To make romantic dreams annoying and even dangerous, instead of inspiring? Five? Ten? One?

Am I making any sense?

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