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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Invisible People

 

I had to go downtown.

Okay, I didn't have to have to.

But downtown Anchorage is where the kind of burgers I like are and despite the fact that my hearing is damaged enough so the VA pays me a tidy sum for the impairment, I was pretty sure I could hear one of those tasty sandwiches calling my name.

So I had to go downtown.

You can’t ignore the voices, folks, you know how it is.

Now, naturally, it being downtown and winter, I couldn't park anywhere near the little dive I like. I found a spot half a block away and walked.

That's when I noticed him.

Sort of.

I mean, I saw him standing there, of course, out of the corner of my eye. Twenty years of anti-terrorism training and service in hostile countries, I tend to notice the people around me. So, yeah, I saw him in the crowd, he seemed a little … off, but nothing jumped out at me as anything special. And honestly, Anchorage is full of people who are a little … off. Average height. Average age. Average build. Average clothes for this time of year in Alaska, maybe a little shabbier than average but nothing you'd notice without a closer inspection. We’re all a little shabby this time of year, bundled up against the cold like big puffy marshmallow people. Average features in the usual arrangement. You know, your basic average guy. A nebbish. One of the people in the walls. Window dressing. Part of the faceless multitude that strolls the sidewalks of every city in the world.

He was standing near the crosswalk, just out of the right of way, talking energetically to invisible people and jabbing at the air like you do when you're driving home a point  - which is also pretty average. I encounter dozens of people every day who are talking to unseen friends. I see them driving down the street, in the checkout lines and coffee shops, chatting away.

Normal everyday people.

Talking to themselves.

That’s how much the world has changed in recent decades.

Up until a few years ago, you saw somebody standing on the corner carrying on an animated conversation with themselves, you’d have thought, Whoa, look at that craaaazeeee bugger, please, please don’t let the voices tell him to eat my face. I just want a sandwich, I don’t want no trouble. Please don’t eat my face, crazy man!

But, nowadays?

Suddenly everybody is wandering around talking to themselves (Also, there’s a lot more spontaneous face-eating. Coincidence? Sure. Probably nothing to worry about).

And you know, a cell phone makes good cover. I’m pretty sure that at least half of the people I see talking to themselves are really just talking to themselves and using the phone to hide that fact.

I got to the burger place.

There was a line, mostly working people from the rail-yard and the port, couple of soldiers from the base. It’s that kind of joint. A little seedy, a little sketchy, my kind of place. I like to eat in my office, so I got my sandwich to go and headed back to the truck …

… and as I waited for the crosswalk, I realized that the guy was still there.

He was in the same spot on the other side of the intersection, just off the right of way.  Still punching at the air and talking to invisible people. He’d gotten a bit louder. At first I could only hear fragments, but as I got closer things became clear.

Well, sort of.

I’m sure the people walking past figured he was talking to a earpiece hidden under his knit watch-cap. Just some working stiff from one of the local business buildings, stepped outside for a smoke maybe, talking on the phone. Nothing unusual.

Except he wasn’t.

Wasn’t on the phone, I mean.

He was babbling, a mixture of mangled bible passages and, oh hell, I don’t know, gibberish – or rather, more gibberish depending on your point of view.

This guy, well, he really was talking to invisible people.

And nobody noticed.

Because it’s nothing unusual nowadays.

Everybody talks to invisible people.

“Hey, buddy, you okay?” I asked.

He just looked right through me, still talking to an audience only he could see. His eyes were wide and shiny and red around the edges. He was high or sick or crazy or maybe all three.  He sort of shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back and didn’t acknowledge my question. Angels or demons, whoever or whatever he was talking to was more real than me. I was invisible to him.

Hey, you okay?” I asked again.

Nothing.

His clothing was a little more worn and shabby than I’d first realized. One of the city’s numerous homeless mentally ill, turned out into the cold and dark, left to deal with invisible demons on their own.

We were right up the hill from the Brother Francis shelter, likely that’s where he had come from before fetching up here.

He didn’t look dangerous. He didn’t seem likely to jump into traffic. He didn’t look like he was in any physical distress, he had a jacket and gloves and a hat. He seemed healthy enough. He just wasn’t tuned in to reality.

I moved on, there wasn’t much I could do.

I circled back in the truck, I had some vague idea that I’d call the APD and see if they’d check on him.  But he was walking down the hill with two other folks, both of which were obvious street people. They were headed slowly more or less in the direction of the shelter.

You know, the encounter bothered me in some obscure fashion, I didn’t know exactly why.  I mean I know why it should have bothered me, but if I’m going to be honest here, well, it wasn’t that.

I thought about it all afternoon.

Until it occurred to me that it’s no longer possible to easily distinguish the supposed sane from the supposedly insane. It seems these days that we’re all talking to invisible people.

And maybe that’s the whole problem.

 


Afterword:  It's a true story, it happened to me today, but it's also a metaphor for larger things. It may be the most subtle piece I've written in a long time. I'm well pleased with it // JIm

103 comments:

  1. Many years ago I used to work with a man who huddled at a corner desk - under a blanket - as he did his work. He never spoke to anyone. I got a little bothered so I inquired of the boss - who told me 95% of the population is crazy - some show it more than others.

    So maybe little has changed?

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  2. You post brought back memories. Some good. Some bad. Memories of walking along a crowded downtown street and feeling completely and utterly alone. Looking at people and thinking "What the fuck would any of you know about what I've been through."(Vietnam) Trapped in my own little universe. Locked in a bubble in self imposed exile. Not loving...not hating...not feeling anything.
    PTSD is its' own special kind of Hell. Mine was a sort of surreal, nihilism. I was trapped in my own skull. My own universe.
    Thank God that has changed.
    Thinking about that man on that street in Anchorage I came up with one thing...at least he had someone to talk to.

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    1. PTSD is a "special" kind of crazy regardless of the trauma that caused it. When the only voices in your head are those of a past too terrible - too horrible to comprehend - that we cut ourselves off from others and from our feelings because we felt too much and the horror is too much to live with but it still keeps repeating in your head like a movie stuck on a terrible rewind - and you can't close your eyes or turn away... Yes. I understand (been there, done that) and you you have all of my empathy for that Frank Frey.

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  3. We had a Chief Engineer on USNS Mizar - Civilian guy, old feller. Talked to everything and everything, just not humans. I knew his roomie pretty well - he told me this guy would get up and say "good morning" to the fan, talk to various other implements around the space, but never said anything to my friend. I used to see him walk down the passageway talking to a spanner.

    I miss those days, sometimes.

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  4. Well, since the internet and the advent of chat rooms, bulletin boards, blogs, etc. many more of us have "conversations" with invisible people.

    You reminded me of a joke told by Lilly Tomlin a couple of decades ago. "We should tie the people who talk to themselves together in pairs so that it at least LOOKS like they're having a conversation."

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  5. Yeah, everyone talks to themselves. Even the office people appear to be speaking to invisible people. And yeah, the cell phone is a cover, but when you are talking to your cell phone in the middle of a bunch of people in a restaurant having a group lunch....well, hell, you're talking to invisible people about things that matter only to you, aren't you?

    We've lost the talent for talking to one another face to face it seems to me; I can count on one hand the number of people I actually interact with, face to face. Hell, I talk to the cat more often than I do my friends, sometimes. We've become awfully insular......my son claims that part of my problem is that I'm naive, although I wouldn't exactly put it that way. It seems that I don't understand, according to him, how many ignorant and stupid people there are in the world, because I don't have to, or choose not to, come in contact with all that many of them.

    It seems to me that we've become unable to see or communicate with the people around us, in case they might take something from us. It doesn't bode well for our ability to withstand the world changes that are coming.

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    1. I wrote this with several layers of meaning. Maybe more than several. It's a true story, but it's also an metaphor for larger things.

      Some of what you mentioned is a small part of what I intended.

