Monday, November 2, 2015
Angels and demons
So a long time ago I had a friend -- a best friend -- who was footloose, fancy free, creative and funny. I'd say we were best friends for about two years and then life slowly moved us in different directions until one day 10 years later, she broke off all contact and told me I must never contact her again.
I know I've mentioned this before, so if you remember the story, stay with me. I'm going somewhere with it.
What must have turned the tide against me was when I asked her a couple of difficult questions about her life situation, which seemed to be careening out of control -- a 30 year-old with no job, no means of support and what she termed an "inability" to deal with the outside world.
But once I'd asked the questions, however gently they were asked, of course it was over. I'd called the emperor on having no clothes. For the next 30 years, I kept track of my friend from a distance, more from curiosity than anything else. I heard about the issues with mental illness, the cocktail of meds she took for whatever her condition was (Anxiety? Bi-polar? Clinical depression?) Nut sure, just something that required serious medical intervention which still has not led to a productive or responsible life, even now. At last check-in, she was still living off others' incomes and calling it the justification of living the "creative" artist's lifestyle. She still, obviously, cannot deal with the outside world, a.k.a. reality.
There's a lot of talk these days about mental illness and how under-treated it is. It's true. But even treatment sometimes doesn't fix everything.
I am thinking of the funny similarities between this and a blog I used to read. I willingly moved to the outer orbit of this blog a few years ago, and now I just hear about it from others. But for some reason, I finally realized the reason it's all going down like it is: it's a train wreck of mental illness. Anxiety? Narcissism? Bi-polar? Not sure, but it's clearly something that requires medical attention, which at this point is not happening.
And now I look about on the events I heard about that caused me to wince most: The animals mistreated or left to die. The lies. The multiple unkept commitments. The inability of focus on the task at hand, especially if it required long-term attention. The grandiosity of the "magical life" and quest for recognition and fame, and lastly, the night terrors and anxiety when the grandiosity fades and reality sets back in.
Now I see it for what it is, and it makes me sad. I see it in my ex-friend's life and it makes me sad too. Far too often, it's the creative geniuses that are tormented and struggle to function in the real world. Both my friend and this blogger are unquestionably great writers. But when the Angel Creativity comes, far too often he brings with him a legion of demons as well.
And so it is with all artists, whether with word, music or paint. Vincent Van Gogh's missing ear could probably tell you that.
Why is it that so many people swimming in talent also often swim in shark-filled waters of their own imaginations, or slide down rainbow slides with magical unicorns and ice cream at the end of the other impossible extreme. And swing back and forth between the two, with no middle ground to stabilize themselves with.
Talk about a black and white life. Most of us, myself included, try and buck up our lows, temper our highs with reason, and thereby live in a little more of the gray, middle areas of life. But while those stable waters can sometimes be tepid and sometimes a little bland, they also allow us to scaffold our lives in a stable way -- to pay our bills, raise our children, and put enough by for when we are old and not physically as able as we are right now.
While there are fewer magical delights, there also lurk no paralyzing demons. That's a good trade-off, for those who can choose.
And for us, an unexpected knock at the door usually means Jehovah's Witnesses, not metaphorical "wolves at the door" or serial killers. And if people drive by our houses with binoculars we figure they are probably not interested in us, because we are not usually at the front and center of a Greek tragedy of our own design. The guy in the car might be the county appraiser, or an insurance salesperson, or might be someone looking at the acreage for sale down the hill. Or looking at the birds in the trees. That's just how the gray areas are. They lack drama, but have an even plane of stability under them.
I'm moderately talented, but thankful to (mostly) swim in the lukewarm waters of actual reality and, yes, semi-obscurity all my days, and if I could trade places with any of these geniuses of word, thought, color or tune -- either my once-friend or the blogger I used to follow -- even to have their talent for a day...I would pass. I do not seek fame or recognition. I prefer my angels and demons to be the smaller and more manageable kind, and mostly arising from things around me, not within.
The ones from within are tough -- no, near impossible -- to beat. But admitting there is a battle going on and getting help is at least the first step in fighting it. The sad thing is, almost all of us know someone who is fighting at this point and there's not much we can do to help except point out when the emperor has no clothes, and when demons and angels, villains and heroes, are ruling the day over stability and reality.
And that's not always enough.