One of the standard questions I ask every patient as a matter of course is this:
“What’s your normal day like? How do you spend your usual day?”
Now, think about how you would answer that question if I put it to you.
If you’re a well-to-do type, you might spend an hour in the morning walking your standard-cut poodle around the block. Then you’d go to the club for some tennis, have lunch on the veranda afterward and clean up for an afternoon shopping trip into town. On arriving home, you’d tip the yard help and the pool guy for their services, go inside your air conditioned house, and catch up on the last week of soaps recorded on your TiVo. A nap would definitely be in order after that.
If you’re a member of the wide but shrinking middle class, you’d do laundry and last night’s dishes in the morning, get dressed and strike out for the local Walmart, shop for specials for a couple of hours, then go past the frozen yogurt place and indulge in a sweet treat to beat the summer heat.
Either way, your affluence drives your lifestyle.
“I’m not affluent!” you protest, maybe a tad too loudly.
Yeah, okay, whatever. I watch you respond to the ding of your iPhone like Pavlov’s dog, fish your Ray-Bans off the top of your head and walk outside to get into your shiny new Ford with sync, leather seats and optional moon roof.
Maybe I overgeneralize just a tad. Maybe I put you in a box that you don’t exactly fit in, but you see my point here.
How about my psychiatric patients? The standard, run of the mill folk who come to see me for panic attacks, chronic depression and schizophrenia. Do I get the same pet-studded, iPhone spangled, new-car-smell answer from these guys?
“How do you spend your time? What do you do all day most days?”
“No, really, what do you do all day?”
I’m a little frustrated now. Do they not understand the question? Am I making this too hard?
“Okay, let me change that a little. Do you have any activiites that you enjoy? Any hobbies?”
“I used to fish, maybe go play some bingo,” answers the obese lady with bad hair and worse clothes. She had bipolar disorder before bipolar disorder was cool.
“I used to hunt, but I haven’t been in the woods since W was President,” says the man wearing faded jeans and a flannel shirt against the summer heat.
“I just sit on the couch,” says the rail-thin woman with a penchant for Percocet.
“Do you watch TV, or read, or crochet or anything?” I ask, searching my brain.
Trailer Park Activities for two hundred, please, Alex.
“You just sit on the couch.”
“Yeah. All day.”
You know, people-in-the-don’t-know usually think that those with mental illness scheme and connive to get their six hundred bucks a month free and easy disability money so that they can sit around and do nothing all day and live the good life.
I’m here to tell you that the ones who sit around all day doing nothing, and that’s exactly what it appears that they do sometimes, are not happy with it. They’re not happily raking in the dough, pulling contentedly at the government teat and feeling smug and satisfied.
They’d much rather be like you and me, rushed to pick up the kids after school or planning birthday parties and taking the occasional drive up to the lake for a barbecue. Their schizophrenia and the voices that come with it tell them to sit tight. Their panic attacks are so bad that they never step outside the front door. The heavy wool cloak of depression draped over their shoulders is oppressively hot in the summertime and weighs them down to the point of furnertia.
That is, they sit on the couch and do nothing.
Frustrated by the business and busyness of your day? Too much on your plate? Too many places to be today?
It could be worse.
You could be doing nothing today.
And the next day.