Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I am thankful for having no mental health issues.

Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November and has been a annual tradition in the USA since 1863, when during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday November 26th. 

In the UK, we don't celebrate this tradition nearly in the same way.  As a child, I remember our thanksgiving celebrations were around donating tins of food which would be collected during the month of November and then distributed to people in the community who were down on their luck.  It was a happy time where we would be thankful for having food on the table and remembering others who were less fortunate, which, I have to say, I often felt bad about as it was also in stark juxtaposition with me being taught to have humility and never looking down on others. 

Anyway, yesterday as I was having a small bowl of soup in the cafe where I met the lovely Ian (I went there to give him the photographs as promised), I noticed a chap who I had seen at the other side of Edinburgh a few weeks previously.

This chap Anders, Dexter and I had all noticed on a Saturday, two or three weeks earlier because he had the most extreme case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) we had ever seen.  I think in fact everyone had noticed him, although in the usual "don't stare as it is rude" British approach that is common, most people avoided potentially getting anywhere near his gaze including me.  The irony of this attitude being I don't think he would have noticed as he was too consumed in his own world.  Today I got to observe again, but this time, unlike the last time, I got to observe a few more of the rituals he follows to get through his day. It was like looking through a window on a bus travelling though his world which today seemed a little more familiar.

This chap is a tall, thin and striking looking, in fact he looks almost like a living walking skeleton as he is so painfully gaunt.  He had a continual self dialogue (which was audible to others) which I would describe as him muttering orders to himself with singular concentration - in effect telling himself what he must next do in order to continue with whatever he was trying to do next, and at times he seemed very angry which was most disturbing as I am not sure he meant that to be the case.   

His rituals involved the jangling of a huge bunch of keys on a chain attached to his waist (surprising he could even carry it as he looks so frail), movement of objects on his table, pacing the cafe up and down and becoming confused yet throughout all this he continuously muttered instructions to himself to remain calm (which of course to others seemed aggressive/rude and scary in addition to being uncomfortably strange and abnormal).  If someone approached him to ask a question or pass him on the wrong side his whole routine would be disrupted and he would either have to start again or combat it with some "special" quick fix counter "spell". In one case this involved going back to his table as he was leaving, taking his hat and jacket off and putting them back on again because his leaving ritual had been interrupted.

This was both extremely sad and also compelling to watch.  The owner of the newsagents next door in fact commented to Anders and Dexter (once this chap had left the newsagents where they had popped into to buy Dexter a comic) that he came in there quite regularly, and took 4 or 5 attempts of putting the monies due for goods into the shopkeepers hand in addition to the fact that he couldn't leave the shop if someone passed him on the wrong side or opened the door for him unless he then went through what was in effect a "cleansing ritual".

Having never seen him before then, today here he was in the same cafe in which I had met the most charming Ian who seemed very mentally happy and normal.   I saw him from the window as soon as I approached to enter myself (you couldn't miss him as he was sitting right at the front next to the door where you could see he felt comfortable as in his mind he was in a position of control).  He sat in full view conversing with his scone with clotted cream and jam (his food did look really nice) and his coffee.  He periodically surveyed the routes between the toilets, counter and exit, but unlike Ian who was interested in making first contact, this chap was looking for his escape route and ensuring that his timing would be perfect to allow him safe passage.

So, as I saw him again and watched as he handled strangers who unknowingly on entering and looking for a nice space to sit and have a coffee would brush against or approach him to ask if the extra seats by him were taken or if he was about to leave (much to his discomfort), I thought to myself, I am so grateful that at this moment in time both me and my family have our full mental and physical health.  I am sure he is very pleasant, because cafes that I have seen him in are exceptionally good places to interact with other people in a city that is a sort of running joke in Scotland for its standoffishness.  It is clear he is troubled as anyone would be with his self created set of self imposed rules and restrictions.  Maybe these confines were in fact more bearable than what he might otherwise be like without them, and that is rather scary when I start to even go down that road! 

Whilst I previously might have just mused over this and then forgotten all about it (which I in fact did last time), my camera has given me a drive to capture visual stimulus, not necessarily of this type of thing, and therefore maybe this was fate as I didn't do it the last time when Andrew said I should have!   In this case rightly or wrongly it made me feel very thankful for not being him and for not having to cope with what to me appeared to be complete mental torment.  It allowed me to find a way to write about it and remember and also hope he finds happiness through his prison of self imposed rules.  He was anything other than the anti-establishment character his image portrayed.  He was confined, confined to his own hard set of structure and rules and ones that I think most people wouldn't want to have to obey.  His rules clearly controlled his life, something which was in stark contrast to how other people might see him in just passing in the street which he does wearing headphones and listening to who knows what.  In saying that he was very much what everyone else would not want to be themselves which I suppose is the definition of anti establishment - Wow that's almost deep.....

So with that I will end by saying Happy Thanksgiving for the big and small things which sometimes are just taken for granted or as Frazier would say "good mental health"!

On a cheerier note You might also like my blog entry about Captain America or Lancelot the dog.... or Pavement Pounding

Finding Joy | The ABC's of Thanks


  1. This is a beautiful, compassionate post. I am grateful to the coffee shop for not making him leave. I'm afraid that would probably happen where I live.
    My granddaughter has OCD. She is afraid of the weather, especially wind. She can't sleep all night, in case the weather gets bad. She sleeps at dawn until her sister comes home from school. She used to get hysterical all the time, now it is only occasionally. She is home schooled. When you called it a torment, you were right. She is very intelligent and has been angry and depressed because of her condition. It breaks our heart, but she is accepting her life more and more now. She is 13.
    Thank you for caring about people with OCD.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Belle (removed comment previously as I forgot to put the last e in your name - doh)

    I am genuinely sorry to hear your granddaughter has this, and I hope that she finds her own place and space in society where people will accept her and allow her to enjoy her life too.

    Thank you for leaving this comment, I am so glad that having read the post, you saw it for how I hoped it would be read. I wish you and your family a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving.

  4. Happy Thanksgiving to you also.

  5. A beautiful, thought-provoking post. Thank you!...and happy Thanksgiving :D

  6. Thank you for this compelling post. I appreciated reading your words -- it opened my eyes.

    Blessings to you!

    (and thank you for linking up)

  7. Lovely post dear friend. We are lucky indeed.