Three years ago, I went through a “hell of an ordeal” according to my court-ordered psychiatrist. I’ve been working on compiling a list of all the experiences I had during my mania and psychosis, and I hope to post it soon, but it isn’t ready yet. I did want to share this moment from my list, since it shows some of the random kindness I was shown.
At one point, I got off a bus in San Francisco. I can’t remember what I was doing before I got on the bus, just that I had a sign from the universe (I saw signs everywhere) that said I should get off here. I did, holding all of my bags, and just lost it. I sat down on the corner of the street, my bags all around me, and started bawling. I was ugly-crying, in public, and people were just kind of stepping over and around me like I was completely invisible.
I didn’t know what to do, where to go. Then all of a sudden, this slight blonde girl totally saw me.
She knelt down and asked me if I was okay, and gave me a hug. She was SO sweet. She was really thin, and seemed like maybe she was on drug,s or perhaps was recently clean. I couldn’t tell. She told me that she could help me, but I had to go with her and this guy. He had one arm and seemed very angry. I didn’t really want to go with him, but I sorta trusted her (and had nothing better to do) so I decided to hang with them for awhile.
I helped them run their errands at the bicycle shop and the grocery store, then it was time to go. They lived way out, past the end of the BART line. But I was starting to get scared.
The one-armed guy was acting really weird, and he kept disrespecting her. She kept telling me not to mind him, he was just drunk. Having no concern for my own safety, I kept asking her if she was okay. She reassured me that she was, but when we walked past the Ducati dealership, he ran inside and shook one of the motorcycles and ran out again. The salesmen started yelling at him, and he started yelling back. He was wasted. It really freaked me out, so after we turned a corner and they went into one last store, I crept around the corner and ditched them. I never ran into them again.
I felt really bad for leaving her with him. There she was trying to help me, and she probably could have used some help herself. I was in no position to help anyone.
It’s so weird, as I go through these experiences and try to arrange them in a chronological way, I have so much trouble. I have such vivid memories of my time on the streets of San Francisco, San Mateo, Oakland. I remember things people said to me, entire conversations. But I can’t remember what happened which day, unless I literally write out every single thing. So I’ve been trying to do that. It’s proven to be a bigger undertaking than I expected.
When you’re out there on the streets, really looking like you belong there, people’s eyes slide right over you. You are no longer a member of society, so you no longer exist. I walked around on crowded sidewalks for over a week, looking lost, talking to myself, crying, yelling, and people just pretended like nothing was happening at all.
One thing happened repeatedly, and that was that random women and homeless people and buskers reached out to ask if I was okay. I never really asked outright for help, but I talked to them. When I still had money, I was handing it out. People that would have been in a position to actually help me, like, people with phones, or cars, never did.
A few times I did approach people with cell phones and asked to use them. Some people said no, but a few people said yes. Sadly, since I had smashed and buried my phone, I didn’t have any telephone numbers. So I would dumbly hold the phone, sometimes calling my estranged husband’s phone since his was the only number I could remember, then hanging up.
But I got genuine smiles from the people waiting outside the shelters. Families on the streets of Oakland gave me hugs. The guy selling hot dogs out in front of Candlestick Park gave me food, and the old black sax player played a few songs while I sang along. There is camaraderie among those with nothing, a kind of solidarity. Against the tough streets of the Bay Area, I had countless positive experiences during my breakdown.
There really are helpers everywhere. Although it took me getting arrested to get the help I really needed, I am still grateful for all the help I did get from random people. The worst part was feeling lonely, alone, helpless. At least when I was talking to people, they were seeing me, and I felt human.
My Missing Person information was out there, but it was not enough to get me found. People go missing every single day, and some of them never turn up. It really does help when people share those Missing Person pictures and signs. I interacted with the police three times before I got in trouble with them, and none of them recognized me as a missing person. It is a terrifying thought.
I am so much better now. I have been on my medications and stable for over three years. I am so lucky. Things could have gone much, much worse for me. If I learned anything from my adventure, it was that no matter where you are, if you reach out for help SOMEone will help you. Be open to that help coming from unexpected places, and next time you see someone on the streets, try giving them a smile. I wasn’t panhandling so people never really gave me money, but I got lots of smiles and they kept me going. Your smile can be the one thing that keeps someone alive, and that is no understatement.
You matter. You can help.