“We are truly the sum of our own choices, nothing more.”
That’s the distillation of every self-righteous self-help advocate who has never had a loved one suffer or die from mental illness. Or had a loved one killed when someone blew through a red light. Or had a friend or loved one brought down by a crippling disease like cancer. To these zealots, life is simple. Problem is, life ain’t simple.
My mother and grandfather didn’t choose to have dementia. They didn’t ask to die from it. They didn’t choose how they felt, which was probably anxiety and confusion and feeling lost. The sum of our choices?
I have a 60 year old friend in Folsom who is still tending to her child, now a fully grown adult in his thirties. It would break your heart to see him as he approaches you, with his staggering, clomping, limping gait. His head swivels in an aimless manner while he walks, looking at everything, looking at nothing. His face wears a constant smile, but it’s vacant and punctuated by random grunts and other other unidentifiable sounds of disease. The sum of our choices? Damn you!
John Lennon said that life happens when you are making other plans. Exactly. Life happens. We control what we can but life makes its own plans, too. Too many self-help advocates make money off of misery as they blame people for things they would desperately like to change but can’t.
I didn’t choose to have my nightmares. I don’t choose to have them now. But I can’t count how many totally clueless people nearly drove me to suicide with suggestions that I was responsible for the way I felt. That I could control how I felt by simply thinking better. Making a choice to feel better. Perhaps these people are more mentally ill than I am.
You try to act normal after you wake up from a nightmare in which you just smashed in a baby’s head with a baseball bat. Live with that! I feel tremendously for vets and anyone else who suffers from PTSD or whatever caused their problems. Whatever caused their problems. You see, you might understand what started something but finding the off switch may prove impossible, no matter what you try. That’s life.
Finding the off switch is like trying to find a light switch panel in a huge, dark room whose floor is littered with painful tripping obstacles you can’t see. These self-help experts seem to know where that light switch is, you just need to listen to their advice. Their life is undoubtedly a mess. But they know how to get your life straight.
According to them, you could find that switch with more talk therapy, less talk therapy, more medicines, less medicines, meditation, Scientology, organized religion, exercise, hypnosis, or whatever seems in at the time. Oh, and most importantly, buy their book. As if that would do any good. Because their outlook is based on blaming you. You’re the one making bad choices, so suffer from that until you listen to them. And if you did listen to them and their advice didn’t work, well, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough. You’re still to blame.
This self-determination mantra might work for mentally healthy people, whatever healthy means. But while they peddle their self-serving, self-righteous shtick, they drive anyone tortured by mental illness further into madness by saying that one can control the often uncontrollable. They debase people depressed over losing a loved one or those fighting the blackness that comes from having a miserable, crippling disease. Isn’t a little charity in order?
In the Inferno, Dante is allowed to move through Hell and eventually return, leaving the condemned to the Pit. As Eliot translates it, a wretched soul cries out to Dante upon seeing him start back. “Now, I pray you, by that virtue which leads you to the top of the stair, think of me in my time of pain.”