Charles Feldman is an advocate for people surviving mental illness. He has generously shared his story here. In this second part of the series he describes his journey through the political and social factions of Brown University, observing the way his fellow-students defined themselves as he searched for an answer to his own outsiderness. In his memoir he names the professionals who helped him, or were unable to help him. With respect for his decision to do this, and with the understanding that we all do our best whether giving or receiving care, this blog will publish his story as he wrote it. (For Part 1, click here)
In college, I finally could grow my hair long, wear bell bottoms, and get an electric guitar. But I was still socially awkward. I got involved in the antiwar movement, even though I felt that I could not make up my mind on merits or lack of merits of the war. All of the radicals, hippies, and socialists seemed to be against the war in Vietnam, so I thought I was supposed to be against the war. I had written a fifty page independent study paper on the war in high school, but I still could not make up my mind.
Most people consider the norm to be being either liberal or conservative. But in my dorm freshman year there were radicals, liberals, conservatives, and fascists. All of these people
seemed to be congenial, so I accepted a wider range of political views than most people. Even the fascists didn’t bother me, because I thought our whole generation was going to move to the left and become hippies. Some of the fascists had long hair and they all smoked dope. I didn’t think they would be fascists for long.
I didn’t take what I was learning in school seriously. I was brought up to value the grades, but not the work itself. I thought school was irrelevant to my life.
At the end of my freshman year, a dorm mate asked me to join the Trotskyist group he was in. The group called itself socialist, and I felt that I was a socialist, so I joined. Once in the group, I found that it had a strict ideology. I found that it was not only socialist, but communist. By the time I found these things out, I had developed a faith in the group, so I stayed in for a little over a year. As on the issue of the war, I was not able to make up my mind on the tenets of the rest of the ideology. I found that if I showed my lack of knowledge, members of the group would either ignore me or get angry at me.
It came out a few years later that the FBI was heavily infiltrating this group, which may account for the hostility I faced. But I felt right at home, as my parents had never discussed their ideas with me either, and they had often gotten angry with me for seemingly no good reason.
Finally I could no longer take the tension between what I was supposed to believe and what I could really figure out on my own, so I left the Trotskyist group.
To back up a step, my freshman year in college, I had thought about seeing a psychologist, but I didn’t think I had a good reason to see one, so I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t think I deserved to see a psychologist. But now, after having left the political group I was in, I decided to see a psychologist because I was unhappy with the way my life was going.
I made an appointment with a psychologist at the Brown University student health services. The psychologist was someone who had been my professor for my Personality Theory course, but I had never talked with him personally, as it had been a big lecture course. I had mostly been focusing on European History courses, which I thought could help me to better understand politics.
I met the psychologist, Dr. William McGurk, and I told him I didn’t know what to say to people. He said he had once had someone with that problem and they spent a whole session saying nothing. I asked him what happened after that. He replied: “He talked!” So for a few minutes we sat there not saying anything, and then Dr. McGurk started making small talk.
After a few meetings, I mentioned to Dr. McGurk that I had been in a Marxist youth group. He seemed enthusiastic about this and started asking me questions about it. When he kept knocking down all my negative thoughts about the socialist group, I felt that he expected me to be a socialist. From that point on, we would mostly discuss politics and philosophy. He was Zen-like, giving responses that could be interpreted in different ways.
I was in a group with Dr. McGurk, but I didn’t know what to say in the group, and I felt it was not that worthwhile. Then I started having meetings with him with my parents, but once again that did not seem that worthwhile.
Dr. McGurk told me there was no such thing as mental illness, and that there was no such thing as therapy. He said he didn’t do anything. He said he was only responsible for himself.