I'm determined to help my deeply troubled and deluded friend move on with life

One of my best friends (I’ll call him William) is going through serious emotional trouble. He has dropped out of college and had briefly gone to visit his parents in Michigan - during which time he was sent to an outpatient mental health center. He was put on heavy medication (can’t remember what kind) but it has not seemed to help him control his rambling thoughts.

Let me give some background: in high school, he was a talented athlete and an excellent student, although something of a loner. He also was obsessed with the economy and used to trade stocks all the time (as early as sophomore year.) I remember I once asked him what he was doing on his computer one day at the library and he told me that he had just made 2,000 dollars on the market trading online. In other words, he has an incredibly gifted analytical mind.

Late in high school he got into Buddhist philosophy, which he remains committed to. He does a lot of religious reading and meditation - but it doesn’t seem to ease his trouble.

What is his trouble? Well, simply put, he won’t shut up about negativity and evil in the world. He rants non-stop about the evils of the American government, about how we are being controlled by a Fascist state, about how Western consumer-based society is hell, and about how guilty he feels being part of it. And I mean the most obsessive, non-stop ranting about this - to the point of not being able to think about anything else. When he’s not talking about politics he goes off on weird metaphysical tangents about how “we’re flying through outer space” and about how “nothing exists and nothing matters” and that “we’re all destroying ourselves.”

This is beyond any kind of normal philosophical curiosity. He can talk about NOTHING ELSE besides this non-stop ranting. He is incapable about talking about girls, life, school, or anything else that normal conversations might be based around. Furthermore, he goes through episodes where he will sit there, shaking and looking terrified, and obviously filled with fear and anxiety, and when we ask him what’s wrong he’ll say “we’re all destroying ourselves” or “life is meaningless” or some other such highly negative statement.

So his parents put him in the treatment program, but it did not seem to have helped much. Nor does his Buddhist meditation help him very much.

In a conversation with one of my other friends, it was revealed that William is very troubled by the fact that he doesn’t have a girlfriend and that he has never been with a girl before (he’s now about 20.) He lacks any of the social confidence that someone interested in the opposite sex will need to have, but my friends and I are convinced that his life would be improved by finally realizing his desire for female companionship - in addition, he would be well served by a trip far away from our small suburban hometown, to somewhere like Europe where he would be able to experience a different kind of perspective (and where he would be able to get away from the America that he seems to hate so much.)

William has every resource imagineable at his disposal. He is RICH. I literally mean that he comes from one of those rare families of American aristocracy - his parents own four houses around the country. He is handsome and when he chooses to be, is very personable and can be engaging in conversation. Instead of feeling guilty and obsessive over his position in the upper class, we’ve decided, he needs to finally come to terms with it, embrace it, and use these resources that he was blessed with to reinvent himself. He needs to get a nice wardrobe (he dresses sloppily,) cut his hair (he looks like a lunatic right now,) get his shit together, travel around, and meet some girls and have a good time. I know he’s capable of doing it. It would improve his life immeasurably to just HAVE A GOOD TIME and shut up about all this negative bullshit.

So we’re determined to help him. We’re going to try as hard as we can to get him to get his shit together, stop dwelling on the negativity in life, and enjoy himself for once.

It’s well nigh impossible to *make * someone get their shit together.

You mention that he received treatment for mental health issues. The treatment may have been inappropriate, which could explain why he didn’t stick with it. It’s also possible that his condition is such that he’s not very compliant with treatment when he’s not supervised.

By all means, give him the opportunity to do the things that you think will help him (travel, sex, whatever). But if he’s mentally ill, chances are that dressing him up, etc., isn’t going to help. And hounding him to just snap out of it and get his shit together is very likely to make the problem worse - alienate him, make him feel like he’s being harassed, and drive him away from the people who are in a position to help.

It may be the most painful thing you’ve ever done, but what you can do for your friend is this: Let him be himself, let him crash and burn, and be there for him when he comes to his senses and is ready for help.

I think you’re very right about him going travelling to help him.

My experiences travelling round Thailand really helped me to put my life in perspective. People who had so much less than me, were so much more positive and happy than I was. It really helped me grow and find some balance in my life.

May I suggest that he goes on a conservation/working type holiday?

Something like this?

That way he can channel his wealth and self into doing something positive - and no doubt he would meet some great people.

I’ll echo the statement of **You cannot make someone get their shit together. ** If only it were that easy.

What you can do is be a supportive and good friend.

I would think it would help, when he is starting to go off on a rant about The Problems of the World maybe either develop a signal to him ( touching your nose, pull your ear) that says quietly, " You are about to go off on a rant again." or " You’ve said that 3 times…" “You said you wanted to change and here you go again, ranting.”

My armchair diagnosis for something like that is OCD. Can’t let something go and just goes on and on and on. ( I have it in that form and recognize it in so many others. Prozac works wunderbar for me.)

He might fixate on The Problems of the World because he is too scared to make small changes in himself.
A children’s book that may is Zen Shorts which has 3 short stories ( by a Panda bear), one of the stories is about putting down the negativity that make your thoughts go like a tilt a whirl and walking away from it.
Can I ask where in Michigan he’s from? Its where I live.

I hate to even mention this possibility, but was schizophrenia been ruled out by the physicians at the mental health facility?

He is at the right age for the onset of symptoms (late teens to mid-twenties.) And his taking the troubles of the world personally, to the point where he can’t control his thoughts, seem to me like possible symptoms of that disorder.

Well, if he feels guilty about being rich, there are plenty of people (me) who can help relieve him of that burden…

(seriously though, the reason I say this is because I felt similar, coming from an upper-middle class family. Now I am on my own, trying to support myself and having a tough time at it, it has drastically altered my perspective)

I thought the same thing. Regardless of what his problem actually is, I don’t think it can be fixed by taking a vacation. He’s got some heavy shit goin’ on there. I’d get a complete physical/mental examination and fan out from there. Good luck to him.

