So, today I met a guy who had some things in common with me or people I know. It was not a comforting experience.
This guy was average height and weight. Polite and kind of quiet. He was disorganized, could not find the papers he needed in his messenger bag. Been there! (About 12 times a day, actually.)
Turns out, this guy also has some pretty common mental health problems. Nothing unusual – depression, anxiety. Been there, too. Do I know anyone who doesn’t have one or the other or both?
And, this guy has recently been hospitalized for his mental health problems. I’ve not had that experience, but I am close to people who have.
Here is where things get uncomfortable: this guy is homeless and penniless. When I met him, he was seeking help to get his prescriptions filled after just being released from the hospital. I started to imagine what the things we had in common would be like if I didn’t have regular health care, a family, a house. I started to imagine people I know who have been hospitalized going home with the meds they need to a safe home and a network of friends and family. And then I imagined them getting out and not having any of that.
There were other people I met today who were trying to get IDs to get a job, or asking for a new pair of shoes, or meeting with a caseworker. These are things that your homeless neighbors do when they are struggling against a mountain of obstacles to climb out of poverty. But what do you do when the urge to climb that mountain is overwhelmed by mental illness?
While I like to think that I can take care of myself, what separates me most from the guy I met today is not what I do to keep myself healthy and safe, but what others do to keep me that way. If I get sick, I have a spouse, a parent, and siblings who will care for me. If I am late getting home, there are a dozen neighbors I can count on to greet my kid at the bus stop. On the few occasions when I have been laid up, there were casseroles and offers to care for my kids and people to run errands and bring flowers.
Even the prayers I get via email and Facebook are more than this guy had. He was utterly alone, devastatingly poor, trying to manage his health with virtually no resources. And he knew it, was nervous about it. How would he get through today? He could barely hold a conversation for the dread.
There is no real way to wrap this post up with a nice lesson learned or happy ending. I don’t know how it ends and I am pretty sure I’ll see another version of it next week. But I do know that in this case, being grateful for what I have doesn’t make me feel any better. Being uncomfortable is an appropriate response to what I know. I am grateful, but no matter how good I’ve got it, there are still too many people out there trying to get through a long, cold night alone in our big, crowded world. Surely, there is enough medicine and friendship and compassion and warmth to spare for them.