A Case of Mental Illness, Perhaps My Own...
|The Rabbit Lady. A mid-fifties-ish, grey-haired woman with huge prescription lenses, a button nose, and that lost look with her mouth gaping open. She had a black rabbit. This rabbit was the most educated rabbit in the world because she signed the rabbit up for classes at the university and sat with the rabbit while it attended lectures. It was also the most well-behaved rabbit I have ever seen because it travelled uncaged on a wheeled walker with brakes everywhere it needed to go - to church, to the grocery store, to the university... The Rabbit Lady was wealthy beyond imagination, though you would never know it because she would stop in the drive-thrus of Arby's and Wendy's and Dairy Queen and any other establishment that was drive-thru-able to pick up the change that people dropped while paying for their fast food in the dead of bitter-cold Montana winter. The rabbit almost had its degree from the university when it died. The church kindly had a funeral for the rabbit. After the rabbit died, the Rabbit Lady began stopping her blue Dodge minivan in the middle of traffic to clear storm drains of aluminum cans in high-traffic areas at random.
To this point, I was not irritated or upset with the Rabbit Lady. I was tolerant of her, perhaps feeling a bit sorry for her, realizing that her behaviors were the best she could do and that she had to be allowed to exist, like the rest of us, in peace. EXIST. IN PEACE. Now, here began the problem. I, too, wish to exist. In peace. ME, TOO. I have that right. When I got to know the Rabbit Lady a bit better, I stumbled onto the discovery that I would not be able to exist in peace in her presence. Allow me to explain.
My husband and I decided to go to an amateur radio class together. An hour into the class on a Friday night, the Rabbit Lady showed up, bumbling in amongst us, and having a seat. Not quietly. Not without attracting a lot of attention from our small group. Not without getting exactly what she wanted, which was that attention. She then proceeded to hijack the meeting with off-topic comments and ramblings, laughing insanely between phrases as if they were funny, and being, in her own mind, the life of the party. The scene was akin to that of a home-schooled front-row-learner who does not understand social cues, such as the phrase, "Shut up." And everyone was entirely too nice to her, allowing this hijacking of a perfectly good information session and its transformation into a full three-ring circus act. I looked at her short grey hair, her age, her mental ability, her behavior, her illness, her chained wallet, her holes-in-the-knees faded blue jeans, her t-shirt, her $100 sandals, her too-large-for-her-head glasses, her tiny nose, her posture...and I saw her. I no longer felt sorry for her. I no longer pitied her. I felt anger. For the first time, I saw her, and it boiled my blood within me.
The next morning was the second three-hour session of the amateur radio class. And who was there? The Rabbit Lady. That morning, I found out her name, which I will not mention here for the simple fact that I believe it would be a violation of her privacy. Now she had a name. After another three hours of the same behavior as the previous night, it was a name that I loathed, and a name that brought out rage within my own mind. This cutesy behavior served one purpose. To hijack and destroy, then to draw attention to her and her alone, regardless of the theme or focus or importance of the day's information or events. Who were the rest of these peons breathing her air?
I should mention here that I understand mental illness. I am mentally ill myself. It is very difficult to gain respect and acceptance as a mentally ill person, as I have personal experience with. What bothers me the most about the Rabbit Lady is that her behavior is exactly the reason that people do not want to look a mentally ill person in the eye or say hello - because they do not want to take home every lost puppy in the world and they do not want to have to pry themselves from the icy and pathetic grip of attention-seeking, love-starved, sick, lost people! I have fought against that stigma for many years, and I will have to fight it for the rest of my life. People like the Rabbit Lady make it infinitely harder to fight such a stereotype and it stirs a deep anger within me. With good reason. I want to be accepted, too. But I have to do it like the rest of the world does if it is to be genuine. The Rabbit Lady makes that hard.