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    2. We move often. Well, every few years. In the past ?15? years I've lived in 5 countries, not counting the different states in the US. I sometimes get lost and confused and have learned that sometimes I must simply walk up and talk to strangers to figure out what I need to figure out. It's amazing how very surprised this makes the strangers! Most seem shocked, shocked that I actually saw them and spoke to them... and then, probably 95% of the time, they will be uncommonly pleased to be engaged in this unexpected conversation for whatever reason. Happy to be engaged and drawn out and social. Pleased to be sharing the moment. Except for Egyptians. There, everybody talks to everybody about everything... complete strangers will cross the street to come chat with you and ask if you know Jim Bob from Arizona because they just met Jim Bob yesterday and wonder if you know him too? They are the most social people ever, so they are an exception.

      Anyway, it's as if we always enclose ourselves in little protective bubbles when we are out in public. We pretend "I can't see you, you can't see me." Out of habit, not hate or fear (usually). When somebody pops that bubble and joins us in our own little worlds, to share some little tidbit, pleasantry or to ask our advice, it's usually a pleasant exchange... and yet, next time we go out, we always put our bubbles back on. Weird.

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    3. Hell, I talk to the cat more often than I do my friends, sometimes.

      Oh, yeah :)

      With the rise of texting, in all its forms, it also seems like we're losing our talent for talking voice-to-voice, too. I wonder, Jim, if some day you'll encounter someone like that shabby fellow, texting madly away on a cellphone he found in a trash can, with no battery in it...

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    4. Jim, I understood the other layers, too....part of it is because we really, truly, try not to see what our institutionalized lack of compassion is doing to our world. That's been happening since Ronnie Reagan. The other stuff, the cell phones, the electronic media, came along to exacerbate the whole thing. It's all of a piece, eventually.

      Mind you, my offspring has been working on the phone that allows you to talk to, and see, two or more people at once...........interesting bit of tech. I wonder if that will force us back to face to face? Maybe, maybe not.

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    5. Of course, I live in Toronto; that is an exercise in compartmentalization. I live in cooperative housing, which is a somewhat different thing here than there. It means that I live in a low-rise, non-profit MURB (multi-unit residential building. There are as many acronyms in the non-profit sector as there are in the military, trust me.) It means that the building is a good place to live, a community in the middle of a large city. There are handicapped, disabled, young people, marrieds, elderly....it's a fairly wide cross-section, including all nationalities. Oddly, we're sandwiched between a men's drop in centre, a military unit, and the Salvation Army on one side.....and two 'luxury' hotels, and bar or two, and a couple of condos on the other. Toronto tends to be an interesting mix of things.

      But we allowed a conservative government to 'download services to the city, and we are getting the same problems here. It's depressingly familiar....and bothersome.

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  6. I've seen this.

    In some parts of the world, India for example, "crazy" people are taken care of and treated like they have one foot in the land of the gods. Here, not so much. Lucky to have one hand in the land of the disability payments.

    Here, though, there are those who really are functioning on a different level than this 3D universe we've always dealt with. It's probably harder for folks here, because they are ostracized for being who they are.

    Not only in the certifiably crazy, I've also seen it in patients suffering from Alzheimer's and other dementia. That person is still in there somewhere, and if you watch their eyes they'll peep out now and then. Music, especially familiar old favorites, will draw them out. That alone is amazing. But you can see it in their eyes... and with the crazy people, too, if they'll let you look.

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  8. I always imagine there is another someone, somewhere, maybe half a world a way, carrying on the other half of those conversations. I'm not yet convinced I'm wrong.

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    1. Maybe that "person" is right there, a fraction of a dimension away, invisible to you (and me) because our vision just doesn't get that channel.

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  9. I was just going to say the same thing! For every schizophrenic there is another one, somewhere, listening and responding.

    I talk to myself constantly. I loved it when my kids were babies because I could direct the conversation toward them and people wouldn't look at me funny.

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  10. I like the Mythbuster's T-shirt that goes "I reject your reality and substitute my own." It says a lot about those who reject all kinds of evidence, and reason, and substitute belief - or rather, their alternate "reality." I'm very very tired of listening to it all, and trying to be polite. Especially when it's family, and you want to shake them out of it… and can't. It's not just invisible people they are talking to, it's invisible "facts" they are talking about.

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  11. Alzheimer's and other dementia.
    Thank-you, marykmusic, for the reminder.
    I will visit my mother this weekend. She is still in there, somewhere.

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    1. Take her some music. Something she loved from when she was young and whole.

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    2. Absolutely. It will make her peek out, and perhaps she will see you. Use simple language; ask questions starting with "Do you remember...?"

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    3. Take her some music.

      Our sense of smell sometimes stimulates memories more strongly than our other senses. What was her favorite flower? Perfume or after-shave? Did she hang Eucalyptus around the house? Can't hurt to try.

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  12. It's been almost 30 years, but I can still see the guy. He didn't speak to invisible people, his face was blank, starting straight ahead. It was winter, and he was definitely under dressed, standing by the 32nd St. El entrance. Someone had bought him a cup of coffee and a donut. I know this, because he was holding a bag whose bottom broke out from leaking coffee, and the coffee and donut were on the ground.

    The thought I should buy the guy another coffee & donut, crossed my mind, but I was afraid to approach the guy. Admittedly I was a kid (though 19 at the time, I didn't think of myself as a kid). To this day, I'm not sure if I'd do it any differently.

    Regrets can last a lifetime

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    1. This is a story that has sadness beyond the story. Quite a few years ago my sister and I were on our way to our parents' place for Christmas Day. We stopped to get petrol, and went inside to pay. In front of us were two men who were buying a couple of salad rolls, a couple of cans of coke, and a pack of cigarettes. It was quite clear from the context that one of them had just got their pension, and was buying their Christmas lunch for both of them. They were probably homeless, as they had big bags with them. The man paying couldn't remember the pin number for his account, and was getting more and more upset. Eventually the man serving asked them to move aside so that he could serve us. They apologised, and stood aside, with the card owner frantically searching his wallet to see if he had written the pin number somewhere. The goods stood tantalisingly out of the reach, and they both gave them longing glances. We smiled at them, paid and left.

      A couple of kilometres down the road my sister and I said at virtually the same time 'damn, we should have paid for their stuff'. We could have afforded to do so. We both give money to people when they are in need. We both believe that sharing our relative wealth is important. But it just didn't cross our minds.

      I could not stop thinking about those men. I saw their faces, and heard their abject apologies for being in our way for days. I hope they remembered the pin number. I hope that someone else in the queue paid for them. And I would like to believe that this happened. But all I ever see is their hopeful faces, and those treasured goods just out of reach.

      Every Christmas Day since has held that tinge of sadness for me.

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  13. I have an appointment, Monday, to talk with my mother (with the assistance of a moderator) and while she doesn't characterize it as "voices" she's been chatting with the "other" for a number of years, now. I might not mind it so much if the voices didn't insist on slandering hubby and me so very, Very nastily. (Bad enough that it's driven mom to try very hard to get officials to take our kids away. And enlist the aid of every official with power in the entire state, all the way up to the Governor's office and the State Bureau of Investigations. They were, none of them, amused to have been taken in by such a convincing delusion.) She can seem entirely sane, entirely convincing, even genius-level smart, if you don't happen to notice the classic mania signs. These days we're wondering if she's adding dementia or Alzheimer's to the mix, but it's sort of tough to tell.

    I've tried for over a year to walk away, and give her all the freedom I can (while simultaneously ignoring her as best I can--not easy, seeing as how her accusations are the sort of thing that festers like a poison thorn, no matter how much you Know the accuser is actually, certifiably mentally ill, and has been since 1960) and since that hasn't worked, this is the next thing I'm trying. I doubt it will work any better, and in point of fact I anticipate that Monday will tear me into shreds and scatter me like confetti all over the Police Station (where the event is scheduled to occur--seems appropriate, somehow) but I don't intend to let her See that. Wish me Luck.

    Gretchen in KS

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    1. I can certainly sympathize... my Maternal Grandmother was ill, lived with my parents, and absolutely hated my Dad. She worked very hard to break up my parents marriage, being completely oblivious to the fact that it was my Dad taking care of her. My Dad was not sad when she passed away, but the relieve in the house was palpable.

      Good luck on Monday.

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    2. Thank you, Sean. And My Condolences on your Grandmother--on every level of sad.

      I can't quite imagine how much worse this would be if I were trying to live under the same roof with my mother. Back when I graduated high school, it wasn't really a joke when my parting shot upon leaving was that we had been driving each other crazy. Every six months during my high school years she was in the mental hospital for treatment. One last visit (for the shock that I actually left--and had no intention of ever moving back in--seriously, she followed my truck to the end of the driveway, insisting all the way that I wasn't really leaving) and then she managed four whole years before her next trip. Coincidence? I think not. Suffice to say that if I never live with her again, it will be too soon. The fact that she moved to the same TOWN as me is too close, most days. Though she proved, last year, that she can wreak havoc from all the way across the state as well. Mandatory Reporting Laws have their flaws.

      Gretchen in KS

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    3. Oh, Gretchen... good luck on Monday from me, too. You might want to check out the bpdfamily(dot)com forum. Even if your Mom has a different issue than bpd, there's a section for children of people with personality disorders, that might help you with coping, detachment-strategies, etc.

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    4. Thank you, MonaLisa. I'll check into that.

      Mother is a big wheel in the local (augh, it's early in the morning and I can't recall the acronym for the group that advocates for the mentally ill) and as such I avoid it like the plague, and all its local affiliates. But as a tiny bit of advantage for me, she has absolutely no interest in going online. (So I only had to change my phone number, and not my email or other online presence. Though there may come a time when she gets a friend who changes that dynamic. Such is life.)

      Gretchen in KS

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    5. Hoo-boy. One sign of dementia is the person not paying attention to the learned social niceties required in our society. Sometimes the nicest person can start saying mean, cutting things. That which has been suppressed is expressed.

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    6. Gretchen, good luck! I'm experiencing an outbreak of Mom-crazies lately myself. You have my sympathy.

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    7. True, marykmusic--that's one of the reasons why we wonder if dementia has begun. That, and her ability to put a conversation on "repeat" at roughly ten minute intervals without remembering that she's had it--with you--ten minutes earlier. And ten minutes before that, if you let her keep going.

      In my case, she "just knows" what she knows (she never says "the voices told her" though sometimes she references people we know to be deceased) and that leads her to, well, as for expressions, I suppose I knew she knew some of those words, but it's still disturbing to get voice mails with four-letter-word language on them from a woman who pretty much never spoke that way. And no, I'm not saying she was cursing just for fun, or speaking gibberish without understanding. She was calling names. Then I wasn't sure whether I'd get in trouble for passing that message along to the Sheriff's Detective involved in the case (Decency Laws?) I certainly wouldn't speak like that to her myself!

      Gretchen in KS

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    8. Thank you, Corbie, and good luck to you, too. Dealing with a parent makes it so much more difficult. Can't walk away in quite the same way as a broken friendship or even a marriage. (Though I've heard of people who succeeded in that exact thing, I haven't figured out the method.) Don't have the authority you'd have if you were the parent dealing with a child, though even that situation is guaranteed to be fraught, especially as the child grows into an adult. And if you're determined to stay, regardless of the details, your own supports are likely to be attacked from within and without.

      Hang in there. In my own lifetime, (born in 1970) mental healthcare has improved by leaps and bounds. (True, right now I'm not very happy with it, but for many years, for mom, it usually reached acceptable, if not fair to partly sunny.) It's an art AND a science, but if you can give it a chance, (and have access) there are a lot of people I know who have found help.

      I suspect, but can't prove, that at least part of mother's current problems right now are an issue with dosage, compliance, or some interaction between drugs. (She has never found any benefit from talk therapy, though I know others who do.) But she won't go in for observation.

      Some of her "friends" denigrate psychoactive medications. (But Blood Pressure and Diabetes meds are fine. Funny, how that is.) I worry they convinced her to go "natural" for her "health." And if so, I would like to trade places with those people. Let them be the target for several years of harassment and stalking. Because to say I'd like to punch them in the nose would be a lie--that would be over too soon. I'm a vindictive person when my children have been stalked and harassed, and in effect have had their grandmother taken away from them.

      Gretchen in KS

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    9. for what it's worth, NAMI is the acronym I couldn't think of yesterday.

      Gretchen in KS

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    10. (((Gretchen))) and best wishes. My dad had a stroke some years ago and my mother has NEVER been easy - she's a brittle, insulin dependent diabetic. Will say ANYTHING when she's in insulin shock. It is easier to bear as an adult, her situation is very difficult, it makes doctors quail in fear! But as a child, I remember being on the receiving end of things no child should have to experience, and I remember going to listen at her bedroom door when my dad was traveling, to see if she was breathing ok. It leaves a mark, and it cannot be escaped. She is 78 now, and takes more responsibility for herself since my father's stroke, but the old panic still sets in sometimes. It is a most difficult situation, not having the rank and privilege of a parent and yet ultimately responsible. I was more fortunate than you as my children are not much affected by her issues. Anyway, you are between the rock and the hard place and I wish you all the best.

      JC

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    11. Thank you, JC. Sounds very difficult to be in your place, as well. ((((hugs)))) back at ya. For anyone following along, it wasn't quite the worst it could have been--no backup was needed, and nobody got tasered, but she brought me to tears (which pisses me off to no end) and rehashed things from the past that she thought would make me look bad. (Some of which make HER look bad, but some of which probably achieve her goal.) Presented things as fact that aren't (as I expected) and essentially stated that she will continue to believe exactly as she has, but wants what she wants (visitation) when she wants it (now). More or less the one-liner version of insanity--doing the same thing, and expecting a different outcome.

      The ball is now in my court. I am encouraged to see if the kids want to give her another chance, and see if she's actually going to turn over a new leaf. Sigh. Think. Think. Think. Time for me to cogitate on this for a while. My head hurts, but I'm at work (on lunch break at this moment) trying to settle myself to ask them. And not push. I didn't get a choice of dealing with her. I'm trying to give them one.

      Gretchen in KSs

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  14. They found another body in Campbell Creek today didn't they? The level of attention our state leaders have shown towards our homeless and mentally ill is a very, very sad commentary on compassionate conservatism.

    Those of us who are concerned about the least of us, all rant and scream and try to do something about these hideous problems, and it sometimes seems that we are yelling to people sitting behind a one-way sound proof window. Isolation and suffering.

    BTW, animals make a great cover for talking to yourself if you don't have a baby around.

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  15. As an Autist, one of the problems I face when dealing with the outside world is that I frequently plan conversations and scenarios in advance (and their permutations, which can get convoluted fast if I'm not careful), in an attempt to reduce the inevitable awkwardness of the situation when it finally happens. Unfortunately, sometimes this planning escapes the confines of my imagination, which almost invariably appears to onlookers as a more subdued Clint-Eastwood-Talking-To-Invisible-Obama-Sitting-On-A-Chair thing.

    One of the reasons why I got into cartooning was so that I could put my imaginary friends, acquaintances, passers-by, bystanders, antagonists, and mortal enemies on paper for the world to see.

    It is a shame, though, that it's so difficult for people with mental illnesses to get the treatment they need. Of course, if it were available, the cable TV industry's talk show host candidate pool would shrink drastically.

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    1. I have a close relative who describes what being autisic is just as you have, Mangaka. It is so hard functioning day to day and she is only a mild case. I can't imagine life for those worse off and with no outside help.

      I find it so interesting too, that we house and give more attention to our criminals than our mentally impaired.

      bd

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  16. I work in mental health, in a forensic psych facility in California. I deal a lot with people "responding to internal stimuli", "conversing with unseen persons", etc. They're locked up without cell phones, so we know it's not that.

