The other night, at the poetry reading I went to with my sister-in-law, hippy-chick, Dara (who's very fun to hang out with), the little coffee house was packed full and overflowing with writers who had Masters Degrees and PhDs and college students who were working on their degrees. Dara was my saving grace, because I was completely intimidated, as I often am in social situations, by all the other people there. As she was leaving a bit earlier than I was, we stepped outside. As we stood, talking on the sidewalk, a woman, about 45 years of age, wearing a t-shirt neatly tucked into her jeans, a belt, and graying long hair, walked up to us. "Hi. Can I ask you something?", she said. "Sure," we replied. "Am I all over the Internet?" "What?" "Have you seen me on the Internet?" "No..." "Well, I'm wondering if there is stuff posted about me on the Internet because I just moved here and everyone is being really mean to me around here." Without skipping a beat, Dara replied, "Well, there are a lot of mean people who live around here. That's how Tampa is. Don't let them get to you." "Yes," I added, "It's not you." "The people in that coffee shop are nice, though," we told the skiddish woman. "Oh, but I don't look good enough to go in there." Oh...Yes, I understand this thought. This I understand very well. "Are you sure they're nice in there?" "Yes," we both said. "There are nice people in there." "And, there are nice people over there, at the Tampa Theater, around the corner, quite frequently," I added, trying to think of some way to be helpful. "Well, I've been without a home, so I don't look that great, and I just moved here and I don't know anyone. But you said that's a theater over there? They have plays there?" "Well, they have movies and concerts and things like that. It's a really beautiful, old theater." "Ok, maybe I'll check that out." She began to walk away. "Thank you, you've been very kind," she told us. Dara and I stared at each other for a moment. Then I said the obvious. "There's lot of Schizophrenic people around..." I told Dara her responses to this woman were so smart, she should be a mental health professional, to which she responded that she is a mental health professional, since she's married into my family, and we both laughed.
I thought later about this woman with the jeans and the grey hair. I thought about how well I understood her, and how much I had in common with her. I thought about how I felt more connected to her than I did to all the English majors in the coffee shop, because, though I might be an English major (albeit sans degree), I am also a person who lives with Schizophrenia and who, because of that fact, often feels like she is on the outside looking in. I thought about what it was like when I was homeless, or when I wandered the streets, asking odd questions of random people who usually looked at me like I was a crazy loon. I thought about how I wished I had given that woman the number or address to a homeless shelter, or done something, anything at all to help her. But I hadn't. Even I couldn't think of anything much that I could do to help her. And I've been her.
I hate this damned disease.
Thanks, as usual, to everyone who comes by and reads my posts. You are the people who choose to learn about mental illness, which most do not seem to want to learn about. I am grateful you exist.
In other news, I participated in a fundraiser today for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, along with another member of the Consumer Council. We sold coupons at Macy's department store for a few hours and raised some money. It went quite well, I think. NAMI, of Pinellas County, FL, has a local website at http://www.nami-pinellas.org. I have listed the main NAMI site here already, more than once. It's an excellent organization.
Also, the Obama campaign and various antiwar groups such as MoveOn.org, United for Peace and Justice, and Code Pink, are trying to recruit people to knock on doors for peace. This was happening yesterday, but apparently will continue next weekend as well. If you can get involved in some way, please do! This is a really important election coming up, and it would be very detrimental to many of us people in this country who do not own Monsanto or Exxon, if there was a McCain-Palin victory. So do what you can, folks...I'm going to do do something next Saturday.