Friday, October 8, 2010

Dealing Compassionately with Bat Shit Crazy

Long story short, there is a woman who has stopped by my kid's preschool twice, unexpectedly, to ask the teacher for copies of any old school records of her son's, whom she claims attended the preschool about 5 years ago. Word on the street in our small town is that this woman suffers from some sort of mental illness. (I g00gled her and found out some disturbing shit, but I digress.) Turns out her son never officially attended the school, but he sat in on a class with her once.

Then parents at the school started gossiping. Now some members of the preschool's Board are wondering if filing a restraining order would help keep everyone safe.

I think they are right to be a little freaked out at a gut-level, but I feel that perhaps they are jumping the gun with all the restraining order talk. The fact is, she may be bat shit crazy, but she has technically done nothing wrong: she showed up 2 times so far, both were times when the Board was meeting and the public was invited. Not during class times when kids were present. Not at times when members of the public were uninvited.

My personal feeling is that sometimes, when it comes to the mentally ill (i.e. people like this who blog about the CIA coming after them at the doctor's office, and who also have lawsuits pending against the city, the police dept, the fire dept, her son's foster family, etc) restraining orders don't necessarily work like magic at keeping them away. I understand the knee-jerk, mama bear reaction is to come at her with proverbial guns blazing. But I wonder if that would be counterproductive, and would just inflame the situation.

I just feel bad for her, and for people like her. If the truly insane don't know they are insane, then what an incredibly horrible existence. To actually believe g-men are coming for you, and that your kid was taken away for no good reason, and that no one believes you?? Holy hell that would be so unimaginably awful. Thank the lawd for mental health... even if I don't always have as firm a grip on it as I would like.

Part of me thinks we should re-think our current social policy of letting the mentally ill roam around unmedicated, too often creating real problems and harrassing people. My mom always talks about the old state homes they used to have - full of awful abuses too, no doubt. But the alternative need not be a scene from "Shock Corridor." I realize there were coercive mis-institutionalizations. Surely we can do better.


Cloud said...

That is a hard one.

I used to live in a neighborhood by the beach, and the beach is a great place to hang out if you are homeless. And a lot of people are homeless because they are, as you say, bat shit crazy. There were regular crazy guys that we recognized and knew what to expect when we saw.

I have to admit, I'm happy that there is less of that in my new neighborhood. But then I feel kind of bad about that, because it is not like the problem went away. We just moved away from it.

Melba said...

Yeah. This one is hard. We can't just institutionalize all these people left right and centre. Most aren't really a danger to society, just a nuissance. There's a big difference, and how can you institutionalize someone for being a nuissance? BUT, what if the institution made life better for that person, but they just don't know it? Then do we have the right to put them there against their will? Probably not. What to do, what to do.

Once I volunteered at a soup kitchen and I was the Coffee Lady. All these homeless people in line for their cup of coffee. There was one fellow who would get his coffee, then get right back in line for another. When he got to the front asking for another coffee I made a joke about him being back so soon. He looked at me as if I was bat shit crazy, took his coffee, and got right back in line. He had no idea he'd already had a cup. He did this all night, each time asking for his coffee as if he'd never seen me before and this was his first cup. He had like 15 cups. It's no wonder he was homeless, and it just made me so sad that he lives his life in constant confusion over why everyone else acts so strange. He doesn't even know that it's him that's acting strange.

I agree though that a restraining order isn't the answer for this woman in your community. It doesn't sound like she's a danger, just a nuissance. What she really needs is real help from her family or friends, but unfortunately not everyone has a decent support system, and not everyone will accept help either. Its just so unfortunate and sad for her, like you said.

Maria said...

The truth is, people with mental illness are very rarely violent or dangerous to other people. "Psycho" is mostly false advertising. And it's a very safe bet that someone who has a mental illness and is *not* acting scary is not going to suddenly get violent out of nowhere. Compassion is, as you said, a very good policy.

It doesn't seem to me that they would be able to get a restraining order anyway. She has not harmed or threatened anyone, only shown up in a place she was legally allowed to be and asked a question, right? Sure it was an illogical question but that's hardly dangerous.

If I can't get a restraining order against an angry, violent abuser who has a history of violence against women including me, I can't see how the preschool board could get one against the woman you describe. In general you have to be in "imminent fear" for your safety to get a restraining order. Of course, speaking of batshit crazy, the courts tend to make very little sense to me, so I could be wrong.

Good for you for speaking up for this woman in her suffering. I encourage you to advocate with the powers that be for compassion.

Jac said...

I've written and erased my comment several times. I have a bat shit crazy MIL (no longer in our lives - thank god). She was of the harmful variety (physically, mentally, emotionally). Frankly, it's a lot easier to be compassionate from a distance.

mom2boy said...

I have found there are things I believe and then faced with a practical aspect of it maybe I don't really want to apply it to my life so maybe I only believe it in theory? Anyway, it is a tough situation, but I agree that the restraining order idea isn't a very good one since she doesn't seem to be connecting the dots very well anyway. Social service programs are a tough sell especially these days it seems. Much easier to look away. Like I do when I'm stopped at a street light and a person in an orange vest is standing there with the help I'm hungry sign. I don't have any good answers.

hush said...

@Cloud - I know exactly what you mean when you mention homeless beach people - we had shopping cart dudes and a lady everyone called "Crazy Mary" in our old Chicago neighborhood. I often wonder how they are getting by.

@Melba - The coffee guy story breaks my heart. What a way to live.

@Maria - I hear you on courts making very little sense! The restraining order talk seems to have been tabled for now, but if she shows up again I know I am going to have to do some serious persuading with the Board - mainly so they don't waste $ and resources to get something that will be denied anyway.

@Jac - My MIL is also crazy (not quite 'bat shit crazy', more like narcissism, compulsive lying, and faking illnesses), so if you want to say more, I'd love to hear about it. Mostly I'm glad to hear that you have such good boundaries. I have some friends who should have disowned their crazy ass abusive parents long ago!

@mom2boy - "I have found there are things I believe and then faced with a practical aspect of it maybe I don't really want to apply it to my life so maybe I only believe it in theory?" Totally!!