I live in Rochester, Minnesota, which basically is famous only for being home to the Mayo Clinic. My biggest health problem is mental, not physical (I’m bipolar).
Several years ago, my internist snagged me a consultation with the psychiatrist who is nationally known for his work with bipolar disorder. After a three-hour discussion that felt like it ranged from birth to present day, he asked if I had questions. I said yes, just one: “Is this ever going to get any better?”
He then felt compelled — after all that time — to tell me the research showed it got worse as people aged, not better, and he was very sorry, but he couldn’t help me.
I was a little irked, as you might imagine.
I’ve been even more irked, in the ensuing years, to discover he was right.
I’ve been through a ton of therapy, both individual and group. I’ve seen psychiatry residents (the trainees) come and go. I have a psychiatrist in a town two hours away whom I happily make the drive to see, because he’s always gone well out of his way to help me, and because it’s obvious that he cares.
And I’ve been hospitalized three times in the past year and a half or so. And that’s where Doug comes in.
Doug is the parking ramp attendant at the “psychiatry and psychology center,” as Mayo calls it. (It’s really offices on the bottom floor and the hospital on the upper floors.) Most days, I’m in and out in an hour or a bit more. He runs my ticket through, takes my $3, wishes me a good day and we both get on with things.
I was saved by a social worker with a stack of parking passes during this recent hospitalization. I was in for seven days, so he gave me two five-day passes to cover the stay, my followup visits, and one more to use as needed.
I stuffed everything in my car, trundled down to Doug’s spot at the end of the ramp, and handed him my ticket (with a date a week prior stamped on it) and both passes. He seemed surprised I had two.
“Yeah, I was here for a while,” I said.
“I guess so!” he said, as he ran my ticket through — for $84.
And then he handed me back one of the passes — unused — and told me he hoped I’d have a good day.
For someone who’d just gotten out of a psychiatric hospital for being actively suicidal, among other things, that was a heck of a random act of kindness.
I have a friend who keeps trying to get me to maintain a gratitude list. When you are that far down in the abyss, it’s hard to find anything to be grateful for. And it’s hard to imagine that there are people who are genuinely kind. They may be hard to find sometimes, but they’re out there. My psychiatrist is one. Doug is another.
I won’t take either for granted anymore. And I might even not assume that nice people are a rarity. And, I might even try to be one myself. Could be tough – the words most often applied to me are “cantankerous” and “curmudgeon” – but what’s life without goals?
To all the people who have been needlessly kind to me – thank you. To all the people I’ve been incredibly awful to – I apologize. Sometimes the illness gets in the way. Sometimes my lack of filter between brain and mouth gets in the way, too. But from now on?
From now on, I’m going to try to be like Doug.