I admire the nobility of your desire to help your friend. Given your noble intentions I will try to make this point as gently as possible – while still making it.

I suspect that your own understanding of the nature of Buddhism is fairly limited. The reason for this suspicion is that if “William” were suffering from being an unhealthly devout Christian fundamentalist (no premarital sex, no drinking, no dancing) you would probably see the futility of trying to balance his perspective by taking him to a nightclub with the intention of getting him drunk and laid. Dancing, drinking and premarital sex are all things he would vehemetly refuse. I imagine that if you knew understood this you would make suggestions more along the line of your actual suggestions which included travel and a relationship.

However, if I had to sum up Buddhism in a single line I would probably do so for this occasion by saying it is the cure to the dissatisfaction caused by desire. It is certainly much more involved that that. However, I got the impression from your post that you desperately want to spark a desire in him for school, travelling, female companionship, or anything that will draw him away from his negativity. I suspect that your friend will be as suspicious of anything you suggest as a means to instill desire as the Christian fundamentalist might be of going to a nightclub to get drunk and laid.

I think the thing you really want to get across to your friend is that if he is as uncomfortable as he sounds then he could really use a reminder that Buddhism is the Middle Way – not self-indulgence but also not self-mortification. For this purpose I would really suggest obtaining a copy of Little Buddha and getting your friend to watch it and consider whether he feels as uncomfortable as you think he is. If so I am sure you should be able to spark a desire in him to find other Buddhists who have balanced things better than he has and learn from them. To that end I would suggest he find a place he would feel comfortable going to spend some time.

I would also suggest you glance at Wikipedia’s articles on Buddhism. Specifically I would suggest you read Contents section to get an idea of both the meaning and the importance of both “The Three Marks of Existence” and “The Four Noble Truths.”

Finally I wanted to suggest that if “William” enjoys puzzling through things like the Monty Hall Problem then you may suggest then he might consider working towards an undergrad math degree – two will always be the odd prime (odd because it is the only prime which is even) and I suspect he might enjoy that sort of permanence.

Good luck!

One thing that helped me when I went through that angry, angsty stage (I think some of it is his age, and his nature is amplifying it) was to make myself stop, and quit looking at the “big pictures” and focus in on small things. He’s not reached the realization that small acts of kindness done every day worldwide, acts of selfless giving, add up and help balance the negatives he sees. There are many good, heroic deeds done every day, without thought of gain. Start clipping news items (both worldwide and from your area) about good deeds large and small, and putting them into a scrap book. Present these to him as “candles in the dark”. (And gently bonk him if he begins to take them apart and look for negatives with “Yeah buts”. Help him focus only on the good case by case.)

He can choose to help as well, by doing random acts of kindness. Whenever he can, and wherever he is, if he can help out then he should do so. (This does not mean he should give all his wealth etc., I mean helping an old lady in his neighborhood get her groceries into her house. He may already do these things, but discounts their worth.) This will begin to ease the crushing negatives he sees, when he can feel the load lighten by taking the path of kindness. Little things make a difference, and add up. I still have to stop myself sometimes, and get back on track. I’ve learned how to recognize when I’m becoming too negative, and how to stop with time. Maybe showing him my thoughts might also help him, if so then please feel free to do so.

I agree with those who suggested perhaps OCD. A different mental care facility than the one he went to-which obviously wasn’t helping might be in order.

With OCD, one good thing is distraction. Not to get him to “snap out of it”, but help to focus on other things. Maybe try getting him interested in a hobby, or taking him to a movie, or just try to keep him occupied.

Good luck to your friend.

Or something like that. From the description - and obviously I have no expertise in such things, so take this with a grain of salt - but doesn’t this sound a lot more like serious mental illness than anything else? I don’t understand why you think traveling would help this, or getting a girlfriend (the logistics of how to foist him on some poor unsuspecting girl making it a pretty much moot point anyway . . . ) - in fact, if doctors are trying to treat him and work out a drug regimen that might help him get in control of himself, traveling is a real bad idea as it would interrupt this progress. If he’s receiving therapy - cognitive-behavioral therapy is often used when people are having trouble dwelling over negative thoughts - then leaving will definitely hamper things. Treating a mental illness - as his doctors presumably are - can be a slow process, but that doesn’t mean it’s best to give up and decide what he really needs is a nice vacation.

I’m sorry, but it just boggles my mind that you and your friends have decided to somehow team up and “fix” your sick friend. I can’t understand why you think traveling would help him forget that “nothing matters” or “we’re all destroying ourselves” - seems to me that sending a guy like that off into the world (and thus, without friends and family as a safety net) would be an awful idea.

Your ideas sound like very bad ones to me. I urge you not to try to fix this yourselves - you might very well end up harming your friend in the process. If he’s not receiving proper treatment, encourage him to do so.

Since he’s a Bhuddist, perhaps a spell in a monastery (lamasery?) might help? A retreat, rather than becoming a monk.

And kudos to you for caring.

I’m totally with Quartz on this, he said what I was going to say.

He’s already into Buddhism, suggest a retreat, help him to find a teacher. Take him by the hand and lead him to it.

They will show him how inconsistent his world view is with his religious philosophy.

A retreat from the ‘negative’ world, into a monastic setting make help him enormously.

Good luck to you.

What Excalibre said. The hope that you’re going to stick a mentally disturbed person on a plane and expect that they come back sorted out is naive and possibly dangerous.

After the money runs out foreigners aren’t more all that much more tolerant of obsessive babble ranters than Americans are.