I have been thinking about this subject a lot recently and never did it hit home more until today.
I rushed down to the shops first thing to get some nappies – we were literally down to our last one – and headed to the store that had the best deal, DH in tow as he was on his way to work. It was quiet still, as it had just turned 9am and I was expecting a quick in and out of the shop.
As I went in, I heard a high pitched groaning noise coming from a man somewhere in the shop. I didn’t think anything of it, until it started getting more and more insistent. My paranoia radar was on full alert by this point but I couldn’t leave – I needed nappies and we couldn’t afford to to anywhere else.
By the time I reached the till it was quite apparent the man was in some distress, with a high pitched keening akin to sounds I have heared from my severely autistic cousin when he is not in a safe place. The man was collapsed in one of the aisles and staff were gathering round him, and the shutters were coming down as they cleared the shop from the general public. I was also feeling quite sad, thinking that could easily be me in that man’s shoes in an episode (DH has had to come and retrieve me from supermarkets and other crowded places on more than one occasion).
There was me and a woman in the queue, and as I hastily paid for my items another keening noise broke out, followed by a very loud tutting noise from behind me! I turned to see this lady with a look of disapproval on her face to the man who was clearly having some sort of horrible episode on the floor.
Well, my jaw could have dropped and I was desperate to give her a piece of my mind, except my Dutch does not stretch to withering put downs that I struggle to find in English at the best of times.
I paid and exited the shop quickly, as two policemen ran in and the shutters went down to resolve whatever problems the poor man had to deal with.
Several things immediately sprang to my mind and have stayed with me since:
– where did compassion go? The man clearly had some form of mental illness yet because he was inconveniencing this woman due to having a meltdown it was impossible for her to go and purchase her cough medicine and sweets elsewhere from a shop less than a minute away (I know, I saw what she had in her basket)??
When did we get so hard as a society that someone so obviously in mental anguish was relegated to being less important than own brand cough medicine and some boiled sweets?
– Dutch police have a reputation for being quick with violence to resolve issues. I also know there have been many cases in the UK of police rough handling people with mental health issues and assuming guilt before checking to see what the real problem is. I know that training on mental health issues is available but I am not sure still how widespread that has been delivered.
I found myself hoping that the police would be gentle with that man and I hope he received proper care and attention.
– that could have been me. I hold it together somehow – well really I freeze and pretend to stare at the shelves before shuffling a bit to the next one, agonisingly waiting for DH to come and get me. I go in on myself. Instead of feeling my flight mode kick in I tried my best to emphasise with the man instead. I really felt his pain, wherever it was coming from. In a way, he is braver than me – he let it out while I hide it away. (Granted, he probably had no choice in the matter but I still think he was brave for even going out in the first place.)
I have been thinking about that man all day. I really hope he got the care he needs. If that woman developed Alzheimers or Parkinson’s or something else equally horrendous (she was older), she had better hope she isn’t judged as harshly as she was judging that poor fellow today.