After watching a Toronto Fringe show that touched on anxiety disorders, it was fitting that I found myself walking around the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) with a man who believed that raccoons were trying to scare him from entering the building. The show was over and a friend and I decided to get a drink. We finished and walked along the north side of CAMH when a man, whom I'd later come to know as Nathan and probably about my age, approached us. Nathan looked genuinely scared and started telling us about how some raccoons jumped out of nowhere and wanted to attack him. He walked along with my friend and I to the next block and we parted ways.
Nathan kept following me, caught up and told me about the raccoons again. "Listen, man," Nathan said. "I'm just trying to get inside CAMH. Do you think you could help me?" I tried to explain to him that I didn't know how to get inside at this time of night. "Look," he said. "I just got out of jail this morning, I'm a little high and I tried to get inside, but the raccoons came out of nowhere."
Now, it was probably not the wisest idea, but I finally relented and we crossed the street and through the side entrance of CAMH. We passed the stone walls that were built by patients in the 1890s. The grounds were dark and lonely. No one was around. A side entrance was lit and we headed over. From the outside, I agreed to walk into an area with no people around, with many dark and quiet places, accompanying a man who just told me he got out of jail and was very high. Not a great plan. I believe I have a fairly good instinct about people and honestly didn't feel any hostility from Nathan. He really just seemed to need some help, and in his mind, that help was inside this building and to get in, he needed me.
Despite some alarming red flags, it made me disappointed in myself that I initially jumped to certain conclusions. At least I had the state of mind to correct these initial thoughts and pulled myself on to the side of trusting this person, even though he was a complete stranger. Maybe it's just me, but I think that we're conditioned to be cynical about others. These little small things, such as putting my trust in others, is a small step to just feeling like a human being, to feel alive in the world and feel as though I'm participating and engaging with it.
Of course, none of these thoughts appeared while we walked through the CAMH grounds. Even though I was fighting this cynical perspective and inability to trust, I was also hyper aware and extremely present, looking for any shift in the air. We made it to the side door, but it was locked. Again, a part of me thought, Well, here is where it happens, where this guy turns. He didn't, if anything, he seemed to grow more desperate and more in need of help. I could've just walked away at this point, but I suggested that we try the front door. "That was where the raccoons were," he said. "I'm here to help you," I replied. "You're not afraid of the raccoons?" He asked. "No, I'll scare them off if they come around."
We walked around the side of CAMH and towards the front door. About twenty feet away, Nathan stopped and looked terrified. This was where he first encountered the raccoons. I approached the door, but it was also locked. There was an intercom and I pushed the button for help. It squawked and a barely incomprehensible voice asked what I wanted. I said that I think there is a person out here that needs help, could someone let us in. There was a long pause, I looked back at Nathan who was fidgeting from one foot to the other, his eyes darting around the perimeter of the entrance. Finally, a loud buzzer sounded and I heard the door unlock. I motioned for Nathan as I opened the door and held it for him. He ran towards the door, stepped inside. Once inside the foyer, he turned to me and said, "You're a good man. You should be happy you helped me."
I waited at the front door, watching Nathan as he walked down the hallway where someone met him. I didn't feel like a good man because I walked home to my place a block away, knowing that I had so much to be thankful for in my life. Felt bad because I've sometimes thought how quickly this could all go away and that this is something I should think about more understand more. What I do believe is that there is little difference between myself and someone who has ended up suffering from a mental illness or has had no choice but to commit a crime or be taken over by addictions. Felt bad because I should appreciate what I have more, should realize it could all disappear and disappear quickly. I should recognize that what I have now, at this moment, is all I'll ever need. I sat out on my balcony for a long time, thinking and hoping that Nathan got the help he needed.