Empathy

The other day, not long ago, I went over the electric company office to cancel my old electric account I had the place I lived. Blog readers may recall I moved around January 1st, and I’ve since nicknamed my old place The Oven due to the extremely high heat I endured there. In fact, it was so hot, with 18 hours of direct sun beating down and no insulation, that I literally had to flee for my life.

I am not sure precisely which day it was that I went to the electric company. I knew this had to be done. I’d been putting it off, but I knew if I didn’t do this soon, my former neighbors would break in and turn my electricity back on, and run all sorts of appliances on my juice. I’d have to pay heavily for it. They’d done it before, they could very easily do it again. Such utility siphoning has a name in español, but I don’t recall the word. This is quite common here. You are likely to be victim of utility siphoning, yet you can safely walk the streets at 4am and not have a worry in the world.  These same neighbors maxed out my Internet as well for two months till I found the tiny button to turn off my wifi. See, life is different here. But never mind that.

I chose not to go to my local electric company office but to one in a different town, just to be on the safe side. Why? Because I was scared, at the time. I’d fled, remember? I was afraid of my former neighbors and former landlord. I didn’t want questions and I didn’t want a confrontation. I didn’t want to run into anyone I knew. Just leave me alone and buzz off.

A lovely woman sat at the electric company desk and there was no line to wait in, thank god. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a long line or a waiting room. Today, at this smaller branch office, no one was there, it was completely empty right now. So I used my very best Spanish to explain. I told the woman I no longer lived at the casa and I wanted the cuenta cerrada.

She understood. She needed my documento, which I had with me. For clarity, I pointed out where the number was, since sometimes folks cannot find it easily. I also pointed out the misspelling of my name on my cuenta. I had brought with me a printed copy of my last factura.  So she had to match it according to numero. I explained that I had already paid up, pago, which she could see in her computer. I told her that the company sends me an email if I owe money and then, I log in (inciar) and imprimo el factura o yo pago online. I then told her that my previous neighbors had used my electricity last winter and run an appliance, most likely an electric heater, or more than one, and the high bill had not been from my usage. I also said that no one could live at the house and I had left, yo corro rapido, for that reason.

I suppose it was the rather honest and matter-of-fact way that I stated these things, or the exhausted look on my face, or perhaps simply that this woman had heard all too many tales from people who had experienced the exact same thing from thieving neighbors and homes that simply cannot be lived in. She did not demand proof. She didn’t demand paperwork nor evidence nor prior records nor fingerprints nor witnesses. She nodded. The look of empathy and understanding at that moment was more than enough.

Dear God in Heaven, why are there not enough empathetic and understanding human beings on this planet? Here is this office worker who is, I suppose, not trained to work in the Mental Health System, probably not had much beyond psych 101, yet she had more heart and caring in her than most “staff” and most “doctors” I saw in over three decades in that System.

She listened, she heard, she asked for what I needed (to please close the account) and then, she told me she would see to it that this was done. Now when it comes to the MH System, this seemed such a daunting task. Listening, caring, and any sort of appropriate action. Too much, apparently.

Here’s an example. In fact, there are so many examples of blunders that I can pick any of them out of a hat and any will do. I’ll pick one of the funniest just to keep ya’all reading. I broke a tooth. Why? I had an eating disorder, I was in the middle of a binge and my tooth broke.

It was after hours. You can’t call a dentist after hours. I wasn’t really sure I’d broken that tooth, but I heard a crack. I had this new therapist who had just written to me, “Here’s my cell, if you have any problems, call.” How was I supposed  to know this woman was a manipulative abuser? I didn’t.  I should never have made that call. I ended up following her “advice” and before you knew it, I was at a psych emergency room. Three weeks at McLean Hospital. The whole time I was there, they told me my tooth hurt from anxiety and stuffed me with Haldol. Then, they gave me Trileptal. That turned me into a basket case for months.

Now, if I told this to a psychiatrist, he’d say, “You don’t have the authority to say that.” But wait, this is my body. Do I not have the authority to say what a drug did to me? Do I not have the authority to say I cracked my tooth and these idiot staff claimed it was “anxiety” and didn’t even listen? Yes, I do, since that was my cracked tooth. Was.

By the time the Trileptal wore off enough so I could stand up and walk to the dentist, I had to go to dental surgeon (I’m on ‘caid, remember?) he pulled five teeth in one day without putting me under. I was fine with that till I realized the cracked tooth wasn’t one of those five.

This was the weekend. Thankfully, I knew enough not to call my abusive therapist on her cell! I called the dentist because my tooth was now infected. I got back there. They looked in my mouth. Yes, with these things called eyes. They saw that my tooth was cracked.

No, the patient wasn’t “just anxious.” The tooth is cracked, doc. She’s right.

Now all that took some four or five months. Had I not been “mental patient” it would have been out in a day or two, and I wouldn’t have had five wrong teeth pulled in the process. Profiling increases the tendency to be dismissive, sorry to say. We matter less. Our earning power is lower, if anything. If they lose us, it matters less. We’re expendable. Just another mental patient. Will anyone even care? It’s less expense for taxpayers, less burden, maybe a relief, less nuisance, after all. Just sweep this one under the rug.

All that, since it was like pulling teeth to “prove” my tooth was cracked. Prove. My word was not enough. I couldn’t say “It’s cracked because I heard it crack.” Or I felt it. My word was nothing as mental patient, useless, worthless, like the unreliable narrator in literature. Yet I am highly intelligent and I guess they all forgot that. I showed up on time, I was responsible, and  as “the good patient,” you could pretty much count on me. 

After all those years, I simply got tired of it all. Tired of the role. Tired of playing the game. Tired of being the underling. I wanted equality. I wanted to be respected just like anyone else. I was tired of being looked down on. I was tired of having to back up everything I said with said “proof” since my word was nothing now.

By all means, the System needs to change, it needs to treat people like people. It needs to respect humans as humans. It needs to stop seeing patients as a subclass, as nonhumans, as non-credible. I am tired of hearing about therapists claiming “I am the exception. I don’t abuse!” because these are often the worst, most offensive abusers and boundary-violators. The ones that truly don’t abuse get out of the System fast, they are disgusted, or discouraged, or they work hard to change it, but let me tell you, it’s a tough mountain to move. I’m wondering if we need to beat it to the ground and then, build it back up again, if ever.

Feedback and comments welcome!