I have been diagnosed with Major Depression since 1995, although I now think that, without all the masks and self-medication I used to hide from the world, I might well have been diagnosed much earlier. Over time, the initial diagnosis has been expanded to include other ‘issues’ as well. This I know because of helpful ‘peeks’ into my files provided by friends who thought I should know. These modifications came about, I believe, because the doctors have been confused by both my sessions with them and by the results of all the testing I’ve submitted to.
One thing they all seem to agree on is that a person who breaks down in tears over what appears to be trivial events, and hides himself away from people to the point where he cannot be trusted to handle his own affairs, must be ‘mentally ill.’ Also, I’m sure it didn’t help when I stated my belief that, rather than myself, it’s those who are not depressed while living in the world we live in that are mentally ill. I still don’t understand why, in spite of the epidemic-like use of anti-depressants, alcohol and other not-so-legal mood altering drugs, my statement was dismissed outright and regarded only as further proof of my ‘illness.’
Okay, so just how did I get to this sad point? To begin with, I was born in Charleston, West Virginia in 1955. I’m of mixed racial heritage, with my mother being half Black, half American-Indian, and my father being half Black, half White. You do the math. Apparently, my appearance has lead most people to assume that I’m White. As you can probably imagine, looking the way I do while living and growing up in mostly Black communities through the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s had a profound impact on my psychological development. Wanted or not, the perspective of ‘outsider’ was forced upon me.
Another profound impact on my development happened in elementary school, when I was first introduced to the honor rule. I can clearly remember the chill that went down my spine when my adolescent mind grasped the significance of being on my own and responsible for myself. It was both scary and exhilarating at once and, in my own childish way, I knew that this was one of the most important lessons I would ever learn. It meant that I had to think for myself and take responsibility for my own actions. I had to take charge of my own mind so that I could be sure to do the right thing.
These two experiences formed the core of a lifelong quest, out of fear and the need to develop the tools required to survive in a hostile environment. I became driven to question everything I was ever taught, and the motives of everyone I knew, including myself. But I knew enough to realize that such a mentality, if too obvious, would only bring further harm upon my self. So I took on the persona of ‘the naive seeker of wisdom’ in order to appear harmless. I thought it would be easier to be perceived as just another ‘space head’ than as someone seeking to judge the people with whom I interacted. And wouldn’t you know, with my ever questioning nature – and my fascination with all things related to space travel, ‘spacehead’ was exactly the nickname given to me by my ‘friends’ at one time.
Since then, my life has been an extreme roller-coaster ride through other experiences – other lessons, both good and bad. From West Virginia, to California, to Ohio, to marriage and the Air Force, to college and kids and work and debt. I went from wide-eyed optimism and a ‘can do’ attitude about my ability to handle any problem, to drug abuse, psychological breakdowns, hospitalizations, disability, divorce, and finally, isolation. I’ve learned a great many things – some of which I’m trying to unlearn. I’ve done some good, and many things I wish I could undo. Yet, as I don’t grant anyone the credit for my successes, I blame only myself for my failures. You see, I knew better!
Today, from a philosophical standpoint, I’m what I think of as a ‘backsliding’ Objectivist. Objectivism is a philosophy developed by the late novelist Ayn Rand. She believed that, aware of it or not, each of us has a philosophy of life that is behind our every thought and action. This acts as the main survival tool for cognitive beings such as ourselves, who aren’t equipped with the instinctual responses of animals and, therefore, should be chosen with deliberate care – because our very lives depend on it. Objectivism is her attempt to provide mankind with such a philosophy. Simply stated, and in the best language I can muster, Objectivism is the philosophy of absolute freedom and it’s corollary, absolute responsibility – it is the philosophy of the free.
When I first started college in 1976, I was accused of sounding just like Ayn Rand by a school library clerk with whom I had frequent friendly ‘debates.’ I had never heard of Ayn Rand before, so I asked her to show me an example of Rand’s works. They didn’t have much, so she handed me a copy of The Fountainhead. Whew! Let me tell you, reading that book was like seeing my very own soul, in clear and concise language I couldn’t hope to equal, poured out on the pages before me. I was absolutely dumbfounded! Without going into unnecessary detail, it was the story of a man who stood against the merciless tide of collective humanity out to destroy him for his unwavering stance in favor of his individual right to live as a free man – by his own standards and at his own expense. It was after that that I knew!