    Thing is, I do it too. Most people talk things over within themselves, and some of us do it out loud. I've been chatting away with imaginary playmates all my life. Sometimes I could swear I heard them. But the difference is in whether we can set it aside when we need to, whether we're still able to cope with external experiences.

    The part of your experience that I found instructive was, your stranger didn't seem able to focus on you at all. His internal dialogue was more compelling than the evidence of a strange person focusing on him from close range. Street folk in my experience know exactly who's addressing them, even if they don't answer. For him to neither make eye contact nor studiously avoid it says he's having trouble coping.

    Often people become so preoccupied with other things that we fail to cope with even potential dangers close at hand. We're able to; we just don't. Which I think is what you're pointing out, that even we who CAN engage the world around us frequently don't.

    Thank you, Jim, for noticing a fellow man and listening closely enough to hear him.

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  17. My schizophrenic oldest brother has long, animated conversations with the maple tree in the back yard. It's a nice old tree, probably 100 years old, but sometimes it gets uppity and needs a solid dressing-down.

    He just came off what I call 'his manic phase', talking non-stop for 20 hrs a day. When he's like that, it usually lasts for 6 weeks or so, but this one only lasted 3 weeks, and he's back in his 'sleep-for-20-hrs-a-day phase', which has its own challenges for me. (It usually starts because he hallucinates seeing our dad, or something else happens that scares him, and he retreats into the universe inside himself.) Sometimes he has conversations with childhood friends long gone, or buddies he had in the Navy, or he'll blow kisses at the sun because she's his lover (the moon, his wife, would be mad if she found out). He might not remember what I just said, but I can almost always get him to hear me when he needs to. And he TRIES, so hard, to get a grip on himself when he notices that he's wearing me out. He even succeeds sometimes. But it's like putting a lid on a pot of already-boiling water....

    So maybe that's why the old tree out back gets chewed out. Pressure relief.

    And that's probably why I've cultivated a vast network of invisible people of my own, here in this vast electronic universe. A few 'real-life-friends' have mostly gone their own ways, since they don't really understand that I can't leave him alone for too long at any given time, between med doses and making sure he's not freaking out neighbors or passers-by, or making sure he's awake long enough for meals at least. When I'm here in Stonekettle Station, it's not all that different than hanging out in the workshop with you all, listening in on some of the most stimulating conversation to be found. Facebook is is a combination of secret clubhouse/playground, I can hang with the funny kids, or the literary crowd, or the artistes or activists. Google is a library where I can browse the stacks AND blast '80s music as loudly as I like. And if there's a new skill I like to learn, there's usually a decent tutorial on youtube.

    So, speaking only for myself of course, my reaching out into the ether isn't a problem. It's my solution. One I'm very grateful for. Pressure relief.

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    1. Bless you for taking care of your brother.

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    2. Real love is such a beautiful thing to see, even from a distance. And he loves you too, he TRIES to be more conformable, even though he can't grasp it. It echoes and echoes.

      PS: I'm a horticulturist by trade and ed; that beautiful old tree probably DOES converse with your brother-they are alive you know, and may be sentient, though we cannot speak their language fluently. They have let me in, a little, for which I am grateful!

      JC

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    3. Thank you, JC. (I'll admit to you, I HAVE gone out back, and told the tree Walt's story, and thanked it for being there for him. Just in case.)

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  18. The problem with talking with a crazy person is that if you actually do manage to break in on his internal programming, he might strike out to try to get you to go away. Crazy people are usually too dissociated to do much more than flail ineffectually, but it's something to watch for and take steps to make sure you don't get hurt when it happens.

    Thing is, I haven't found that it's at all effective to talk with crazy people. They're lost inside their own little imaginary worlds and nothing you say or do is going to change that. You can be kind to them, because you should be. You can gently urge them to seek assistance at the local mental health center, because you should. But you cannot cure them with kindness and they are unlikely to heed your advice. They need an intervention far more effective than that, and that cannot happen because it would infringe upon their freedom to be as crazy as they want to be. Though is it them refusing treatment, or the craziness within them refusing treatment? How much free choice can a crazy people be said to have, anyhow?

    It is when the crazy dissociated people lost inside their own imaginary worlds start waving signs saying "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" and "Obama = Hitler!" that shit starts gettin' real...

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  19. I used to have a job that included interviewing people who were going to appear in court for sentencing in criminal cases. It was an interesting job, usually challenging and stimulating. But the scariest time I remember was when I spent over an hour interviewing a schizophrenic man, and realized that I was able to follow his train of thought.

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  20. Sometimes, compassion for others is all that we can do, even if they can't be reached.

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  21. My first reaction was to find it creepy that you have printed a good portion of a conversation that I have had in my head, in part, word for word.

    We have a Town Schizophrenic. (We used to have a Town Drunk, but I fear he may have gone to heaven.) Anyway, after years of observation, it has occurred to me that he is actually reaching out to people with his babbling.. Sometimes he engages an unknowing college student (we have many in the area), but most often he speaks into the wind. I just do not want to enter his world. I lived there once and it was not comfortable. I was able to leave through the grace of God and I get annoyed that he inflicts his illness on all of us instead of taking medication. But maybe that is his job: To remind us all what a thin curtain separates those of us who only babble in our head from those who talk to the wind.

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  22. If you sing, whistle, or hum a tune, no one even stops to consider it, ask how you are, or even blog about it later. Unless you're singing an annoying tune. Don't sing an annoying tune.

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  23. Thank you for this piece, Jim. Subtle indeed! I also tend to be aware of people around me, but for different reasons.

    PTSD isn't fun. Mine came not from service in a dangerous area of the world, but form the attorney on the other side of my last case making daily death threats at me. Daily. For 5 months. At first, I laughed it off - humor is/was often my first line of defense/defusing when dealing with angry, mean people. Long story short, nothing I did helped. Everything I did amounted to throwing gasoline on a fire. Worst of all, nobody believed me. Nobody.

    He was a named partner in a downtown law firm. I was the Girl Attorney (tm). He was a former Marine. He was very good at making his threats and leaving no trail - it was always via phone call, or whispered as I passed him in the courthouse hallways, or entering/leaving a deposition. I'd better run. He was going to put a bomb in my car. Sounds crazy. I don't recommend trying it daily, for 5 months. It got to where I would not answer my office phone - just let it go to voicemail. He was careful enough not to leave threats on a recording.

    I learned months after the case was over that he'd been diagnosed with lung cancer. Instead of taking care of himself, he made me the enemy instead of the cancer. I would not wish cancer on my worst enemy, having lost both parents to it - but it doesn't excuse his actions, either.

    PTSD and withdrawal? You can't trust anyone. It takes a certain amount of courage just to admit to yourself that this is happening, much less to admit it to another human being. Then, when you are not believed, when you are accused of making it up, when you are called a liar, that makes it worse. Eventually, you can't trust anyone with anything, or talk to anyone about anything; why would anyone want to talk to a liar like you anyway?

    I played a lot of video games. I didn't want human interaction. At all, with anyone - because if you open yourself up to interaction, maybe they'll put a bomb in your car (or figure out that you deserve it). That's what PTSD does to people.

    That was nearly 10 years ago. Things are better now. Not like they were, because I'm not who I used to be.

    But when I see people poking at their little boxes and ignoring the people around them - at concerts, lunches, parties, whatever - I wonder if they're just rude, or hiding from something (like I was).

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  24. People always give me strange looks when I tell them that I don't have a cell phone. Most, but not all, are incredulous enough to add a stressed "What?!" to it. This is especially so amongst those that are aware of my profession -- a software developer. How, they verbally head-scratch, can a guy who works with computers for a living not have a cell phone in this day and age?

    There are three reasons, although most of the time I only give the first two, because I know that the third would be lost on the vast majority of people I meet.

    1. Humanity managed to survive just fine without cell phones for thousands of years. Contrary to modern popular belief, it is entirely possible to deal with emergency situations -- and even simple every-day situations -- without one. In fact, it's even easier to do nowadays, given that everyone else is carrying a phone in their pocket. A little pre-planning goes a very long way.

    2. I have yet to see a cellular service provider that wasn't run by literal crooks. I don't need data, I don't need text, I don't need a thousand and one other features I have absolutely no use for. I need the ability to make a phone call when I absolutely have to, which is about twice a year. There is no plan that meets this need, and the ones that come closest -- daily pay-as-you-go plans where you pay up the first time you call in a day, and are then set for the rest of that day -- all require that I continually dump money into the account on a monthly basis, money that I have no need to put into it because I still haven't used up the initial $10 balance that I put in there when I got the thing. And if I fail to pay the ransom? They take whatever money is in the account and run with it, without notifying me. That is theft if anybody other than a cellular service provider does it.

    The third, and most important reason? Because I am stridently opposed to the damage that cell phones have wrought upon our society, and do not wish to contribute to it.

    Now hear me out, I'm not just some crazy luddite. I love technology and have quite a bit of it in my home. But cell phones cross a line, for me, a line that my fellow humans have gone right over without a care in the world. Simply put: We don't talk to each other anymore. We talk to our phones. We chat with the instant messenger program. We carry on conversations every blasted minute of every single day, but we never talk to people anymore. All of this impersonal communication accessible at every single second no matter where you are has ruined our ability to communicate. It's how you can be in a crowded theme park or walking down the street in a major city and yet be utterly alone, completely alienated and cut off from all of the people around you. It's how you can knock on the door of a random family that lives right next to a single-car-width covered bridge at the bottom of a steep, twisty hill in one of the worst snow/ice night in recent Georgia History, and instead of assuming that you're likely a stranded motorist that needs some kind of help, they look at you like some sort of leper and go well out of their way to 'protect' themselves from the completely unarmed guy speaking in respectful tones and asking to use their phone.

    Yeah, cells have their uses. There's no denying they've saved lives in a lot of cases. But at what cost? We've created a society where a person can spend all day surrounded by other humans, and yet never talk to a single, actual human face-to-face.

    We're talking constantly, 24x7. But we're not talking with each other.

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    1. I guarantee you there were people saying almost exactly this after Alexander Graham Bell ruined the world...

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    2. I don't *think* the point of post was really about cell phones. But I could be wrong.

      For me, at least, the cell phone hasn't isolated me, it's enabled me to have much easier access to family and friends and help and services. I get the same funny feeling sometimes when I see a bunch of people ignoring everyone immediately around them and chatting or typing away.

      But unless they're of the poor ilk Jim met most of those people actually are communicating with other people. A quick call to the spouse, check-in with children, dealing with a work issue that saves them hours or days of problems so they can spend more time with people in person instead of cleaning up a big mess ... I could go on.

      I've found that, yes, sometimes my phone is an electronic leash. But when I use it I'm mostly communicating with people I need to communicate with. It's actually drawn me closer to lots of people because access is easier. I'm old enough to remember sitting by the landline for hours, waiting for an essential call (no answering machines), stuck. No fun. Now I can have that option in my pocket and have the choice to answer or not, depending. And essentially unlimited long distance calls that when I was a kid would have put me in the poorhouse. ( No, I don't work for anything related to cell phones or service.)


      Cell phones are tools and like any tool we have a lot of choice in how to use it. It doesn't rule us any more than a hammer does, unless we let it.

      And it keeps me from knocking on some stranger's door in the middle of the night.

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    3. It's your right not to carry a cell phone. Go right ahead if that's your choice. That said: hubby and I didn't get cell phones 'till I got pregnant. Hubby has been a roofer, and we had dealt with the multiple inconveniences of getting messages to him by waiting or hand-delivery for a lot of years, but when it came to the idea of wondering if I might need to call him off a roof to come drive me to the hospital, that was the final straw. And then we got the cheapest, simplest little phones they had, with no texting or data plans, and kept it that way until last summer. (Even then, the only reason I got a new phone was to change my phone number--the texting and data that came with it were incidental, and are still very seldom used. Though the weather app is very handy for roofers.)

      On walking up and knocking on a stranger's door: My grandparents lived on one of those nasty corners. Used to get stranded, drunk, disheveled, bleeding, frantic, and occasionally violent visitors at all hours of the day and night. For the first five years that they lived there, they invited unfortunate strangers in, offered them the use of a phone, hot coffee or tea, towels and band-aids in some cases, and generally opened their hearts to each and every one of them. After the fifth time their home was broken into, they finally began to keep the door locked, and instead they would offer to make the call and pass voice messages through the door. And if that offer was refused (in some cases with harsh words) they would call the sheriff instead. It's not the fault of phones (or at least that's not where I put the blame) that their hospitality wore thin.

      I've also been on the other side of the door, at least twice myself. As a female, it's just that hairsbreadth more worrisome. What will you find on the other side? One sunny afternoon, out of gas, I knocked on a door, ready to beg to use a phone (and while many had cell phones by then, I didn't yet at the time.) Toss into the mix that my personal style at the time included a "motorcycle" leather jacket, and the stereotypical "little old lady" on the other side of the door was obviously intimidated by me. She didn't want to let me in, and was about to slam the door in my face, but I remembered the way my grandparents managed, and asked if she could call my fiance for me. Apparently my willingness to be settle for that was enough--she let me in after all, and I made my call and got out of her way.

      Another time, slick, snowy roads, dark night, and my car in the ditch several miles from home (I'd been creeping to work, but even 20 mph was too fast that night) and I trudged to the only lighted window I could see, a quarter mile back. Thankfully, though the little old couple made me walk around to the OTHER door (how was I to know they didn't use the front door?) they let me stand in the kitchen while I made the call to have the fiance come get me. (and I didn't go to work that night. Went in another ditch on the way home, too. Yes, it was Very Slick.)

      In both cases, I got lucky--I wasn't turned away, or anything worse. I'm not far enough out in "the sticks" that there's much worry about actually dying without reaching help, and yet just a month ago, a young man very nearly died of hypothermia right here. (He was suffering from testosterone poisoning. The coldest day of the year is NOT the day to go for a walk in shorts and flip-flops to show how tough you are. Not even in Kansas.) On the plus side, strangers found him, in their yard, and quickly called for help and tried to figure out what to do. Had they been too deeply enmeshed in their 'net bubbles or what-have-you, it could have ended much worse. He was in intensive care for weeks, and may still lose some fingers and/or toes. Harsh lesson from Mother Nature. But a surprisingly heart-warming lesson in human nature. At least the way I see it.

      Gretchen in KS

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    4. Gunstar, I agree with you completely. In my lifetime (approaching 50), I've lived through being able to meet friends for lunch and actually talk to them, and meeting friends and watching them all with their heads bent over their smartphones. I've gotten up and left lunchdates and the other person has taken a half-hour to even notice because they're so infatuated with updating their location on Four-Square or liking random things on Facebook. My employer does not allow cellphones at work (I'm also a software engineer) and it's amusing to watch the hysterical, self-important meltdowns of new employees (particularly Millenials) who are confined to emails and their desk phone. "BUT WHAT IF I NEED TO UPDATE MY FACEBOOK?!??!" It can't possibly wait until lunchtime.

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    5. I have a cell phone. If I take it with me I put it in a pocket or purse. A lot of people wear their phone. I can't do it. But it makes me think of the changes our timekeeping devices have made. Church bells, clock tower, clock on the mantel, pocket watches, wrist watches... (no doubt I've skipped quite a few). I can't help but wonder, when I see people wearing a phone, what it must have been like to see it become normal for people to wear clocks. We love our gadgets.

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    6. I put it off as long as I could, because I knew I'd get sucked in! And I did, dammit! But the phone doesn't come to dinner, or concerts, or any place else that I attend outside of work hours as a social occasion. It stays in my truck or car and takes messages as it was designed to do.

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  25. And you know, a cell phone makes good cover.

    So does a Congressional campaign. I swear, of not for politics--and if you lived in Texas--that could have been Louie Gohmert you spotted out there.

    Then too, it can be lucrative. Look how much they pay Limbaugh to scream and babble to the hundred million invisible Dittoheads in his mind...

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  26. The layers ... yes, the layers. The advent of social media and texting has created a different sort of connection, a connection that, for too many, has replaced actual face-to-face person-to-person connection. I've met some wonderful people through social media ... and the relationships only begin to be real once we manage to meet in person. That doesn't happen very often.
    I am still shocked when a live human answers a company phone line. It's my hope that, some day soon, the mark of a company that really cares about it's customers will be real people answering phones and connecting you with other real people. It may be a way out there daydream.
    For me, your man on the street is a disturbing metaphor for new definitions of "connection", especially among those roughly 35 and younger, who have always known cell phones. While much information is passed back and forth, that information becomes confused with actual connection. There is always the distance, the barrier. It's a sanitizing of relationship -- no visual cues, no kinesthetic cues, no olfactory cues, and limited auditory cues. As for all of the cute emoticons -- yes, very cute. They also seem like a homogenization of emotion and expression.
    Real live, person-to-person remains the only real connection, even if it's a horror story. Anything else creates a distancing. Sometimes that's a very good thing. Most of the time, it is not.
    I agree, Jim. This is a subtle and powerful post. Thank you for writing it!!

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    1. I'd just like to point out that some of us are psychologically incapable of picking up on these social cues you describe; for us, there is little distinction to be made between correspondence and face-to-face communication in the amount of "connection" we gain from it.

      To me, being one of these people, it seems a little disingenuous to claim that a connection made by correspondence is any less "real" than one made by face-to-face communication. I don't feel that a relationship with someone I only know from Facebook or a forum is more sanitized, distant, or homogenized than someone I only know through personal contact.

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    2. Thank you for that reminder, Mangaka2170. You are correct.

      I am most familiar with the world as I experience it, as we all are. Many of the connections I've made via e-mail and social media feel as rich and vibrant (sometimes more so) than some of my in-person connections. I also know that, for me, the in-person adds an element that my psyche demands. That is the perspective I write from.

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  27. An old family joke -- It's all right to talk to yourself. It's okay to ask yourself questions. You can even answer them. It's when you ask yourself a question and reply, "What?" "Huh?" -- then you've got a problem.

    Dr. Phil

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    1. We always said, "Don't worry if you catch yourself talking to yourself. Worry if the answers start surprising you."

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    2. I find those moments of, "What? Huh?" to be the most enlightening ones. I learn new things about myself and gain a deeper understanding of my own psyche. It is worthwhile to pay attention then, rather than allowing oneself to be spooked at those times.
      Chandra in MO

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  28. It's all a matter of degree, isn't it. People who believe in God are sane. People who believe in ghosts are borderline and people who disappear into themselves are beyond help or hope. Yet we all look without really seeing. We hear but don't listen and speak but aren't understood. Touch is becoming a rare and elusive commodity. The senses are diminished by the culture crush. We choose to stay in a small, sheltered space; some smaller than others.

    We'd like a world where all are equal, sane and engaged. We'll never get that. So the mentally ill are often sent to prison or left to wander and bump up against our safe, complacent spaces to remind us that there is no safety. There is no refuge. And if there is a loving God, he's not to be trusted any more than you'd trust a space alien knocking at your door. Best not to answer that knocking. The shock might be too much.

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  29. Yes, very subtle.
    We're all here visiting your site interacting, invisible to each other.
    Can you hear me?

    And don't think for a minute I didn't catch that ... you know!

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  30. Your story reminds me of everything we do in our society to suppress "different." Both my boys are grown now. Yet as I look back it was a struggle because neither could be pigeon holed into a norm group.

    For the first, the school had asked me to have a psychiatrist evaluate him due to his behaviors in kindergarten. Nothing serious that I could tell, but we went along with it. The psychiatrist (even though not asked) was pushing for Ritalin. I said no thank you and we went on with other options. He had his ADHD label which we could trot out anytime if needed (I believe the 104 fever after his first shots and his continued illness for the next 1.5 years played a role in some of his "skewed" view of the world ... as I think he needed to rewire neural pathways, but hey I'm not a doctor so what do I know).

    My second had some similar issues and while we didn't see any psychiatrists we had to deal with many of the same types of concerns. Now he is pursuing a degree in a foreign country, speaking a different language.

    I have digressed slightly but my point is we are all unique and different and the constant pressure to be part of a norm can wreak havoc with us.

    Even now with grown up children I spend a good deal of time reassuring them their feelings of isolation and aloneness are common. What if I were not there for them? Would they cope? My hope is yes that I've done a decent job with them and they would be fine. Maybe not. Sometimes the voices in our head (and no matter what anyone says everyone hears voices ... they don't always insist we do harmful things or talk at us constantly) are overwhelming.

    So, without mom as a buffer, could my kid be one of those standing on a corner seemingly unaffected by the weather and those around him muttering or screaming? I think so. What would have happen had I given the oldest Ritalin? What about the other? Aside from world peace my other unrealistic wish would be for us to find acceptance as we are and stop running from mental challenges. The extreme pressure to ignore mental traumas is something I find frustrating. We have so much history and so much information to tell us what we need and yet we cannot find a way to treat ourselves humanely when it comes to mental illnesses.

    In my dotage I have come to believe we are all just one bubble off level and it would not take much to push us over to the extreme edge.

    Very thought provoking.

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    1. "Even now with grown up children I spend a good deal of time reassuring them their feelings of isolation and aloneness are common. What if I were not there for them? Would they cope? My hope is yes that I've done a decent job with them and they would be fine. Maybe not."

      celia, I could have written this myself.

      bd

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    2. I had a similar experience as a child to your son's, and my parents a similar experience to yours. ADD and ADHD were yet to become well known. I don't know what I was diagnosed with, but I was thought wrong and odd because I didn't like interacting with others, spent a lot of time by myself, was socially awkward, read a lot, and wet my pants all the time. I saw psychiatrist after psychiatrist, psychologist after psychologist, and was given medication I hated (and used to put down the sink if I could).

      Hey, I was just a little bit different to other kids. And probably not that much different, really. I grew up ok. I still need lots of time to myself, I don't like close personal relationships, I can only cope with social situations if I drink, and I read a heap! But I have friends who love me, I do a worthwhile and difficult job, I pay my bills, I travel, and I am very, very happy. Your boys are fine. You did well. You sent them into the world being the best people they can be, and they are probably better than many others. Rest easy, and look after yourself.

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  31. Jim --

    Thank you for taking the time to ask him if he was alright.

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  32. As an autistic person, I grew up watching the respected members of the community babbling like lunatics, falling down in the aisles of their church, cavorting wildly up and down its aisles during musical services... I was fourteen...fifteen years old.
    People saying nothing that someone else in the room claimed meant something...

    There was no reality... only this gibbering madness.

    At that age, I enjoyed H.P. Lovecraft's work because it read almost like an instruction manual. Within the context of his fiction I formed a framework... took a context that made all of it make more sense...however twisted that context was.

    And I realized that I did not want whatever it was these people were selling. I didn't yet know what exactly it was I did want... but I knew it wasn't that.

    And yet... these were the people who called *me* crazy. A 'psychopath'... a delinquent whose only actual crime was not believing that 'Sex' was printed on Ritz crackers and there were satanic messages to be heard if you played certain albums backward.

    As someone once said... 'Sometimes the only sane response to an insane world *is* insanity'...
    I had an Oprah childhood. Once diagnosed, PTSD took 15 years to get to manageable levels...
    As an artist,. the only peace I've found has been in defining Sanity for myself.
    Sanity is the pursuit of Reality at all costs.

    The US court of law does not permit spectral evidence to be accepted by the jury.
    Neither will I.

    Anybody who talks to invisible people who isn't using a cell phone... Is insane...

