You Took Me, You Shook Me, You Changed Me.

"'There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral--immoral from the scientific point of view.'
'Because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly--that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one's self. Of course, they are charitable. They feed the hungry and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion--these are the two things that govern us. And yet--'"
Oscar Wilde, "The Picture of Dorian Gray".

There seems to be nothing like music to bring out an emotion. And today, listening to the soundtrack from the film, "Donnie Darko", I was suddenly taken back to the time the film was first released, and was struck by just how much has changed in my life since then. Gone is the over-sensitivity. Gone is the anger. Gone are the symptoms of illness. But, I also sometimes think, gone is a part of me that will not come back. Sure, I'm better now. If I had a job, I could probably hold it down. But the talent, if I can call it that, which managed to produce a book of poetry, seems to have dissipated. Throughout my journey through the mental health system, then, (in fact, I hate that word, "journey". Everybody, it seems, nowadays, has a "journey" to relate, and really, I don't want to become one of them. But for the while, such terminology will have to suffice) I have found that I have become, perhaps, a different person.
I don't think I can underestimate the role of mental health services in that change. From what I eat, to the way I behave, and perhaps, even , to the way I think, has been shaped by my treatment. So, the question I want to ask is, what is the morality which governs those who would seek to change us? Do they have some hot-line to a higher being who dictates what is right and what is wrong? Or is it, simply, that we must do what society expects of us, and so adapt ourselves to it? Of course the latter would seem to be the case. We would all be expected, at some point, to put our own little whims behind us in the service of a greater community. Or is it, as Wilde states, that we simply don't have the courage to disobey anymore, and so are rendered into lives of simply "doing the right thing", not because we feel it, but because it is expected of us?
OK, so in terms of mental health, we're talking about people who are ill. And maybe mental health services would simply say they are helping to get such people better. But, to me, when it comes to mental health, it seems it is not just about making you better, but also about making you more "socially acceptable". Perhaps those in practice would disagree, but I think I've had my fair share of moral judgements laid down about what kind of person I was. I remember being told such things as, "you really should have some self-respect", or, "well, at that point you really weren't a very nice person". Such seemingly personal comments, I would suggest, go beyond the boundaries of illness and into the realms of personality, and here I would say that it really is none of the business of such services to go about judging who one is.
Perhaps more pertinently, when I did once disobey what my psychiatrist asked me to do, I was unceremoniously refused further medication for my condition and also further treatment. A little harsh and extremely punitive, methinks. Disobedience to some may seem like a childish thing which we need to grow out of, but if we never disobey, how can we ever effect any change. Indeed, through my own little act of disobedience and the subsequent complaint I made about my treatment, the policy of our local psychiatric hospital was changed so that no one would leave without a supply of meds. Perhaps, then, to the "terror of society" and the "terror of God" we could add the "terror of psychiatry" as something which "governs" how we behave.
So, having been on the receiving end of such things, I now look beyond the realms of mental health, only to find that most people I encounter are "madder", more immoral and a lot less "nice" than the many I have met through my illness, and feel that if they were put through the rigours of psychiatric assessment, would not come out looking too good.
And if, as Wilde states, "all influence is immoral", just where does that leave all those who assess us and, seemingly, want to change us into more productive members of society? If all influence is a "bad" thing, and the purpose of life is "self-development", then I fear the entire mental health system, which in my case, took me, shook me and changed me, is on dodgy ethical grounds.           


bazza said…
Hi David. Don't forget that Wilde's character in the story is speaking those words - they don't even have to be the author's own words let alone his thoughts!
Having said that, I personally, would find it difficult to agree that all influence is bad: Good influence is good and bad influence is bad.
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
klahanie said…
Dear David,
Sorry for not replying sooner. Have been experiencing sporadic internet over the last few days.
Had a thorough read of your interesting posting. I know you've come a long way, despite it all.
I will touch briefly on my encounters with the mental health system. In my case, I have been deplorably treated. Luckily, because I can get by without medication, I actually distanced myself from rather poor and dare I say corrupt, mental health services. Ironically perhaps, I'm better without their 'help'.
Cheers and very best wishes, Gary
David said…
Dear bazza,
I guess it is a difficult thing to say, that all influence is "bad". If I remember correctly from reading "...Dorian Gray" the character who speaks those words seems to have a "bad" influence on Dorian himself, leading him to first question his beliefs and later to commit evil, murderous crimes.
This was just a "passing thought" really, bazza, and upon reading it again I realize that it may give a somewhat negative view of mental health services. After going through quite a bad time with them, though, I can now say that that my relationship with them has improved immeasurably. This, I thought, was just an interesting stance that may make some think a little about their role.
Thanks for commenting.
With Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Dear Gary,
No need to apologise, your comment has arrived in good time!
It is a shame that you have had such a negative expereince with the old mental health services. As I say above I too have had quite a rough time, but now I feel, perhaps alongside me getting much better, that my relationship with them has healed and indeed, become quite good, to the extent that I now see things from "the other side", as it were. Their job is not an easy one, and, despite this post, I have a lot of respect for what they do.
As I said to bazza above, I just thought this may be an interesting little point to make, which hopefully would make some think about their role.
Yours with All the Best,

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