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  • Writer's pictureLilly

Thoughts from a Bus Encounter

Farewell Inverness! A genealogist here once told me that my ancestors once lived where that shopping center now stands. I’m on the bus to Aberdeen, and it’s a beautiful day for taking in the scenery. But it’s what’s happening inside the bus that is worth discussing right now.

I heard a woman raise her voice to the man she had just met across the aisle, “Stop talking to me right now and I’m not laughing. You are selfish and ignorant, leave me alone.” I was on alert now, because when a woman alone seems to be uncomfortable I prepare myself to go sit next to her in case the situation escalates. (This can go for anyone who seems vulnerable or uncomfortable.) But after a few minutes she started speaking to him calmly, and it became clear that he had made comments about wishing his neighbor would be evicted because she was mentally ill.

She made various attempts to encourage him to be kind to his neighbor, to invite her over for tea, get to know her. To help her understand why her actions were bothering him and suggest a solution. That maybe she needs some help. The comment he said that really sums up how the world views mental illness was this: “She goes about on a bike she can’t be that daft.” I’m proud of her for speaking up. At one point she said, “That’s the problem, people are scared of mental illness, it’s so archaic!” She’s exactly right. I’m sharing this for several reasons:

1) Don’t give up on people just because they do or say something that seems horrible. If you are too upset to be calm then it might be best to leave it. But if you can calmly have a discussion with the person, this is how education and new attitudes can spread. Because he wasn’t the only one hearing her words. Maybe a mentally ill person is in earshot and feels encouraged and less alone to hear someone standing up for them. And maybe someone who has never known someone with mental illness is now thinking about it a bit more. And remember - when people feel defensive, especially if others are listening, they are likely not to take your words to heart in the moment. But you’ve planted a seed.

2) We need to keep up the fight to change the culture around mental illness. Educate yourself if you don’t understand it. Mental illness is as real as a heart attack or diabetes or a broken leg. But people suffer in silence because they feel shame. People like this man spouting off ignorant things can be very intimidating to someone who is already misunderstood and afraid to ask for help.

3) Let go of the expectation that things are going to change to YOUR comfort zone. You may never feel 100% comfortable around someone you don’t understand, but you can try harder to bridge the gap. Even if someone seems a lost cause, keep being kind. This woman disengaged multiple times during her journey, telling him she had enough of him. But she kept coming back. In between they shared laughs and found common ground. And let’s not turn this into a shaming match for this man either. He is clearly ignorant but he let this woman speak. He admitted that his neighbor was probably on the defensive because she isn’t understood.

As she got off the bus she wished him well and encouraged him to try a new approach with his neighbor. She lost energy with this encounter, it was clear and she said as much. But she chose to try, and I think it’s a good lesson for us all - maybe the next time we think “I don’t have the energy for this person” we could try just a bit more. It’s not always the answer but give it some thought. Change doesn’t come without effort, and some of us have voices that others don’t. I wish you all well today, be kind ❤️

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