Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I can't laugh at mental illness

Oh shit, I have to sympathise with someone I ought to despise.

Take a look at this Tweet-stream and refine your hate. Make it good and hot; sharpen it on stone, burnish it on a leather-strop; spice it with all the laughter you can summon.

Yeah, deplorable, isn't it?

There isn't one moment when I am not feeling bullets hitting me where it really hurts.

Let me be clear: nothing in his actions is remotely near me. I haven't taught gender studies, haven't sexted or slept with students while pretending faithfulness to my beloved Ms T. (I don't do affairs well, actually. Or possibly I do. The best I had ended in marriage, it was nearly 30 years ago, and having hit a jackpot, I quit the casino).

And so on.

But @hugoshwyzer's meltdown still resonates. Because I can understand it from some distant echoes. The pen-traces on a purely personal seismograph. 

Perhaps it's because someone I consider a close friend was seriously manic at times, and I hung around when the office would empty out rather than be there.

Or perhaps it's because I understand this: when all of the clouds close in, you don't see anything except yourself.

This is difficult, and I ask you to bear with me while I construct a straw man that only looks like me.

Imagine that you're enclosed in a tiny, dark space, in which the only window on the world is your own eyes, and in which nobody exists unless they're you or exist to prove that you're still alive inside your tiny dark space.

Really, if you get inside that space, it's easy to believe that nothing could exist unless it's there to keep you feeling warm inside the protective coating. Because if you ever get cold, you fear you will die.

It's easy for me to think that Schwyzer found himself living in such a space, because I've been there. Why do I love Ms T with every breath? Because she was there when it was like that, and never thought to do what was sensible all those years ago, and get as far away from me as she could.

I have nothing in common with Hugo, except this.

If the walls close in, from every side, it's damn easy to find yourself looking out at the world through a letter-slot window that's your only contact with the outside.

And if you find yourself there …

You will do anything, any damn thing and I don't care what how or why to preserve that last view of the world that will keep you alive, eating, and as far as everyone else is concerned, functional.

I can easily imagine how hypocrisy inside the letter-box-slot can be rationalised, because it's all you've got. No matter what happens on the outside: every discrepancy between life and art can be faked, made up, reconciled, explained somehow.

Until the reckoning comes. And then you fall apart.

I've been inexpressibly lucky. I've always had a friend to protect me when I fell apart. Not all of them knew they were protecting me when it happened: some merely listened to me for hours on end. That's not protecting, it's just listening. But they kept me nailed to a chair, drunk or sober, until a crisis passed.

And I'm blessed, because somehow by accident or my own malicious angel, nothing evil happened to me in the worst times of my life. Someone was always there, and their names live close to my heart.

Which is why I can't join in the general game of making fun of Hugo Schwyzer. I'm living on the side of pain, these days. I try to live on the side of forgiveness, because it's so easy to need it.

Here's what I like about reading Kurt Vonnegut: “I never wrote a villain”. It's easy to cast Hugo Schwyzer as a villain, and the world of laughter will do so. And I can't laugh at mental illness. I've grown soft; so be it.

Let me laugh instead at the folly of the sane, fight the battles of the strong, and rage at the plots of malice. Then I need not feel guilty at despising the weak.

No comments: