I am recovering nicely from my concussion accident seven weeks ago, but I still have to limit my screen time. Since this is Mental Health Week across Canada, I have reprinted a piece published here on November 3, 2017.
The large and serious man, who easily would have outweighed me, showed no sign of playing a joke on me, and there were few customers around us. Previous to this time, I had studied at various schools to be a community mental health counselor and had learned what to do in a sudden situation of this kind.
“You are angry, I see,” I said to him as calmly as I could muster, “you want to tell me something about that?”
An immediate change came over his face and he relaxed slightly. Perhaps he had not expected a response like this.
“Yes, I’ll tell you why I’m angry,” he replied. “You are a doctor and you’re in cahoots with the doctor who planted a computer chip in my brain.”
Actually, I was no doctor, though this man was not the first person to think I was. I wore glasses, a small beard, and usually had a quiet, serious demeanor, so people sometimes thought I was a doctor of either the medical or academic sort.
“I know that’s how you guys try to control me,” he continued in all solemnity, “along with those people in India who send messages this way to my brain. I no longer have a life of my own.”
As we talked further, I found out that he had spent time in a nearby psychiatric institution. That can be a terrifying experience for anyone. The patient temporarily loses most civil rights and I had found that the doctors may not be too concerned with obtaining informed consent from their patients. Of course, getting that sort of consent for any treatment option is often easier said than done with the state of mind that a person may be in upon entering the hospital, but the lack of clear communication only adds to people’s sense of being victimized.
I didn’t challenge the man’s interpretation of reality. “No longer having a life of your own,” I said, going back to his earlier statement, “that has to be a terrible thing.”
“You better believe it is,” he replied sullenly, and after a moment’s pause, added, “what can you do about that?”
At this point I thought it necessary to tell him I was not one of the doctors at his hospital but that I was pleased to have spent this time with him. We finished our coffees as he spoke to me about how scary his life had become. He even suspected that the cash register was trying to send him a message.
As we were wrapping up our conversation, he said, “I know now that you’re not a doctor, you’re actually a victim just like me. I’ll see you again sometime?”
He had no car, so I offered to drive him home to his apartment, partly also to ask about his meds and confirm his support system. Walking to the parking lot, he looked up the whole time. “Let’s get a helicopter,” he suggested, ”you can fly me out and we can escape from this pain together. Know where the airport is?”
In a strange way, he was making a lot of sense. No, not entirely rational sense, but he had been communicating things I could well understand. It was a reflection of what he had truly experienced. I hoped that his faulty interpretations would, in time, be replaced with something more grounded in reality.