    And insane people show up keenly on my radar as a result. Because they're dangerous.
    They may not look dangerous. Many of them claim the exact opposite... that they want to help you.

    But they'll cut the skin right off of you and tell you it's because it's dirty, and only blood can wash it clean.

    I sometimes wish those people could be invisible to me... but know it's better that they aren't.
    That my traumas make me keen to them. That my bullshit meter has a very low tolerance.
    It's safer when you see them.

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    1. Oh yeah, but I hate that it has made me cynical about people. I used to take people as they are , gullible and trusting before doubting. Now I tend to first wonder who the "real" person is behind the facade they are presenting. And sadly, there have been very few people I have met who have been the same inside exactly as what they have presented outside.

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  33. I talk to myself frequently. If I am overheard I tell people that the only time to worry is if I answer myself in a different voice.

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    1. Glad you added that last bit, because I answer myself in my own voice quite often...

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  34. For a man trained to protect and defend and who knows many many different ways to kill, you are a very gentle and compassionate person. Not only to you make us think and feel. You also elicits such meaningful responses from your readers.



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  35. Everybody's on the phone . . . .so connected, and all alone.

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  36. Sadly I am fully aware of the impact of mental illness. When I was in college, my older brother (by about 5 years) came to visit. At the time he was about 26. He was fully under the severe impact of schizophrenia and so complete unaware of another other than the perceived Rapture and the second coming of Christ. It was so frightening to see it in a person who you had grown up with, and have known all your life. He honestly thought our mother and sister were the devil. Thankfully we were able to get him some help, and he has been doing great for the last 25 years now. And still to this day, my heart goes out to all those who are talking to "invisible" people. I am with you Jim, I always try to help, sometimes they accept it, other times I just have to go on my way and hope they get help. Thanks for the post, it really was extremely well written, and hit home to me.

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  37. Nick formerly from the O.C.February 14, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    For the first time ever I checked the box "You are my God" because I believe he saw what you did there, and it just seemed so appropriate somehow.

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  38. I work with people who have many different social issues, including homelessness, mental health issues, poverty, drug and alcohol problems, and various health issues (quite often all of those things).

    On Friday nights a friend and I go and drink and discuss our work. Last night we were talking about the importance of companion animals for many of our clients, and he told me a story. It was a story about a client of his a few years ago who was homeless. This man had a beloved dog, which went everywhere with him. The man also had a problem with alcohol.

    One day my friend saw this man on the street. He had sat down somewhere to drink, and had used a long piece of rope to tie the dog to his leg. As the day progressed, the man passed out in a pool of vomit. He lay on the ground, not moving. The dog was a couple of metres or so away from him, still attached to his leg. And my friend said there were a lot of people there. Clustered around the dog, patting and cooing to it, discussing whether they should call a rescue society. Not one person was close to the man. Not one person looked at him. Not one person called an ambulance. Not until my friend came.

    Yep, there are layers, and layers, and layers in these stories.

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  39. To look at it another way, I didn't get the impression that Jim was afraid OF the man in the story--not in a serious way, at least. Thus, not a danger to others in a recognizable fashion. And Jim didn't feel on casual observation that he was a danger to himself. And Jim pointed out that he was dressed more or less appropriately for the environment where you found him, and didn't appear starved, or overtly ill, so he was achieving successful self-care. Right there, in a nutshell, is all that is required. (At least in my state--it may be different, elsewhere.) (And sorry if I over-used your name, I tried it with pronouns, and it got tangled up quickly, but then I wasn't sure if I should direct it only to you, so, awkward.)

    Where it gets murky is the point of contact with others. For myself, as a supposedly sane person, if I were to go out and file a false police report against someone because I was mad at them, (or as a lark, or on a dare, or for the fun of it, or--you get the idea) I could expect to get into legal trouble, possibly spend a little time in jail, if I repeat the action and a stern warning didn't make me stop. If I walked into a school and demanded to see a child not my own, for which I do not have visiting privileges, I could expect some level of kerfuffle. Possibly even a visit from law enforcement. If I were to leave foully worded, slanderous, and hateful voicemails on private and business and law enforcement workers' phones, I could expect penalties.

    Yet my experiences over the last two years point to the notion that all you need, to do all those things and have a "get out jail free card" is let it be known that you are mentally ill. Mother isn't a "danger" to herself or others. I can't even get a Protection from Harassment Order. And even though she has allowed herself to become a walking skeleton (5'8" should not weigh less than 100#) they still deem that she is doing sufficient self-care. So Yay, Freedom!

    Half of me wants nothing more than to run as far away, as fast as I can, and devil take the hindmost. Change my name, and the names of my children and husband, if that's what it takes. If she blows away in a gust of wind, so be it. (There are reasons I don't move. Compelling reasons that some might discount, but others might applaud. Suffice to say, I'm stuck here, and not likely to leave for the foreseeable future.)

    The other half of me, the one that has been figuratively beaten bloody and and sore for years, and has almost given up on compassion for this one person, is still worried for her. WHY haven't they figured out what's wrong with her weight? Is she eating? Is her dosage right for the weight she is now? Is she getting enough vitamins and minerals? Last I heard, she had gone vegetarian--I've heard that makes it tough to get enough B12--I've heard that B12 is essential for memory and a host of other things that are important and might play a role in this whole fiasco. But I'm not medically trained, so what is my opinion worth? Yeah, you guessed it. Squat. By HIPAA law, her medical team need HER permission to speak with me. (I can tell them things, but to have a two-way conversation, they need a waiver, signed by her, and since she's mad at me...)

    I grasp the concept that people are allowed to refuse treatment. I do. When will I be allowed to say "Don't contact me again," and make it stick? So far the privilege only appears to run one way. Going back to my old high school government class, the favorite illustration was that holy rollers could roll around on the sidewalk all they wanted, just as long as they didn't impede pedestrian traffic. I'm off the sidewalk, I've walked through the grass, all the way across the street, and she's still rolling into my shins.

    To quote Jim: You can't reason with unreasonable people.

    It's also illegal to use a Clue by Four.

    Someone had better be damn glad of that.

    Gretchen in KS

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    1. Love, the real thing, is painful. You may be the only "sheet anchor" she has left. That puts you in a damnable position, but you will never regret taking the high road, and the example you set for those around you is beyond description (well, maybe Jim could do it, but I can't!)

      This post is about "communication" to a great degree, and I can now recognize your situation in the first sentence; I know it is Gretchen, and my heart contracts with sorrow for a pain I can do nothing to alleviate. How odd that I can make that connection, but I cannot do a single thing for you. It is most distressing.

      JC

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    2. [shaky grin] Don't worry, JC, it's the internet, you aren't required to DO anything. Professionals right here in person can't do anything, either, so please don't feel bad. (Though I'm not trying to tell you not to feel, either. Empathy is not a bad thing.)

      Gretchen in KS

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  40. Ok. Too subtle for me.
    Conventional metaphor of the life-is-a-journey type (head meet hammer ) is obvious to me but
    " Until it occurred to me that it’s no longer possible to easily distinguish the supposed sane from the supposedly insane. It seems these days that we’re all talking to invisible people.

    And maybe that’s the whole problem. "
    opened up too many possibilities to get my lil pea brain around.
    Certainly we are living in a time of great change as regards social interaction, certainly we are seeing that which we thought we knew recede , disappear, become inaccessible, and seemingly new "things" populate the horizon.
    Whether the ground is truly shifting under our feet, our knees are quaking and ankles wobbling, or some combination thereof, so many ways to do things or think things , all that stuff we thought was settled, is rattling and shaking around us and not nearly so solid as it once seemed.
    A lot of us have taken cover in simplistic tribalism . Damn few of us have been able to keep steady enough to walk on ( mixing metaphors here I know)
    And me, I'm sitting on this rock and practicing deep breathing until I can think what to do.

