Thursday, February 07, 2008

Conversations with Madness

I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t I just say I wasn’t going to use any of the crazy-words? Well, not really. I said I wasn’t going to use the derogatory slurs, the nicknames for people with mental illness. Madness is not a word that names a person, it’s a word that names an illness. I don’t think of it as an insulting word. Do you? Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t it fairly neutral? Feel free to comment if you disagree.

People list all kinds of reasons for not accessing the public transportation. Besides fear of crime (and I think we've covered that, haven't we?), another common reason is that normal, stable people would rather avoid encounters with the overtly mentally ill. And you know what I mean by overtly – the kind you can see coming from a mile off. For obvious reasons, you see a higher percentage of that on the trains and buses than you might in your private world. When I see them, I try to temper my initial negative reaction by being really grateful they’re not driving.

Second, my experience has been that even among these extreme cases, 99% of them respond appropriately to body language that clearly says “No, I do not want to chat. Don’t bug me.”

About once a year, though, I have this great idea (completely forgetting the last time I had this great idea) that goes: “Hey. What’s the big deal, Kate? Be nice. Go ahead and talk to the poor guy. What’s it to you? Don’t be such a snob.”

This is followed by a conversation during which I immediately remember why this is actually not a great idea. I would like to be kind, but I’m going to have to find some other way to express kindness, because conversation with such an individual doesn’t work – for either me or them.

I can give an example of my latest attempt at this, but I’ll have to write it later. I don't mean to be annoying, but I’m trying to limit my blogging time. I don’t want to burn out and have to break for a whole month again.


At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, when I think of "Madness," I think of really bitchin' ska...but that's probably one step beyond the scope of this post. Seriously, some of my more favorite and memorable conversations have been with people who are mentally extreme and difficult for most folks to deal with. Of course, most of them were also bike fanatics, too...funny how frequently the two seem to coincide. Val

At 3:30 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Well, Val, I'm glad you don't mind such interactions. It's good that you can be there in that way for people with extreme mental problems. They probably appreciate the attention, and it's not something everyone can give them.

I must say, though, that whenever I hear people speak fondly of encounters with the mentally ill, what I can instantly guess is that they've probably never had to live with it day-to-day, close up, in their very own space.

The "charmingly eccentric" aspect of it seen from without is layered over with a thick fog of fatigue for those in the ill person's household. Not to mention anger and frustration and a bunch of other hot emotions.

The families have totally had it. I guess that's where you come in. Thanks for filling in for all the family members irretrievably worn out by that person't problems.


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