Saturday, October 03, 2009

A Dark World

Life is often not what it logically should be. We picture goodness as the opposite of evil, genius of craziness. Yet more often than not, such qualities in a human being resemble a circle, like the face of a clock. An immensely gifted person may be sane at 11:59 and fly over the cuckoo's nest at 12:01. There is sometimes very little difference between a genius and a madman. Love can turn into hate and rage with a snap of a finger; two such opposite feelings, just a tiny bit apart on life's circle.

Mental health and a balanced life can never be taken for granted. Our natural reaction is to stay away from a person who's going through a rough period in his/her life. In the eyes of the affected person it is us who turn into monsters and crazies. A key to treating such an imbalance is that the person suffering admits help is needed, that the world isn't mad, but that the individual perceiving it as such might be instead. Yet any health care professional knows that treating an ill person often fails because the patient feels sane. Medication may be taken for a while but then discontinued. In our system there is the added element of expense and the lack of any kind of a safety net.

So, we try to run away from people who are out of the ordinary and whose behavior may be hard to take. As a nation, we like to think that if we close our eyes, a problem doesn't exist. Didn't we have a popular President who said that there are no unemployed and poor people, just ones who don't like to work, or that there are no homeless, just people who don't like living in a house or an apartment? If one surrounds himself will nothing but other well-to-do people, in that world there indeed is no poverty.

Artists, whether painters, musicians or writers, often happen to be on the borderline in the sanity circle and probably more likely past the middle point the more talented and creative they are. Many have been the most productive during an acute phase of what the "normal" people would call a mental illness. Masterpieces have been painted and written in such a state, as well as under the influence of recreational drugs, today illegal but not necessarily so in history. One could argue that the more gifted an artist is, the more likely he/she is to be in very fragile mental health. The great Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was rather mad, at least in the eyes of his very religious family, a true black sheep. When he died, no relative saw any value in the paintings left behind, including the different versions of the famed "Scream". They were given away, made to disappear, as works of a nut possessed by demons. History is full of examples of similar stories.

Of course, being on the "wrong" side of the clock is applicable to everyday people as well. Many such people do dot fit in our society and end up having trouble with the law or as homeless on the street. One study mentioned in a BBC program estimated the percentage of schizophrenic people approximately equal the number we sentence to prisons in this jail-happy country of ours. Clearly locking a suffering soul in such an institution is an inhumane act but we do that to remove them from our midst. Yes, imprisonment is expensive but cheaper than mental hospitals or even long-term outpatient care, as most of these unfortunate people do not have insurance. Even if they do, mental health is usually equally well covered as visiting the dentist, where a root canal and a mandatory crown more than wipe out the annual benefit amount many times over, even in the best of plans.

However, there are situations where we cannot ignore such illness, namely when it involves a family member. An aging parent may suffer from Alzheimer's, another one from a phobia that prevents a normal life. The situation becomes tragic when a raging soul belongs to a member of an immediate family, a spouse or a child. An affected person may suddenly see you as his/her archenemy and threaten to destroy your life. A mother may suffer from serious delusions and paranoia, and feel certain that her daughter is after every knick-knack is her possession. The child's request to have a copy of a key to her house is an indication of ill intentions and plans of theft, when in fact the child is just concerned about the well-being of an aging parent. A spouse (or especially an ex-one) might write terrible letters to all corners of the globe, to make sure that everyone knows what a monster or a criminal yesterday's love is and to do his/her best to be as destructive as possible, short of outright killing this former mate. When such hateful behavior comes from a grown child that a person has always dearly loved, it hurts the most and is tough to swallow and understand. One just has to go on loving and praying that it will all go away. The wrong way is to close one's heart forever but one has to protect him/herself. Why would anybody wish to be abused?

Another one of life's circles involves friends. A quarter to the hour a person pretends to be your best pal with nothing but good thoughts and wishes in mind. Along come a few malicious people who help to push your minute hand well into the other side and all of a sudden this friend is your worst enemy, ready to turn your life into hell. But the same clock ticks for the former friend and the minute hand is stuck at quarter after in no time at all, while in the victim's life it again has passed the half-hour mark and sun is rising after the night.

Actually, I think it is a mad world, a very black one. Universe is filled with dark matter we hardly understand, yet it amounts to much of its mass. But in the blackness it is easy to see the shining lights from stars and galaxies, the bright diamonds from the hearts of those who truly love and care. At age 61 one has seen a lot of it, if not all.
Munch's "Scream" from 1893