The Self-Proclaimed "Craziest Man in Uptown": a look into mental illness and homelessness
My main purpose in this post is due to the fact that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I want to bring a little awareness to some of the various issues persons with chronic mental illnesses go through, especially when they are homeless....
Before I concentrate on Shane's sad reality and the unusual hope he possesses, I want to draw attention to three other posts I recently finished, each focusing on different aspects of mental illness in the homeless community. Another important fact I want to quickly mention is; not all homeless people are mentally ill and substance abusers, a huge percentage are not! BUT, these 4 posts focus on people who have arrived in their homeless dilemmas as a result of suffering with chronic and debilitating mental illnesses; in other words, these are men and women who have been neglected and rejected, ostracized and criminalized by family, friends, institutions, governing agencies, religious organizations and sadly, even the Church. Christians should be leaders in imitating their Saviour; the One whose love, grace and compassion for outcasts, led Him to the cross so He could set them free!
The 3 Posts I've already written are:
- This is about a man totally unaware of his personal hygiene, how he ostracizes himself and how his very unusual spiritual beliefs put himself in grave danger from Chicago's unforgiving temperatures and any callous thugs: Stinky Shorts In Frigid Temperatures
- This is about another man whose impulsiveness, schizophrenia and bi-polar, coupled with an inability to read and write, have caused him to be unable to function properly in this technological world and how he remains constantly in danger of physical harm: Money Crazy: Crazy For Money
- I wrote this one a while ago: this focuses on another aspect of mental illness which is often neglected, due to it's paralyzing silence. Yet many people in the homeless community (and also in the housed world) struggle with it daily: Social Phobia Anxiety Disorder and Homelessness!
I have known Shane for over 10 years; you cannot miss him. He is a tall African American who is extremely loud and obnoxious. His laugh would echo throughout Uptown, bringing smiles to those who know him and fear to the masses that don't. He is someone who violates all rules of etiquette, without even knowing it. There are so many aspects to Shane, that it's virtually impossible to summarize. He lacks any impulse control, whether it's his vulgar language, laughing at his same old slogans, taking off his shoes and putting his feet on your desk, lifting up and carrying a colleague across Broadway or pouching on someone simply for eating his peanut butter cups. Rationality and sensibility often vanished, ending in a nonsensical and totally illogical discussion, where in his mind it was very logical and he'd get louder and louder, expecting us to hush.
We made concerted effort after concerted effort in get him all the appropriate help we could, but there was only so far we could go. Through networking and much agony and perseverance, success happened, as we helped him get on SSI and obtain housing. Yet, his paranoia would cling him like a glove, he would abandon his "hard fought for" residence and go sleep on a local loading dock with many other homeless brothers and sisters. We saw apartment after apartment vanish because of this paranoia; he'd have a place to his own, but he felt safer under the gritty and smoggy Chicago skies. We tried to regulate his eating, sleeping and medicine, but that was extremely difficult also, because Shane would constantly be functioning in one of two conditions: frantically and energetically loud and in your face, needing every millimeter of your attention, or he'd transition within a split second, his head would droop and be snoring and drooling in a comatose state. When this happened, it was a welcome relief from the pure raw energy that had exuded from Shane: this transition was remarkable sight to behold, as was trying to wake this man up!
YET, WE HAD NOW BECOME HIS FAMILY. He loved us dearly, we loved him dearly too.
Everything changed about a year ago, he suddenly couldn't walk. He was trapped, stuck on an Uptown loading dock, where he'd just spent the night. Some of the other homeless fellas knew about his dilemma and told Sandy, who picked him up in the van, took him to the hospital and he ended in the psyche ward.
This past year has been a torturous experience for Shane. He has had to suffer through many different hospitals, Nursing Homes and fates. Since being picked up that morning, he has never walked again. A horrible infection polluted his body. Last month, half his leg was amputated just above the knee. On this new journey with Shane, I've seen him on days when he's been excited, alert and laughing, while on other days, he's been drooling, unable to talk, eat by himself, or even lift an arm. He's been hooked up to multiple machines. Last year, I didn't expect him to make it into 2012, yet surprisingly, these days he seems more energetic, alert and alive. Shane and I can sit in his room and have logical and meaningful conversations.
Shane turned just 41 a couple weeks ago. Many of us celebrated his special day with him. Sandy brought him a massive cake, as homeless friends, case-workers and people from the neighborhood flooded his room. He loved it. Muriwai and her 7 year old friend, Mattie, both made him lovely "home-made" birthday cards, which they personally gave him, making him grin from ear to ear. It was a beautiful sight to behold. He felt loved and special. We had become his family.
In spite of all this, Shane handles his life with remarkable optimism and a very unusual hope. Shane in all his vulgar language, confusing logic and frightening mannerisms, possesses a strong faith in God and a desire to do "what is right!" Shane lives through each moment, day by day, adapting and making the most of all his tragedies.
The reason I wrote about Shane is not just to tell his rather depressing story, it is to acknowledge an often forgotten and neglected side of living with a severe mental illness. Shane has been repeatably subject to the same isolation, neglect and criminalization Alexander and La'Shawn suffer with, but he also suffers with another reality; a lower life expectancy. Studies show that men and women struggling with severe mental illness have a lower life-expectancy rate. Some of the statistics estimate a 20 - 25 year difference, while more conservative studies estimate closer to a 10 - 15 year comparison. Both set of figures reveal alarming contrasts, and therefore increase our awareness in needing to support, and be family, to people like Shane, Alexander and La'Shawn. Shane is living on death's bed, and he has only just reached the tender age of 41.
The sheer reality of the extremely confusing and chaotic lives these men lead, triggered by their mental illnesses, has resulted in a life unable to stabilize and "do" the things they need to "do"! Severe mental illness is the chief reason Shane is dying at such a young age. It has been virtually impossible for him to eat and drink properly, take his medications when needed and get the rest he's always needed. His paranoia, lack of impulse control, schizophrenia and bi-polar possess him, causing all structure and routine to vanish. Even with our love and support, even with our networking and referring, and even with our discipline and guidance, chaos still reigned and Shane is still dying.
BUT SHANE KNOWS HE'S LOVED (especially by Sandy who he compassionately calls "mother") AND HE KNOWS WE"RE HIS FAMILY!
Today, when we visit Shane in hospitals and Nursing Homes, all we can do is compassionately love the man who boldly proclaimed and gave himself the title; "craziness man in Uptown". Whether it's through those noisy and frightening psychotic episodes or confusing silence or an alarming stench or involuntarily submitting someone to the hospital or visiting someone on their death bed, our compassionate love needs to be that Revolutionary Kingdom Love Jesus demonstrated.