The morning of the amateur radio licensing exam. The Rabbit Lady had another lady so rattled by the time the test began that she failed the test. Four times. The Rabbit Lady kept asking off-topic and pointless questions, preventing all explanation of testing procedures and the testing session itself. She asked over and over if she could have scratch paper. To explain, there is nothing at all that you could possibly need scratch paper for on this licensing exam. The proctors told her to use the back of her answer sheet if she needed scratch paper. She told them she could not do that because it would take time to flip the answer sheet over to use it as scratch paper. They had to repeat to her several times that it was not a timed exam. Finally, in order to proceed, they had to give her a stack of blank printer paper for scratch paper before she would allow them to carry on. There were probably fifty or more sheets of paper there. But...she passed the test. Good for her, and I mean that. I had hoped this would calm things a bit, but I was wrong.
New ham night. I had looked forward to this information session and checking into the net for the first time for two weeks! And guess who showed up. The Rabbit Lady. She spouted off her stories and off-topic jibberish to hijack the meeting, and again succeeded because they were, again, too nice to her. In cases like this, you must keep control of your meeting and not allow her to hijack it or you will never get it back. Her main story for the night was how she had a local ham's radio tower torn down because she did not like the interference it was causing in her phone. For the reader's information, it was her responsibility to install an RFI filter on her phone because the licensed ham was just that - licensed - and had done nothing wrong in operating his station. This story, of course, made her wildly popular with all the new hams...NOT. I had to leave mid-session, without even checking into the net which I had so desperately wanted to do, because I could no longer stand the Rabbit Lady's behaviors. I could not take it anymore. So I listened to my fellow new hams check into the net from home on my radio. Now, there is such a thing as timing out the repeater. This means that the timer on the repeater, which exists for the purpose of allowing the repeater to be SHARED, cuts off a transmission when the time limit is up. Often, it is three minutes. Due to the time limit being three minutes (a long time to talk non-stop on the radio), timing out the repeater is considered somewhat embarrassing at best. So you can guess what happened when the Rabbit Lady got on the radio. She timed out the repeater because she was trying to hijack the net. Unbelievable!
Next event? The YARES meeting. Yellowstone Amateur Radio Emergency Services. YARES. Held in the basement of Fire Station #1 in the EOC (Emergency Operations Center). Everything was going fine and most of the old business had been discussed when, who walks in an hour late to the meeting? The Rabbit Lady. And she merrily attempted to hijack the meeting after drawing all attention to herself by bumbling in as she does and looking around, not quietly, for a seat. Thank the gods that most of the business had already been discussed. The topic that we were just getting to, however, was one of great interest to me. The NAMI Billings Bike Ride. NAMI stands for National Alliance for Mental Illness. How fitting that it be hijacked by the Rabbit Lady. But they were smarter this time. They kept talking over, around, and through the Rabbit Lady, cutting her efforts to hijack the meeting short. She did, however, keep on and on about having police sweep the course, to which the coordinators had to keep replying that we are radio communications ONLY - not police, not medics, not sandbaggers, JUST RADIO COMMUNICATIONS. The meeting was delayed somewhat by her presence, but we managed somehow to talk past her enough to get it figured out.
The NAMI Billings Bike Ride. Saturday. I showed up bright and early at Molt about 0730. The Lead was setting up Net Control, which consisted of an 18-foot-high antenna, a coax cable, and a 5W handheld inside his truck at the top of the hill just off the highway beside the Molt Community Center. After the entire event was over, we were getting some lunch inside the community center and listening to the live band when I saw her. The Rabbit Lady. But I had not heard her on the radio. How was that possible? They had managed to keep her off the radio by assigning her a spotting scope to watch the riders on the 20-mile course turn around. At the debriefing, she vowed to wage war on the land owner whose tree was in the way of her spotting scope and to have the tree removed by next year. She could not just MOVE?! She kept commenting and turning to me as if I were going to laugh with her at her wonderful humor and her cunning. I moved as far away from her as possible, and she kept coming over to me and standing between me and the rest of the group at the debriefing. I kept moving away. She kept moving closer. I wanted to scream, "I am NOT your buddy." They asked for last comments to end the debriefing, and she left. The rest of us, though, loosely regrouped after she had gone to further discuss feedback on the day's events. Without the Rabbit Lady.