Not encouraging anyone to be wordless today.
It’s #BellLetsTalk and every single form of online communication using that hashtag (until midnight) will generate five cents for mental health initiatives.
Am writing this not so much for a friend as because of them, someone who is an inspiration to me in ways he’ll never realize. Twenty something years ago his bipolar disorder and psychotic episodes got bad enough that it was recommended he move into a residence designed for people with mental health issues at every level. It’s become home and he says he’s lucky to be there and feels safe, but he also says that most other residents are very low functioning and it can be a depressing environment. So he keeps busy. He listens to the radio in his room. Local news stations, every kind of music, sports. TV is less interesting to him, too much an assault on the senses and, anyway, it’s in the common area, which he prefers to avoid.
Not that he’s anti social. Quite the opposite. He’s forever in search of a good conversation. It’s just that where he lives it’s impossible. So, every day, without fail, he does something to work around that.
He once told me he tried to speak to at least three people a day. Even if it was just to say hello in passing on the street.
He loves the phone. Computers are beyond his ability. He’ll spend weeks composing a letter he sends by mail. He doesn’t have a lot of money but he likes to go out, so he spends afternoons walking and drinking coffee or tea in various cafes where he always asks if there’s anything he can do to be helpful. One place said they’d be grateful to have him tidy up their bulletin board occasionally. He does this with extraordinary devotion to detail and all kinds of pride and tells me why he arranged things on the board as he did that day. This place has become his new favourite haunt and he’ll spend money he can’t really afford on too many muffins just to support them, so grateful is he to be able to tidy that board.
Sometimes at night he’ll go out to hear a local band and if likes them he’ll tell everyone he knows and several he doesn’t that they need to hear this band. Not pushy, just passionate.
He goes through phases of doing things left-handed, brushing his teeth, holding the phone, eating soup. Someone told him it’s good for your brain.
For awhile he took it upon himself to report street lights that had burned out. He would note the location and call the city works department. He gets involved with various local groups, folds envelopes, whatever needs doing. He discovers a second hand shop that’s struggling to make ends meet but the people are nice so he buys a belt he can’t afford, just to help them out.
What he doesn’t do is complain. Which is astonishing to me.
He knows how some people see him. He doesn’t fool himself, he knows what his limitations are, what he’s dealing with. He’s just somehow able to override all that and keep going.
Though he gets weary of it all sometimes.
Occasionally his disorder turns psychotic and he ends up at The Royal, the mental health centre in Ottawa, where he might spend months at a time.
There are aspects of his life that are so frightening I don’t know how he copes as casually as he does. He says he’s used to it. But surely becoming used to something awful can as easily destroy spirit as it can be the reason to work even harder. That his spirit is not only intact but shines as brightly as it does…. is extraordinary. I never take it for granted.
And so he is an inspiration like no one else I know.
I tell him all the time. But I’m not sure he believes me.
He called the other day to remind me of #BellLetsTalk. And he’ll be calling everyone he knows today, at least once. It’s what he can do, so he does it. So, yeah, not wordless today. Let’s talk up a storm.
This one’s for all of us, but especially for E.
Shine on, my friend.
Update as of 2019: E has moved to a much nicer residence, loves his room with a giant window and view of the sunset. He is the star of the facility, named Captain Purel for his job as greeter at a local hospital, (his job being not only to greet but to suggest using the sanitizer on entering and leaving the building) which he takes very seriously and excels at. He has also recently been given a new-to-him dark green LazyBoy chair with all kinds of buttons and a cup holder. He continues to find the joy in simple things, and life. He’s one of the lucky ones. And he is a star in my books.