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  41. Jim. I get it, - sorta.
    But my wife would get it. She was a grade one teacher for 35 years and at one point had a particularly itchy, disruptive kid in class. She learned that his mother was a streetwalker and that the kid often came to school tired and sleepy. That's when my wife started wearing an artist's smock in class, - not to keep chalk dust off her clothes but because it had deep pockets where she could store a lot of stuff and then parcel it out to students on as “as-needed” basis. Her specialty was home made cookies and in no time at all, our cookie bill soared. The cost was complicated by a street person, much like the one you described. She passed him every day, when moving from the parking lot to the school about a block away. At first she was afraid of him until the day he showed up with a mutt someone had given him. He now had someone to talk to who didn't seem to care if he often spoke nonsense. She also shared cookies with him (and indirectly, the dog), so, during his bouts of reality, she no longer feared him. She always wrapped each cookie in waxed paper and one day he dropped the paper on the ground so she told him there would be no more cookies if he littered. From then on, he'd carefully unwrap the cookie, give a hunk to the dog and put the paper in his pocket. She later learned he was a Vietnam vet and had been abandoned by his family because of his bizarre behavior
    This cookie routine went on for more than a year and one day he presented my wife with a lunch bag but wouldn't tell her what was inside. When she brought it home, it was so light that I thought he had forgotten to put anything in it. But when I opened the bag, I found a hundred or so sheets of waxed paper that had been cleaned and carefully folded into tiny packets. When he died a month or so later, my wife was the only one outside his circle of street people who went to his service.
    Unfortunately Jim, she never got to see your story. She passed away three weeks ago but even though there is now a great void in my universe, she taught me that often it is the inconsequential things in life that could make a difference.

    Jay East

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    1. Jay, I'm so very sorry for your loss. Your wife sounds like a wonderful person, your memories of her, told here, help her live on. Thanks for sharing her with us // Jim

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    2. I am in tears. I have read through all these posts and felt my lack of interacting. Your wife made a difference. I wish I had her courage. I will remember her courage as I move through my days. Thank you.

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    3. o god i'm sorry just a nam vet.

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    4. I am very sorry for your loss, Jay, and have to echo what Jim said, she sounds like a wonderful person. I really appreciate you sharing part of her story with us, it is a powerful lesson for me. What a wonderful connecting gift in a simple homemade cookie. Thank you.

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  42. I've been coming to terms with depression over the last few months. As part of the process, I began an experiment. When people make small talk with me, I actually engage them in conversation about their lives and my own. It has been shocking to learn just how many people A) appear to be very interested in actually talking to someone, and B) have incredible, and often tragic, stories that they just never talk about. I think that there are far more people out there masking the pain so that they can appear "normal" than most of us realize. If that doesn't make us a crazy society, I don't know what does.

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  43. I'm not very good at optimism, but I'll try: one of the advantages of our self-inflicted technological distancing is that we don't really have to get soggy and hard to light when some other net handle goes off and says something stupid. Something for Famous Science Fiction Authors (TM), their editors, their fans, random bloggers, and mooks like me to keep in mind...

    ...though it does strike me as sad that we often care--whether for blessing or for blame--more about people we don't know from Adam's cat due to luminescent text than we do the actual meat-and-bone across the street, or even just one gaddam door down.

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  44. A little bit of good news on this front, actually...

    http://www.upworthy.com/what-sounds-like-a-great-idea-is-actually-working-and-will-give-100000-homeless-a-place-to-live?c=ufb1

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  45. Here in the truly frozen hell of St. Paul, MN, we have a large-ish homeless population. Many of them dwell in my large neighborhood that extends from downtown to the airport. Here and there in the invisible crevices of the city they live. Being across the street from a liquor store on a busy corner with our large garden offers us the opportunity to chat with many of them in their comings and goings through our corner of the 'hood. Mostly they are harmless, usually being in hock to one substance or another and in their station due to such. We have multiple resources for them within a mile or less: clothing, shelter, food, healthcare, etc. However, there are some who truly do seem, as you put it, "off". They have a mental illness that they have chosen not to address, given the county's free resources for them, and their frequent dealings with law enforcement trying to keep them from jumping in front of that bus (or whatever it is they see). Some of them are dangerous-seeming, so we try to avoid drawing their attention. I guess my overly verbose point is: that it really depends on where in a city you spend your time, whether or not these folks are invisible whilst arguing with their invisible friends.

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  46. It's interesting to see the various ideas that people have taken away from this post, and the conversation that it has kicked off. I think the point of it was to get readers to think, about the situation, the homeless man, his mental challenge and the physical challenge of his situation in a place as inhospitable to homelessness as Alaska, technology, a lot of things.

    On the ironic side, the piece points out that it's getting harder to tell the sane from the not-so-sane, due to the behaviors that our technology engenders. Go back 30 years, and if you saw someone pushing a shopping cart around and having an animated conversation with thin air, you knew what you were looking at; today, it could just as well be a soccer mom taking her purchases through the parking lot to her SUV. It's become so ubiquitous that I wonder if people who genuinely are struggling with a mental disease aren't blending into the general scenery of the modern city, even more than they used to.

    Our technology connects, but it also isolates. There is no question that finding Jim's blog has given me a lot of food for thought, over the years. It's made me laugh, and it has, in turns, made me angry (at some of the subjects he writes about, not him), made me shake my head, made me wish my shop had a cat, made me wish that Washington had a few more leaders, and a lot less politicians. Most of all, Stonekettle has made me think. I have never - at least to my knowledge - met any of the people who frequent this blog, nor Jim, but the words on the pages subtly influence my thoughts & conversations when I get up from the computer and go out into the world. The question to ask is, how profoundly would my life have been changed had Jim and I met, in the real world? I'm just saying that, our technology works great to connect us, and to impact us, but only to a certain depth. Not to say at all that all people who use the internet are isolated, but it does enable some people who are genuinely, truly, whether by choice or circumstance, isolated to not feel as if they are. Before all this, the only choice people had was to go out into the world & seek out the meat-space friendships & accept the real-world impacts that such associations have upon our lives. The internet is an entity that gives with one hand, and takes with the other.

    And the crazy and the sane? Yeah. It's gotten a lot harder to tell the two apart.

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  47. P.S.: On a side note, I don't think the tagline for this blog, right below the title, has ever been more appropriate than for this post.

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  48. The real irony here is that this post was written by ShopKat

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    1. Jim is the heart, ShopKat is the soul. I have long suspected that.

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  49. A Steve Earle song & video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uQ3WvHU-7k
    As I watch I'm moved, but I hope the guy is an actor--or at least got paid!

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  50. I can't add too much to what everyone here has said, but I, too, am one who talks to myself, laughs at my jokes, and has a grand old time talking to the air. I live in a very isolated world, with no cell-phone service, so it's easy to fall into talking to myself.
    But here's the thing. I went to NYC and wended all over Brooklyn and Manhattan, and I told my husband that people don't notice my talking to myself, because of all that's been noted in this blog post (cell phones, self-absorbsion, etc). It was refreshing to be one of the many speaking out loud to nobody there. Then I began to thank the litter-picker-uppers, the trash men in the morning, and the folks who keep Brooklyn clean (Ready-Willing-Able). Talk about invisible people. There they are, cleaning up everyone's mess, and never getting a thank you or a howdy. One trash guy tries to save lost items for the folks who left them on a bench. One RWA and I had several meet-ups for gab over my time in the City. Many of them became my morning pals. It was cool.
    The invisible people can be perfectly sane and wonderful, so don't be afraid to tell them hi!

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  51. My first time here. Thanks for the words. I'm a writer, you're doing a good job.

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  52. Dear Mr. Wright, I just stumbled upon Stonekettle a few days ago and am reading my way though the essays step by step. As you have already "made" me buy Heinlein's and Varley's books, here is one for you on the subject of invisible people: Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" (and if I just made a fool of myself, because somenone like yourself has probably read all of Gaiman's works and knows them by heart... well so be it).
    And just a note to say: Thank you for this, all of it!

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