It's the Little Things that Count

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    This week I'm resuming the series of Blogs called Choices in Recovery.


    Like every other discipline of interest to mankind [at least in the English speaking world] that deals with specific issues of long standing, the field of mental illness and mental health, develop their own arcane terminology.  Schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, four point constraints, palming (one's medicine), cognitive behavioral therapy, catatonia are all examples of this phenomena.  To make matters even more difficult for the uninitiated, anagrams such as WRAP, ADHD, and IOOV abound.


    For providers these are helpful.  Communications among them becomes much more succinct and efficient (assuming all providers define these shorthand devices to mean the same thing).

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    As a consumer, I get rather tired of all the words with special meanings and all the anagrams that I'm unable to decode.  I tend to become confused, thinking that "Wrap" is the cold, wet blanket used with four point constraints and de-compensation designated someone who is underpaid.  So in this blog, I'm going to try to write something about mental illness and mental health without using any of these words or anagrams.  Wish me luck.


    I worked in Manhattan for over ten years, and my wife and I lived there for five.  The following story is true and well documented in the archives of New York's newspapers and magazines.


    A young man (I believe he was in graduate school) got the best of all jobs for a multitasking student in New York.   He somehow landed a position as a toll collector on the Triboro Bridge.  For him, the only problem with the job was that it was it was boring beyond belief.  He soon began to fall asleep in his toll booth between cars.


    The average elapsed time between cars was about two or three seconds, so it appeared to supervisors [despite the fact that his monetary collections always tallied with car counts at the end of his shift], that he was sleeping on the job.  He was warned.

    The student was desperate.  He couldn't afford to lose his job, so he cast about for something that would keep him awake when on the job.  He found a simple solution.  He began to say "good morning" or "good evening" and to give one M&M to the driver of every car that passed through his toll booth.  It worked like a charm.  Drivers actually began to return his greeting, and on occasion to strike up very short conversations. 


    Much to the delight of his visitors, he expanded his offering to include M&Ms with peanuts and was able to accept requests for specific colors.


    Unfortunately, his solution had an unusual consequence.  On their way into Manhattan in the morning, or on the way out at night, drivers began to make it a point to go to his toll booth.  Soon authorities observed that while other toll booths would have a queue of two or three cars, his booth developed backlogs of twenty or thirty cars.  This was decidedly inconsistent with well established behavioral patterns for New Yorkers.


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    The New York police became convinced that the young man was selling illegal drugs out of his booth.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency began to send disguised agents through his toll booth at random times throughout his work shift.  The M&Ms they collected were taken back to their various laboratories for chemical analyses.  Nothing incriminating was ever found.


    Eventually, the young man was fired for attracting a disproportionate amount of commuters such that it disrupted the flow of traffic at peak commuting hours.


    In the end, however, the union forced the authorities to rehire the young man with payment of lost wages on the condition that he would no longer dispense anything from his toll booth.  The authorities were disappointed to find that drivers continued to queue at his booth.  When interviewed, commuters indicated that they preferred to render their toll "to a friend."


    It would appear, at least in this case, that it "was the little things that counted.""

    Every day we all have opportunities to make a difference in someone else's life.  If these opportunities are seized by us, they can make a difference in someone else's life (and in the process even our own).

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    Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions.  If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.

Published On: September 21, 2008