More Equal Than Others?

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

George Orwell, "Animal Farm".

A while ago I wrote a blog entitled "In the Ghetto", in which I argued that having a long-term mental illness can sometimes result in  making you feel as if you've somehow been cordoned off from mainstream society. In this post I wanted to expand that idea a little by saying that not only does having mental health issues often put you in some kind of ghetto for those with such problems, but that, in a strange inversion of the rest of society, it can also mean living in a world of a sort of enforced equality where one's qualifications, achievements, level of intelligence and general aptitude seem not to matter so much. As Orwell's words above would appear to point to the hypocrisy and inherent unfairness of wider society, it is as if in the world of mental health this unfairness is borne by those who are more capable rather than less. We live in a world, as Nietzsche put it, of the bungled and the botched, and it is they who seemingly hold the reigns of power here.   
For example, after years of being put into streams or bands at school which reflected one's ability, if one begins to experience a mental illness, you are suddenly plunged into a world where such things don't seem to matter or aren't considered. As someone with such issues, you become, or are treated, in many ways, just the same as any other person with similar problems. So a situation ensues in which those who are bright and intelligent sit alongside those who are not so capable. 
I genuinely wouldn't, and indeed didn't, mind this on first becoming unwell, but after years of the same situation, one can feel as if one is being held back. In my experience, many services and resources for those with a mental health problem are geared towards the less capable among us. So if one is bright, if one is qualified and skilled, one can't but help feel, at times, as if the dice were unfairly loaded against you. To my mind, when I see my friend who has two degrees in History from Manchester, and indeed when I think of myself, with an English degree and two volumes of poetry published, I can't help but get a certain sense of waste. Perhaps for some what is provided by mental health charities and services is enough, but it seems we have to look elsewhere for our intellectual satiety. 
Indeed, it can seem that if one is seen as being capable, one is somehow less deserving of help. No one, I think, could have experienced more serious problems than myself, but because it was acknowledged that I was intelligent, it often appeared to me that I had less support than others who'd had similar or even fewer issues. Indeed, I recall very clearly one psychiatrist saying to me that because I was bright, more would be expected of me. That is fine with me, but why should I get less help for my, at the time, obvious ill health, and why should services always be seemingly there for those less able? Is there some kind of rule that suggests the intelligent among us suffer less?          
To clarify just one aspect of what I'm trying to say I'll give the example of a film group I once attended which was run by a local mental health charity. As some of you will know I'm a big film lover. Indeed, you could say that it's one of my passions, so the thought of a film club for service users struck me as being ideal for me. However, at this particular club, I suppose in the name of democracy or equality or empowerment or some such, service users themselves were asked to choose which films would be watched. Amongst the films chosen were the disastrously unfunny "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" and the equally risible Mel Brooks comedy, "Spaceballs". Now, forgive me for being elitist, but I wasn't about to go along to a club where such things were shown, given that my own taste in film tends towards the more arty. There I was, thinking that such a club would offer people the chance to see some truly great movies by great film-makers, only to have my ambitions rudely shot down. Upon explaining this to some of the people from the charity running the group, I got a strangely sober response. I sort of joked about the fact that I didn't really want to see a film like "Robin Hood: Men in Tights", but the clear lack of any laughter made it plain that these people took their empowerment project seriously. This was, after all, the peoples' choice, and the people had chosen. It was just that in this instance, to my mid at least, the peoples' choice stank.
In another incident at the same charity, I was once sent to a reading group where, despite informing them beforehand that I had a degree in English, the people attending could barely read. Even the librarian running the group, when I told her of my qualifications, suggested that my presence there may not be appropriate. It goes without saying that I didn't rub it in by saying I'd had some poetry published!     
So, perhaps you can begin to see just what one is faced with sometimes. It would seem that, in a sort of inversion of Orwell's meaning, some people are indeed made to feel "more equal than others". It might seem like they are forced, simply through their ill heath, to get by in a world clearly not designed with them in mind, and through the sheer accident of being bright or more capable, are made to bear the brunt of discrimination.   


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