OK, I’m 56 years old. I’ve been in the mental health system in one way or another since I first got diagnosed in 1980 when I saw my first therapist when I was 19 . I’ve been hospitalized 9 or 10 times (I lost track). I was locked up for 8 months in a hospital that had over a hundred other patients. I’ve seen some pretty strange people and some very strange behavior as you can imagine and I can say this because I was there too for my own personal strange reasons.
I’ve been around mentally ill people of all diagnoses for most of my life. I’ve had fellow schizophrenics as friends, co-workers, neighbors. I’ve lived with them, I’ve been on a hundred outings with them while living in mental health housing. Museums, the beach, restaurants, etc.
And it was no big deal. I got along with them fine for the most part.
But now. I’m living downtown in a city with a population of a million people. I have come full circle from my days living in very affluent areas for most of my life. I’m back in the city where it all started 37 years ago. And we have a large population of homeless and indigent people and a large number of them are obviously mentally ill. This is how I lived my life.
But when I see the people when I’m walking to the University or driving through the heart of downtown, the stark reality hits me like it never ever has hit before. These people are truly suffering. I drive by seeing the families walking on our main street, I see the college kids with their girlfriends and boyfriends. But in the next block I see a homeless man urinating in public against a building in the day time oblivious to people walking past him to get to the barber shop or the dozens of cars driving in the street.
I see the ragged people walking with their heads down among the nicely dressed business men walking by ignoring them. I see the raving, I see the screaming, I see the old grizzled men sleeping on the sidewalk, I see the women walking around talking to themselves with lipstick smeared all over their faces The alcoholics passed out on bus stop benches. My eyes are wide open for the first time. These people aren’t anonymous people to ignore, I feel part of them, but they know suffering like I will never know. Their plight is obvious to everyone including themselves.
I’m spoiled from being high functioning and living in 5 -bedroom, renovated housing or having my brand new studio in a town crammed with affluent businessmen. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of suffering and unbelievable misery. I’m not discounting my own journey with mental illness for 37 years. But I’ve always been with schizophrenics who “behaved” for wont of a better word. Schizophrenics who didn’t “act out” My friends who had schizophrenia and me used to hit the clubs, or go to movies, or go to the record stores etc. We had a lot of freedom and we took advantage of it. And when I saw the poor mentally ill man in the middle of our four lane main drag street trying to stop traffic, I thought, “Wow, this real, this guy really, really is out of it”. The people I’ve met in the group homes may have been a little weird or odd but they knew what they were doing and stayed in control. These poor people in the streets are in their own world being broken down daily by the damn kids in their hotrods pouncing on weakness in people like piranhas if you throw a cow carcass in their river. This stuff is real and rather frightening. I’ll have to think more about this. Anyways, like they say in AA, “Life shows up”. And it’s certainly showed up for me.