Last night, I watched Crazy for Love a very bad movie wherein a man, Max, is put into a mental hospital for attempting suicide for the tenth time. When he’s there, he glimpses a very ill, schizophrenic, Grace, whereupon he instantaneously falls in love with her. She too is determined to kill herself. His life’s mission then is to “make her better”. To “make her happy”. Having found his new mission in life, he no longer wants to kill himself.
Well, pin a rose on his nose.
The White Knight Syndrome
The white knight syndrome typically occurs in men and is characterized by being attracted to, and needing to save, someone in distress. This is not so bad if it leads to someone helping you pick up your groceries after the paper bag broke, but in mental illness circles, it’s very bad news indeed.
We’ve all seen them. They’re the friends and lovers who will read every book on the illness. Suggest every treatment. Buy you supplements and “cure-alls” over the internet, and swear that this Native Shaman they found can fix anything. These people are endlessly hopeful every time you try a new medication or therapy, absolutely positive that this is going to work, and then are endlessly crushed when again, it does not. Their zeal to cure you, little by little, encroaches into their life until the only life they have is saving you. Your illness becomes their reason for living.
This leads to all kinds of unfortunate interaction. You feel constantly pressured to “get better”. To make a treatment work. The two of you are inexorably intertwined and probably “in love”. You know that every failure is going to crush your White Knight and so you are scared to admit them. The White Knight then gets eaten alive with the reality that you’re just not going to get better. No matter what he, or anyone else does, you will remain sick.
Unfortunately, this knowledge notwithstanding; I want to be saved.
I have lain on the hard wooden floor of my apartment more times than I care to count, begging for someone to save me. I want someone in white, on his trusty steed, to pick me up, fling me over his shoulder, and take me away to where the disease doesn’t exist. I beg for someone to handle all the treatment details that I can’t. I beg for someone to hold the hope I don’t have. I wish for someone to know the magic Shaman that will make me better.
But, of course, I understand, as most of us do, that there is no such thing as a white knight. There is no one who is going to save you. You’re sick. And you’re probably going to stay that way. The person who helps you is much more likely to be wearing a white lab coat instead of white armor.
If You Love Your White Knight, Set Him Free
I’m sorry to break it to you, but you are the only one who can make you better. You have to do the work, see the doctors, do the therapy. Your disease is not a school project. You are not a damsel in distress. You are strong, and powerful, and you are fighting this disease with both fists. If your knight would like to help, all the better, but there’s just no “saving” to be had. Your white knight will have to learn to get used to disappointment. And you and I will just have to start accepting that the suite of gleaming, white armor I keep in the corner, will never be put to good use.