Some years ago I knew a man who presented himself as the pinnacle of success – new car, flashy watches, wonderful family. He worked in sales, and really made an effort over and above the norm when it came to his appearance, his friendships, and his social obligations. By all metrics he was a good person, too – considerate, thoughtful, and happy to volunteer to help others; all things I’ve seen many others who were focused on the image of success fall short of.
Unfortunately his finely-crafted persona started to crack around the edges. Through no fault of his own he developed a mild case of epilepsy, something I believe he was too ashamed to discuss with friends or family. He began taking a prescription to help calm the seizures, but it would be some time before the doctors found the right combination and dosages to treat his illness. In that time he had a seizure while traveling 70mph on a local freeway, totaling his car against the center divide.
The next day, still bandaged from the terrifying collision and trying to play off the seriousness of his injuries, he bragged that he was able to pick up a brand-new BMW that morning, and that it had been “time for a new car, anyway.” To say the least, his friends and colleagues were worried about him, particularly those who knew the car upgrade was a truly expensive one. Still though, he laughed off any questions relating to his well-being, claiming everything was right as rain.
Two weeks later, during a meeting of a local charity group, he arrived late with a new set of bandages on his head – he had apparently seized again, this time falling and hitting his skull soundly on the pavement. Instead of taking the day off, he made it a priority to attend the otherwise uneventful committee meeting, as if to prove his dedication, which had never been in doubt.
Over the following weeks friends reported that he was often lethargic, forgetful, and slow-witted – three words never before used to describe the very active, A-type personality with which he faced the world.
Two weeks later the charity group met again, and through the grapevine we had heard that life at home had taken a turn for the worse, and that there still hadn’t been a truly effective medical dose discovered, one that would curb his seizures without forcing rapid mood swings, loss of memory, or other detriments to the day-to-day life with which he was accustomed. We all encouraged him, out of care for himself and his family, to return home, to not worry about the affairs of the charity until things improved.
Rather than see our concern as genuine empathy for a friend, he saw it as a betrayal, an opportunity for us to strike at him for some unknown reason. He was our group’s Vice President, well in line to be elected to the top seat the following year, and he believed – very wrongly – that the entire organization was trying to squeeze him out of his future leadership role. Nothing we said could change his perception of our concern, and he lashed out with spiteful, hateful words, storming out of the building in a rage. Those of us who knew him best understood this was not him, and that stress and illness can cause all sorts of reactions.
Over the next two months it didn’t appear that he attempted to repair either his familial or community relationships, but instead spread word through the large number of idle members of the organization that he was under “attack” and that the current officers were staging a coup in order to secure funding for their own pet projects. He was a very good salesman, and he convinced a healthy number of otherwise idle association members that they needed to vote him in as President immediately.
What the charity officers and his closest friends had tried to keep a private affair – his illness and newly-unstable home life – was forced into the public debate floor, where members who had seen first-hand how things had spiraled out of control detailed the regrettable story and the many offers of assistance, all refused. Mercifully the Secretary kept the vast bulk of the discussion out of the minutes, noting only that a lively discussion was held at the Vice President’s insistence, because by the end of the meeting all eyes were turned toward him with care and compassion, where instead he saw only betrayal.
He had wanted the title of President so badly, in my opinion, as a way to prove to himself and to the world that everything was okay, that he was still in control of a life that had suddenly spun out of his hands. The lengths he went to in trying to get that title are at once heartbreaking and impressive, and made all the worse because he ultimately couldn’t see that everyone around him wanted to care, support, and encourage him; not cut him out of some prize or accolade.
I think a lot about that individual, both for the positive and negative I saw by his example. Serving as a cautionary tale for myself – the very real actions of pushing away those who may care about me in the name of pride – I am nevertheless still hopeful that the man, who thereafter cut nearly all ties with his former friends and associations, can somewhere, some how find peace within himself.
From what little I know about feeling everyone’s out to get you, it’s a lonely living.