I was probably 10 or 11 when I understood what mental illness was. My dad played on an “Over 40” recreational baseball team. Much to the delight of my brother and I, my dad would haul us with him to all games and put us to work as the team’s bat boys. We got to sit in the dugout and really feel like part of the squad. Needless to say, it was quite the experience for the two of us to be in close proximity to so many grown men with competitive juices flowing and no filters.
My bro and I had the pleasure of lending our bat boy services to the Spokane Marlins for two seasons. Although not much changed from one season to the next as the Marlins struggled to win more games than lose, there was one noticeable difference…
On a team with a lot of loud mouths and characters, there was one person on the team who was rather reserved that initial season. I will call him “Joey,” a quiet man who would join my dad, brother, and me for sessions of Pepper prior to the ballgames starting. He didn’t say much but could swing the bat and hold his own in the field. Glen and I looked up to him.
The next season Joey returned to the team but something was off. No, it wasn’t just that his batting mechanics deteriorated and he could no longer track a pop fly. Rather, skill level regression be damned, it was how he acted in the dugout. Once the reserved and polite presence on the bench, Joey was now unhinged. He would say wacky things—not in an overconfident, over-the-hill bravado manner—but in the same vein as a child would. It seemed as if Joey had turned into a big kid.
Of course this was pretty jarring to my brother and I. We laughed with some of the other guys at first, thinking it was Joey just being funny, but it didn’t take long for us to know something wasn’t right. I remember going home after a game during the start of that second season and asking my dad about Joey. My brother and I still remember his words…
“Joey is really sick, guys,” my dad explained to us.
Although it took some thinking on the part of my brother and I to know what my dad meant (as we naturally thought ‘sick’ in the physical sense), we came to understand what he meant.
On Saturday night, my wife, kids, and I went to a diner in the Spokane Valley for dinner. This particular restaurant caters to truck drivers so naturally the food is delicious and the portions large 😂. The bitter cold weather we have recently experienced in the Inland Northwest kept the crowd away on this particular evening. Just one table was occupied with a handful of truckers and then a woman held down a booth in the corner. Our family sat in a booth near the woman. Sloan and I sat on the side within eyesight of her while Sid and Beau sat across from us.
I quickly noticed her uncontrollable fidgeting and audible conversation she was having with herself. With the frigid temperatures outside and my assessment that she probably didn’t have anywhere else to go, I felt bad for her.
As the meal went on and the server brought food to both the woman’s table and our own, I noticed she was becoming agitated. I don’t know if it had something to do with the food or another factor, but after the check was brought to her table, I watched as she jumped out of her booth and sprinted to the front of the restaurant. She had some type of conversation with the hostess and returned with a to-go box. She proceeded to violently and loudly shovel her remaining food into her to-go box while engaging in an argument with people who weren’t there. At this point I had given Sloan my phone to watch so her attention wouldn’t be drawn to the transpiring scene.
The episode concluded with the woman making another mad sprint but this time she completely exited the restaurant, running out into the dark, cold night. She left all of her stuff in the booth but did not return before we left.
The Saturday night incident could have been a teaching moment for Sloan. But I still think she is too young and I kept her eyes shielded the entire time. Instead, I let it just serve as another reminder of how rampant and debilitating mental illness is.
Also, over the weekend, I was able to watch a film that I am convinced was commentary on what it is like to live with metal illness. If you have the chance to watch “Self-Reliance” on Hulu (Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick star) give it a chance. I think it is insight into what Joey and the woman at the restaurant must go through. Let’s pray for everyone with mental illness and their families. Don’t Blink.