I know why we don’t talk about mental illness. Instead of just telling you, I’m going to tell you a winding story that will expertly end with my breakthrough on the human condition. I can’t help it, I’m an English teacher. Just let it happen.
I’m a little protective of the people that I met in the hospital. The first thing some people asked when I was released is, “Tell me about all the crazy people there. You must have the best stories about them.” I did have the best stories about my new friends. I realized really fast that when I told my stories about my new friends, people used it as fodder to make fun and belittle them. I would say things like, “No, if you had met them you would have really liked them.” They didn’t see them as real people and they didn’t associate me as being one of them.
When I told my family that I had gotten a few phone numbers and how great it was to talk to people with similar experiences to mine, they practically shouted in unison, “You are not to contact those people!”
I heard them, loud and clear. These people were to be thrown away. They were simply just part of this horrible experience. The quicker we forget about the entire thing, the quicker we can pretend that any of it even happened. So they don’t get to hear about these amazing people. They don’t deserve it.
I stand by my statement that the best people to hang out with are crazy people who are on their medication.
At the hospital, I met Anthony. He was well over 6 feet tall. He was a 60ish year old black man. You could have told me he was 50 or 70 and I’d believe it. He was elegant and graceful. When he walked, he took these great gliding strides. His legs were long, his arms were long, his fingers were long, but he was perfectly disproportionate. I first noticed him during group therapy. I noticed his hands and those daddy-long-leg fingers. He was sitting next to me and we were supposed to be writing something about our feelings, or strategies, or describing our visualization. I was drawing a blank, so I did the most logical thing. I looked at what the guy next to me was writing so I could hopefully copy it.
What I saw was the most beautiful handwriting I had ever seen. It was the handwriting of kings. It looked like a 16th century love letter. I need you to get in my head a little to realize how mesmerized I was. Imagine you are an English teacher, who deciphers writing all day, is fascinated with movable type, fonts, and antique printing presses…..and is a touch crazy. His handwriting absolutely affected me.
Later that day, I plopped down next to him on the couch in the common room. Social rules were pretty lax. There was nothing to do except talk. If you were sitting in the common room, you were fair game for anyone to start up a conversation. You had about a 50/50 shot at it being coherent. I sat down next to Anthony and told him about the beauty of his penmanship. As I heard myself say that, I could see how Anthony might have thought he was on the losing side of a coherent conversation.
Anthony thanked me and his face told me he understood me completely. I didn’t need to explain anything. He started talking to me about education, philosophy, culture, life, the universe, and everything. He was captivating, humorous, intelligent, thoughtful, and brilliant. It made sense to me that this much ability would have to come with a side of crazy. I enjoyed all of our chats over the next 2 days.
When he was released, they brought his things from when he was admitted. He put on every piece of clothes he had. He probably ended up with 6 layers of mismatched clothes. I told him that if he didn’t have a bag, they would give him a brown paper one, he didn’t have to wear everything.
He said, “It is getting cold out at night. Layers work best and makes the ground more comfortable.”
He wasn’t going home. He had no home to go to. The nurse gave him a taxi voucher that would take him anywhere in town. I asked him where he was going and he told me he was going to the bridge. I nodded my head as if I had any clue about “the bridge.” There are a lot of bridges here. As he was saying his goodbyes, I rushed back to my room and grabbed my fleece jacket. I gave it to him and said, “It was nice meeting you.” It was all I could think to do.
My point is that in any other place, situation, or circumstance, I would have completely dismissed Anthony because he was homeless. I would have avoided eye contact. I would have quickened my pace. I would have pretended that he didn’t exist. That is a shame, because this man is a treasure. The only difference between us is that I can regularly get to a doctor and I can buy my medication. In a few days, Anthony’s meds would wear off and I don’t know what kind of person he would seem to be. Probably someone who I wouldn’t have thought to plop down next to for a good chat.
I’m worried about telling others about my crazy, because I am petrified of being dismissed. People would no longer value what I had to say if they thought I was unbalanced. I would be ignored and avoided. I think this is why so many of us don’t talk about it. As soon as you start a sentence with, “I am mentally ill, …….” the rest of what you have to say is invalid. I met and spent time with a homeless man and everything I had thought before has been changed. If we are more open about our illness, someone may say, “I met this crazy chick, and everything I had thought before has changed.