Extreme High School

Where You Go To College Is Unimportant

Mark Zuckerberg believes I have 304 friends, which only goes to show that even brilliant people make idiotic mistakes.

Anyone who has ever had a real friendship knows it is only possible to maintain a small handful at any one time. Friendships are like pets; they require constant care and nourishment to survive. One may have innumerable familiar relationships which could, under the right circumstances, easily be reanimated; but this is something else altogether.

Although I am no expert in these matters, I do know that – To have a friend you must be a friend. I’ve also come to understand that friendship is inherently selfless; one person places another person’s wants, needs, and desires above his own. (This would help to explain the paucity.)

The ubiquity of Facebook, with its relentless emphasis on intensely superficial social interaction, (where nothing of value is sacrificed), would seem to bring insights about friendship in its wake. While it does, they are perhaps not the ones we would have hoped to see. Indeed, as we bump masks and publish carefully crafted press clippings we wrote ourselves, the unavoidable lesson of Facebook is as follows:

“It really doesn’t matter which college you attend. However, where you go to high school is crucial; because they will never let you leave.” Taz Mopula

Remember how happy you were to graduate high school, remember the relief you felt? Facebook is here to remind you that the toys have grown more expensive and the jowls are drooping a bit but social stratification and playground games are more fashionable than ever.

Naturally, I am interested in this fabulously disappointing phenomenon from the perspective of recovery.

People struggling with mental illness are notoriously inept at making and maintaining friendships. Caring for others, self-sacrifice – these are activities of the healthy; the chronically ill tend to be very self-focused. Also, many of them attempt to protect themselves with anonymity, by remaining unknown. They believe that – to know them is to loathe them – so they don’t give people the chance. Their principal way of handling relationships is by leaving them.

However, as people grow and evolve in recovery they often encounter a very different reason to sever ties with individuals they once thought of as friends. As they learn to share themselves, their lives, their gifts with others, they may find that enthusiasm often interferes with judgment. They sometimes overlook questionable motives in people once considered comrades.

Frequently they fail to remember that, while they have grown, others may not have been so fortunate. They often find there really wasn’t much in common to begin with. Most important of all, they feel deeply that, however lamentable it may be, some people are simply toxic for them; breathing their air makes them ill and jeopardizes the mental health they struggled so hard to attain.

At these moments the old tapes will tell them that politeness demands they continue to nourish these vestigial friendships. (They will instinctively perpetuate these cheery illusions, essentially setting mousetraps in their own house and then crying when their toes are snapped.) Those tapes must be burned.

Once, leaving a relationship was a sign of sickness; but it can just as easily be a sign of health.

“Looking for self-worth in someone else’s eyes is like trying to breathe with someone else’s lungs.” Taz Mopula

Published by

Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability. Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado's continental divide, and inner city cabbie. Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.