I knew then that the thing that had been in my gut since elementary school was right. That all the altruistic bullshit I had condoned, both implicitly and explicitly, in order to ‘help create a better world,’ was just that – Bullshit. That all the talk about ‘self-sacrifice’ and ‘service to man’ was just the verbal manifestation of the kind of evil that has been the root cause of all the blood-letting and destruction perpetrated by man throughout the ages. Until then I could justify my poor reasoning as mere ‘ignorance.’ But after, I knew that this type of ignorance was not ‘accidental,’ but rather the act of deliberately substituting the beliefs of others in place of my own. I knew then that if I continued to support such beliefs, in any way, that I would be committing the worst kind of sin a man can commit – the sin of moral suicide!
So I threw my self into reading Ayn Rand’s books, along with anything else I could find that rang true to me. To this day, with almost no one to hear it, I will preach it to anyone who’ll listen. But now, rather than being considered merely ‘eccentric,’ I’m considered ‘delusional’ and other not-so-nice labels associated with my having been diagnosed ‘mentally ill.’ But it’s not what I preach that’s wrong, it’s my compulsion to preach it to people with their fingers in their ears. You see, along with all this ‘growth and enlightenment,’ I also accumulated quite an attachment to the people in my life. In spite of how wrong I knew it to be, I just couldn’t turn my back and walk away. It wasn’t until after the bottom fell out that I learned the final lesson. There’s a reason why flight attendants tell you, in case of emergency, to put on your own air mask before helping your loved ones with theirs: You can’t help those you care about if you’re incapacitated!
Okay, I hadn’t intended to be so long-winded – but clarity is important to me. I’ll now conclude this sad tale, and sum up what I think about myself and the rest of humanity. To my knowledge, and actual experience, we represent the pinnacle of life in what we know of the universe. I have yet to see proof that there are any limitations to what we are capable of, except for those limitations we place on ourselves. And yet, we squander and belittle this capacity in an insane effort to escape the responsibility it represents. I believe the unconscious knowledge of this abdication is the reason behind the one consistent theme in all of the theories of life and morality I have come across: the notion that you get what you deserve. Now tell me, where do you think beings such as us are headed? What final judgment would YOU pass on mankind?
Now I don’t personally believe in God or anything else ‘supernatural,’ but as the evidence for the existence of superior intellect and technology can be seen all around us, I have no problem with the idea that there may be beings ‘more evolved’ than we are. But such debates serve only, and perhaps deliberately, to distract us from the fact that there does exist a final, and absolute, supreme arbiter – Reality! To paraphrase the cliches thrown around in the rehabilitation community: “Nothing changes if nothing changes” and “Making the same choices while expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” Sooner or later reality catches up to you, and if you’re caught with your pants down you’re going to be, as they say, Ass Out! Please pardon my slang.
I am paying a very high price for my sins and, just in case you’re delusional enough to think you won’t have to pay for yours, may I point out the current state of the world around you. In Ayn Rand’s greatest work, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt vowed to ‘stop the motor of the world’ to punish mankind for the sins I’ve outlined. Well, what we are now experiencing is justice being delivered by the real John Galt – Reality! And as another character in that book answered when asked what he thought was going to happen to the world, “Exactly what it deserves.”
Now, for those of you about to sharpen your pitchforks and fire up the torches, you might begin the assault by crying ‘who the hell are you to pass judgment on all of us?’ In answer to that question, I resort to another Rand quote: “words do have exact meanings.” While assuming that you’re even capable of rational thought amidst the fog of rage, I ask this of you: Please examine your question carefully. I am just one individual human exercising his right, as an individual, to express his opinion. For you to have asked such a question, in such a tone, means that you are not thinking as an individual, but acting instead as part of a mindless herd, hell-bent on stampeding over the cliff into oblivion. Rather than looking into yourself to find the actual cause of your frustration – and the means to deal with it – you would rather lash out and destroy anyone and anything that reminds you of the truth you seek to deny. But you cannot destroy reality. You can only destroy yourself.
I apologize and wish all the best to those to whom the previous paragraph does not apply. For those to whom it does however, I quote from Pink Floyd’s Waiting For The Worms:
“Sitting in a bunker, here behind my wall. Waiting for the worms to come.“
You see, I already know that I’ve been guilty all this time. That’s from Pink Floyd’s Stop.
And for those who wonder why I obviously still haven’t just ‘turned and walked away’ – why I would even bother to write this? The simple and easy answer is that I’m ‘mentally ill’ – what else could you expect? For those seeking evidence of ‘evil intent,’ the answer might be that I’m some mad ‘arch-villain’ seeking proof that those who read this will act in the manner my ‘theory’ predicts. The truth is that I just needed to speak my mind, and being able to take the time to get it right before it’s heard is simply too cool to pass up.
I want ice water.