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Jack is not his real name

I’ve known Jack (not his real name) a long time. We were room-mates when I was still in high school and he was in university. He was never a shining example of robust mental health, but he always maintained at least a half-hearted grip on his sanity, despite his contention that sanity was over-rated.

I used to think of him as eccentric, or idiosyncratic. I wondered, occasionally, over the years, about certain traits, and what they might mean. Mostly, though, I didn’t see any need to label him. He was just Jack. Witty, clever, a master of puns and word play, a musician, a writer, a traveler, a pessimist, a cynic, an unmotivated, unreliable, lazy layabout. He slept all day and split his nights between the streets and the forests. He loved nature and animals and thought human beings were a plague upon the planet. He saw no reason to try to make the world a better place: the best thing for the earth would be if our species to kill itself off, and the sooner the better.

I hadn’t seen Jack for quite awhile. He’d called a couple of months ago saying it was urgent that he see me, but then he stood me up.

I ran into him outside Hartman’s on Friday afternoon. He was no longer sane.

He told me that they had put a thing in his head, something that listened to his conversations and intercepted his thoughts, something that denied him privacy and therefore deprived him of any chance to have a girlfriend. He said the Masons were behind it: they were behind everything. He said he could prove it by analyzing their logo, which contained four letter shapes. All his ex-girlfriends had at least one of those four letters in their names.

He said they’d given his ex-girlfriend’s dog cancer because he loved it.

He showed me several deep and horrible open wounds on his body and asked if I knew what they were. Back of his leg. Elbow. He said he’d had them all over his body but they were clearing up now.

The more he talked, the more it sounded like he was fighting a losing battle. The worst part was when he said “I just want out.”

Because I’d been to Elmaks’ funeral the day before, I couldn’t let it go.

“Out of what?” I asked.

He didn’t say. For the first time ever, in all the years I’ve known him, I saw tears in Jack’s eyes.

“Everything?” I asked.

“Everything. I just want out of everything,” he said. And then he told me that the Masons had thwarted his suicide attempt.

I’m one of the few people Jack trusts, even at the best of times. I think there are only about three or four of us. He’s estranged from all his family except his father, who propped him up financially and emotionally all his adult life. His father recently moved to a nursing home. He can’t take of himself any longer, let alone Jack.

I told Jack I thought he should see a doctor.

He said he didn’t trust his doctor because she denied being able to see the big scar on his head. (For the record, I couldn’t see it either, but since he didn’t ask, I didn’t tell him.)

I suggested seeing another doctor.

“For my insanity?” he said. “I’m not insane. I know it sounds crazy, but everything I’m telling you is actually happening. It’s all real.”

“For your sores,” I said, thinking that if he went in for his sores, the doctor would intervene with his mental health issues.

He said no. The sores were clearing up on their own.

I said maybe a doctor could help him get on Disability, and then maybe he could get a place to live. He looked interested. I suggested he make an appointment at the Centretown Community Health Centre. He said he would, but I think we both knew he wouldn’t.

My lunch break was over. I had to go. Besides, I didn’t know how to help him, even if I stayed.

I still don’t know. How do you get help for someone if they’re paranoid and think everybody’s out to get them?

I honestly can’t think of too many things worse than suffering from paranoid delusions. Imagine how horrifying it would be to believe that some evil, powerful force is coming for you and reading your mind and tricking your friends and potential allies into thinking you’re insane and it’s just trying to help you.

6 comments to Jack is not his real name

  • I am a psychiatric social worker and we see people like Jack all the time. Here in the states, unless someone is a danger to herself or others, they’re free to live their lives in whatever paranoid delusions they harbor. It sounds like Jack needs a person to take care of him but that might be difficult to find since he has no trust. It’s one of the most frustrating parts of my job.

  • Especially after the Elmaks stories, this is such a tragedy (possibly) waiting to happen. The “danger to himself” rule may help but he would obviously have to be involuntarily committed and until he gets help, he will blame you for that if he finds out you had anything to do with it.

    You could have a look at the well written info here, so as to decide what you might want to do:

    They seem to use the standard “serious risk of harm” on the website, but of course, they have to abide by the proper legal definitions, whatever they are.

  • That’s a difficult one for boundaries. If you pushed, he could disappear and not trust you as being on his side. On the other hand, if you push, you might nudge him to where he might find treatment. What can the mind bounce back from? Those low spots can last a long time.

  • Julie

    We have a family member with paranoid schizophrenia. Since he was an adult when it first started to appear (at least to the family), it was a very difficult situation because he could not be committed involuntarily to receive medical help. Everyone was constantly on guard and hoping he would turn up, but ironically (not quite the word I am grasping for), hoping he would turn up during a physic break. Only if he was clearly in a serious state where he might injure someone or himself, could the family get him some help. The day finally came when this happened. Fortunately, he’s been able to receive excellent support since then. There are still ups and downs, but it is such a relief to know that at least he is getting medical help and is not living in the kind of profound fear and sadness that you have described with Jack. I really, really hope Jack can get some help. We all deserve it.

  • My brother in law was like this. In the US, not much to do – but his sister finally tricked him. “We’ll go to lunch later, let’s just pop in here for a minute while I check on this thing.” It was the hospital, he realized it once inside, he started getting angry, he’s a big guy, his sister is tiny, so the hospital was able to keep him for observation for a few days. Now he’s on medication, and doing quite well. But he was living on the street hiding from helicopters for ten years before that. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do for Jack. Try to find him as often as you can, spend time with him, gently encourage him to see doctors, pray if you do that sort of thing (but there are so many ways to pray). Know that even if he disappears, you loved an interesting person for as long as you could.

    So sad.

  • Looking after someone with a mental illness is a full time job, especially when there’s a whole-world delusion involved. For someone so far gone as Jack, the best thing you could do (imo) is call 9-11 and tell them Jack was exposing someone with something. Or peeing on a store front.

    He needs immediate medical attention just for the physical wounds alone. And he’ll never voluntarily walk into an ER as long as the delusions are in charge… and no one outside a hospital can prescribe him a mood stabilizer or anti-psychotic.

    …I went nearly fourteen years before the right moment and the right set of circumstances allowed me to find help for a mental disease. During that time dozens, possibly even hundreds, of people listened to my rants and delusions and either thought they were helping me by playing along, or ignored what was happening… and all the grand totality of their concern and help got me was the same fourteen wasted years I had anyway.

    Jack needs to be in a hospital, anything else is just enabling him.