Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Day 124 - Mental Illness
“A mental disorder or mental illness is a psychological or behavioral pattern that occurs in an individual and is thought to cause distress or disability that is not expected as part of normal development or culture.
I don’t pretend to understand and I don’t pretend to empathize. I just don’t get it. I think it is because I’m too analytical of a person. Many of the mentally ill are also addicts. I don’t pretend to understand the psychological need for a fix. I do understand the physiological dependence on drugs however. I tried drugs once and my roommate in college tried to get me to try cocaine with her. I said no thanks. I had seen her talking to the "little people" behind the doors in our house. All I can say is when I’m in these situations like witnessing invisible animals that I don't see by the humans I do see that claim to be there, it is a REALLY, REALLY weird situation.
I know what it’s like not to be able to see, remember I just got my new glasses, so when I know I don’t see what someone who slurs their words and sways to invisible music swears I should see, I know it’s not me. When things like this happen, I usually revert back to what my mother always said and I never understood why at the time. “They must be on drugs.” It’s the only rational explanation for the irrational.
When we were at the SCAD Savannah Arts Festival walking by the artists drawing their chalk art, a man walked on every single sidewalk square while they were drawing or after the chalk art was finished. The artists didn’t bat an eye. I was shocked at first and wanted to do the right thing and chastise this person for not respecting the hard work that these artists had put in. I looked up and saw who it was and realized why none of the artists batted an eye. This was the same man that lives in this park and is homeless. He had approached me on previous trips to Savannah in which I was clearly a tourist with my camera hanging from my neck. He had asked me for money and I replied honestly that I didn’t have any on me. The right thing for me to do was know that nothing I could say would change his behavior.
The young students must have been familiar with him too as they knew it was of no use to try to have a rational discussion with him as he had symptoms that may indicate that he truly wouldn't understand. A little later, he did the same thing and a man yelled at him, “Hey!” I nudged the man beside me with my elbow lightly and explained to him that the homeless man was “Special” as my ex-mother-in-law would say. He said, "Well someone should talk to him." in a manner that conveyed he was still agitated by this and didn't really understand. When these types of situations occur, I can only look back and think about a dear friend who walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. on many occasions. He explained how we go through any learning curve. Sometimes with racism, we get stuck in the third stage. He explained it with the comparison of learning about computers.
He said that there are four levels of understanding and he described them as it relates to learning how to use a computer: 1) Learning the parts – This is the keyboard, this is the monitor, this is the mouse, etc. 2) Learning the function of these parts – When you press the enter key, the cursor goes to the next line 3) Frustration when the function of the parts don’t do what they are supposed to do – I keep pressing this return key and the cursor won’t go to the next line [this is where a lot of people get stuck – this otherwise known as the ANGER PHASE – and where most people need anger management classes when they live their lives stuck in this level and 4) Oh this is what happens when something isn’t performing the way it was intended, and if I blow the dust out of the keyboard with a can-o-air, then it will work again.
This man beside me at the Arts Festival that day clearly was stuck in level three as it relates to the mentally ill. Unless a mentally ill person is properly diagnosed and prescribed medication and is actively taking this medication as prescribed and not taking any OTHER drugs, there is not one word you can say to change their behavior. Doing the right thing sometimes means to accept that the behavior that is exhibited by the mentally ill is not rational and can at times be quite disturbing to witness. I am not angry, I just don’t understand. It is the part about "behavior pattern" that baffles me. That's the problem with the definition as there is no pattern, the only pattern is randomness which isn't a pattern at all! I don’t know where this fits into the four levels of understanding unless it could be level 5) When we don’t know what part this is and what function it is supposed to have or if this key on the keyboard doesn’t work, call a specialist to diagnose and try to fix it.
Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open. ~B.K.S. Iyengar