Shan told me he heard on the news that today is National Bipolar Awareness Day. Actually, the national day is in October. This World Bipolar Awareness Day.
For him, though, it's every day. He said Ned is bipolar, too. He knows because Ned had an episode last night at the shelter.
Shan said he's lost 30 pounds since coming to town a month ago. He can't always afford a monthly bus pass, so he walks everywhere. He's on disability and is thinking about spending $37 a month of his check on a health club membership so he can lose more weight.
I'm sure Shan and Ned aren't the only ones in the Day Center who are supposed to benefit from our awareness today.
JB was in town for an appointment with his mental health case worker, who's supposed to see him twice a week. He's living in Delta now, a smaller town about 45 miles away from the clinic. That's a bit far to come for an appointment on a low-end fat-tired bicycle.
However, Medicaid will pay for transportation to and from appointments. In his case, that's a cab, at $3 a mile, or $270 a trip. JB thinks it's crazy, but he doesn't have the services where he lives.
He said, I tried to get them to cut it to once a week. Or just buy me a house near the clinic and I'll walk. It'd be cheaper. They told me next time I could go to jail for a few days until I calmed down, but that's expensive, too. Everything with mental health is expensive, he said. Counseling, inpatient, medications, self-medication. What ever you do, it's expensive.
Some of the people here bear the physical signs of their illness. Loud voices, confused speech, wagging tongues, tics, flat affects, hyperactivity, visible nervousness or severe introversion. But many are like JB, who would pass for "normal" on the street.
Like Shan, some have shared their diagnosis (epilepsy, Tourette's, anxiety, schizo-affective disorder, depression, cancer, and so on). Others keep it to themselves.
But living on the street, it's not that easy. Episodes in public can earn you some jail therapy time.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm too tolerant or gullible. Whether the system that pays for cab rides from Delta but not a room next to the clinic is a bit dysfunctional itself. I wonder if we should be doing more here than provide weak coffee and laundry for the people who walk through that door.
But then I remember it's not my job to judge or diagnose or treat. It's to welcome. To listen. To answer questions. To see the person, not the symptoms.
It's to keep the doors open to a safe place—one that's a few feet north of that bottom they are supposed to hit before they turn their lives around.