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Triggered by a thought

“Good weather for ducks.”  That’s what a customer used to say all the time when he came into the pharmacy I worked in when I was 16.  Not just on rainy days.  But every day.  He was most certainly mentally challenged and I was too young to really understand how deep his problem was.

Healways said it with a smile and a mumbled laugh.  Now, a lot older and more aware, I suspect that this was one of the few lines that someone said to him (or that maybe he overheard) on a rainy day and that he heard other people laugh at.  So, he just thought it was a funny thing to say and never took it into context.

I’d long forgotten about this man (he was probably only 30, but to me that was a “man”) but today when it was raining so much, I found myself saying that very line to someone I ran into.  Strange how these random thoughts from our past can come back to us when we least expect it.  As I get older, I remember a lot of things that I heard, said or did, that at the time seemed to be of little importance.

The mentally ill deserve our understanding and compassion.

There are some things that I remember that make me cringe.  Things that I said at the time that seemed innocent enough, but that now looking back at them seem to have been so rude, or mean, or brash.  Or worse yet, things that I did.  Let’s just say that I hung out with the “wrong crowd” for a while in my late teens and did things that would certainly not in synch with the person that I feel I am now.

I am happy to say that I never made fun of that man that came in mumbling about the rain.  Other people in the neighborhood around the pharmacy harassed the guy, less so for his words and more so for the fact that he didn’t bath.  His body odor was horrible and in the summertime you could smell him a long way off.  But still, I never teased him or insulted him.  More than anything, because I just didn’t understand him, didn’t understand why he acted so strange.  But he most certainly did.

Mental illness is something that we all come into contact with and a lot of times we don’t know how to react to it.  It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that we don’t know the right thing to do or the right way to act or the right thing to say.

While I was back in the U.S., a friend recounted to Codie and me how people not knowing how to react to mental illness almost destroyed her life.  She told us that she had been “down” because of a pending divorce and empty-nest syndrome.  Unfortunately for her, her family overreacted and after a lot of missteps, ended up getting her committed to a psych hospital.  The entire story is too long and tragic to go over here, but suffice it to say she was not bi-polar, manic-depressive or any of the other things she was treated for.  She was just very sad.  And it took her spending time in a psych ward and being treated by five different doctors before one of them finally said, “there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just chemically screwed up from all the medication four doctors put you on!”  Well, she got weaned off those by a very good psychiatrist and then started on anti-anxiety medication.  I’m so happy to say that she is now back to her normal self.

Now, this is only a snapshot of what happened to her.  So, please understand that I am not knocking mental health therapy.  I think it’s some of the hardest work in the world to do and that many lives are saved by those doing it.

I only raised the topic because of the rainmaking me think of the “duck” man and that, then making me think more about what my friend went through.

So, I guess my point with all of this is that, there are all kinds of people in this world, walking around us every day, and some of them have small problems, some big problems and some problems we will never understand.  But, in the end, the best most of us can do for them is to listen to them, try to understand what they are saying, treat them with respect, and listen to what they are trying to tell us.

And, if you really think they are in danger of hurting themselves of someone else, err on the side of caution.  It’s better to have a family member or friend mad at you than to have them destroy their life or the lives of others.

I’m just sayin.’

* Mental illness is a real disease.  Take it seriously.  Help is out there.