What didn’t happen in Bethany Yeiser’s case
This is one of my favorite videos on YouTube. It is Bethany Yeiser telling her story of being a straight-A college student, to being lost and homeless and schizophrenic, to stumbling onto medical care, getting treatment for her schizophrenia, finally finishing her degree, and then writing a book about her experiences.
This did not earn its place as one of my favorite videos on YouTube because I like the story. I like that it’s a success story in that it has a happy ending. But while this may be a story of success for Miss Yeiser, it is also a story of the failure of our culture to help one of our members sooner and better than we did.
Please watch the video and then hear my brief reactions.
- First, Miss Yeiser: Bravo to you for not giving up. Also, you’re well spoken and engaging and subtly funny which is part of what, to me, gives this presentation its humanity.
- Where is her academic advisor? When a straight-A student fails all her classes fall semester of her senior year, where is the person whose job it is to be aware of that and get in touch with the student and figure out what the fuck is going on? Bethany didn’t fail—she was in the grips of schizophrenia! But the school did fail. They missed a major and obvious indicator that something was going wrong for this student. That intervention, support, and help were not made at the point that a straight-A student failed all her classes is a major failure on the part of the school. This whole story could have gone a different way right here.
- Her becoming homeless in the first place. Of course this should never happen to anyone, but it’s so accepted in our society that I’m not even going to rail against it here.
- The police. What the fuck. She was homeless for four years. She hung out around the university. The same police had to see her over and over for those four years. The police should be getting to know everyone in their area, learning about them, befriending them, have training in recognizing mental illness, and part of their role here should have been recognizing that they had a mentally ill homeless person on their beat and getting her some help! They arrested a woman twice who was talking to herself and took her to jail. It does seem likely that the second arrest was done as a favor to her to put her in a place with food on Thanksgiving, but they should have known years sooner that this woman wandering around the university was suffering mental illness and gotten her to a hospital!
- All of this is not just for Miss Yeiser’s benefit. Yes, we owe it to her as a member of our society to help her when she’s in trouble, and we’d owe that to her if she was a straight-F student. But this is an example where you have a highly intelligent person capable of contributing to society way more than the average person who was incapacitated from making those contributions for four years because we as a society let her wander around sleeping in bathrooms instead of studying molecular biology, playing the violin, writing books, giving inspiring speeches, and who knows what else she can do. We missed out! WHAT KIND OF A SOCIETY LETS ANY OF THEIR CITIZENS—BUT ESPECIALLY THEIR SUPER-SMART ONES—SLEEP IN UNIVERSITY BATHROOMS AND SUFFER FROM TREATABLE MENTAL ILLNESSES WHEN THEY COULD BE BENEFITING US ALL WITH THEIR BRILLIANCE???!!! (And by the way, science has overwhelmingly found that high intelligence is correlated to mental illness. And a huge portion of the homeless are mentally ill.) We need to start seeing this world as a we thing, not a me thing. Untreated, mentally ill, homeless people are not an acceptable loss—in some cases, they’re the cream of the crop of our society, and if you help them a tiny bit, they may be able to help you heaps more. Not having a job or money at the moment does not mean you are a useless person!
I guess that’s it. It’s an issue close to my heart because I’m mentally ill and I’ve been homeless—and when I was it was because I chose not to do immoral things for a sociopathic boss. “Mentally healthy” people don’t make that choice—they look out for #1—they don’t let themselves become homeless (and that often involves cutting moral corners at work). Some of us crazy homeless people get there because we have a higher moral standard than the average employee. So..having a job is not always something you should be congratulating yourself on.
There was a time in my youth when I helped program Anthem’s health care systems. Then there was a later time, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, when I couldn’t get health insurance from the same company I helped build. Think of the irony there. We use people when they can help us, but we don’t help them when they need help..the very people who constructed our ability to help people in the first place. That’s insane.
We are one. As in: we are one organism. If you don’t see that, then that is a point of maturity you lack, but every mouth is connected to every hand and every hand is connected to every mouth. There’s no such thing as some of us winning and some of us losing—there is such thing as all of us winning and there is such thing as all of us losing. Bethany Yeiser, you, me, President Obama, Putin, Hitler, the bird in the tree, bigfoot, Mickey Mouse, some distant nebula..we’re all part of the same organism. When that police officer wants to take his wife to the orchestra for a date, he can’t. They don’t have a violin player. She’s hallucinating in a university bathroom, forgotten by us all.