Not making excuses, but …

February 27, 2004
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From the NY Times preview the book by Jayson Blair, who

    … admits many of his deceptions in a forthcoming memoir but writes that they were fueled by ambition, cocaine and alcohol abuse and an undiagnosed condition of manic depression.

Tell y’all a story about a cousin of mine: He had a wife and a couple beautiful kids. Not a great job but one that paid the bills and provided medical benefits for his family. He was a good guy with a bit of temper but we always figured that was just him being him. As he got further into his mid-20s, his behavior became more and more erratic, and he was more and more impossible to be around. Eventually his wife took the kids and left him, and his life went into a flaming tailspin. It turned out he was manic-depressive, and whenever he stopped taking his meds, everything went to hell. If he drank or did drugs he got really, really wacked out.

The bi-polar diagnosis makes Blair’s transgressions at least comprehensible. When somebody has an untreated mental illness, usually their behavior gets worse and worse — and they try to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol — until the meltdown.

I’m not saying Blair deserves an insanity defense; just noting that mental illnesses like his (assuming he didn’t lie about it) can hit anybody, any time. We’re still in an era where mental illness is poorly understood — things are getting better, but we’re still getting stories which describe multiple personalities as “schizophrenic,” for instance.

The standard precaution would be to offer a cheat sheet for identifying journalists on the verge of a nervous breakdown — except that, well, we’re always on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Who writes the memo telling us how to tell when a co-worker has gotten neurotic enough to start making stuff up?

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