(sitting outside of a café after Hank’s first morning training run)
Hank: (sipping fresh squeezed orange)
Me: (sharing his gigantic double stack of Portuguese style toast which puts American Texas style toast to shame)
Hank: I am sorry I am not very conversational today.
Me: No worries. We’re doing one of my favorite things.
Hank: Eating torrada (toast)?
Me: That and something called people watching.
Hank: Like just kinda… watching people?
Me: Exactly like just kinda that. We’re observing. We’re enjoying people’s outfits and imagining where they are going.
Hank: I bet she is going to work and those girls are going to the gym. And those grandpas aren’t going anywhere just talking.
Me: See… people watching.
Hank: Mama, this man here walking by, he’s homeless isn’t he?
Me: He is.
Hank: I have seen him a lot.
Me: He has a place he feels safe around here. I don’t want you to be frightened of him, but I want you to give him a lot of space. This man doesn’t live entirely in our world. He suffers from mental illness.
Me: Did you know that every single person has a bit of mental illness? Mental illness is like a spectrum. We all have irrational moments where our brains lie to us, just some more so than others. Mental illness isn’t a choice and you should never judge someone for something we all share.
Hank: Mental illness is a spectrum? So like a rainbow? Like a rainbow with no color only grays and blacks?
Me: That is a good way of thinking about it in the extreme. Mental illness is like a rainbow that degrades from blinding, too-bright color to only grays and blacks, but every person’s rainbow is different. My mental illness rainbow is beautiful and dazzling around the edges but in the center of each color there is a bit of a shadow. That shadow is where my pain and grief about my poor health lives. There are days when I am more in the shadow than I am in the beautiful light and vice versa.
Hank: I totally understand. I think my rainbow is solid color but with cracks in it where I get nervous and scared like around new people, crowds and stuff or about going to my new school.
Me: (nodding, sipping my coffee) But those cracks are also important. Cracks are how the light gets into dark spaces.
Hank: (nodding) That man? He speaks to himself and I have seen him hit himself before. His rainbow is gray and black.
Me: Even the darkest mental illness rainbows have bright moments. We can’t see each other’s rainbows, but we can send love and light to darken the gray days.
Hank: Does he want a home, but can’t have one?
Me: I don’t know his story, Hank. Many people with mental illness chose to live outside because it makes them feel safer and it allows them the freedom they need. As long as a person knows that there is always help and assistant available and they aren’t hurting anyone we should respect they are making their best choices. That man can walk into any health center or the hospital and receive help. He knows that.
Hank: Same with someone who is addicted to drugs.
Hank: Are people who use drugs mentally ill, too?
Me: Not necessarily in the same way. Again, mental illness is a spectrum.
Hank: A rainbow we all have on the inside.