So, I changed jobs recently and now work directly in the field with people who have serious mental issues and because of that their independent life is limited to zero. It’s a challenging job, even compared to what I used to do before, which was similar, but now the level is more acute. It’s a good challenge for me to stay objective and caring in the face of the intensity of the issues these people experience on 24/7 basis.
Some of my patients are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and this is something I have never worked with / faced before, except for hearing some stories about family members of one or two of my friends or classmates. And then there was this movie.
I watched Rain Man for the first time when I was 13, I think. And I thought it was funny. Well, up to about ¾ of it. And then it started to get more emotional, and I thought it was a great drama. It challenged something in me, and it felt good. But when I watched it again, I thought it was funny, again. The way Ray acted/behaved, it was hilarious. It became one of my favorite movies.
“Are you taking any prescription medication?”
“That means he likes you.”
Up to that point I watched the movie and for many years after I haven’t met people with any kinds of mental disorders, and I never heard of autism and of what it does to people. I had no family members who had a mental illness. I knew no friends who had it either. If I saw a person on a street or on a bus who was exhibiting a strange behavior, which was rare back in Russia, I just told myself they were “not all there,” and I just stayed away and didn’t make eye contact.
So, Ray The Rain Man was funny. To me he wasn’t one of thousands of people in the world afflicted with a debilitating disorder. He was just one unique fellow from a movie. Good story. Funny movements and peculiarities.
“Hey Raymond, am I using you? Am I using you, Raymond?”
“Shut up! He is answering a question from a half hour ago!”
Time passed. I finished school, changed work places, battled addiction, and came to work at a downtown city homeless shelter where I witnessed people behaving in every way imaginable. There was addiction, grief, loss, behavioral issues, and there was mental illness at all stages experienced by people from near all walks of life. I worked at that field and some other similar ones for over ten years. Around the time I started that journey, my brother started experiencing serious issues which were eventually diagnosed as the bipolar disorder.
Now, as I said earlier, I changed jobs again and now work with folks, among whom there are people diagnosed with autism. And though it hadn’t happened before, on the second day of working there, I recalled Rain Man movie. The scenes from it started jumping out at me. I was amazed how little I knew about something that I was directly dealing with. So often I had no idea how to be of help to my patients, sort of glad that I was not a nurse or a doctor.
“What is the issue?”
“He lives in his imaginary world.”
“OK, but are there any issues?”
So, I went and bought the movie to watch it yet again, because it’s been a long while. Had a great time watching it, but it didn’t feel the same. I mean, it was still fun, but it wasn’t hilarious anymore. Now that I have experienced, from a spectator and mental health worker point of view, the tiny bit of what people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder go through, there wasn’t as much roaring laughter out of me as it used to be. I then knew he was not a peculiar funny guy. He was one of so many rain men and women who were terrified of the world around them if one small thing was altered, rules changed, new people appeared. Ray as played by Dustin Hoffman was the person with a high functioning form of autism, but in my eyes, he still suffered, which is something I didn’t realize for a very long time.
“Raymond, do you know what autistic is?”
“You know that word?”
“Are you autistic?”
“I don’t think so. No. Definitely not.”
Still, I had a great time watching it and telling my partner who watched it with me about my few experiences at work regarding the behaviors Ray was exhibiting on the screen.
This time the movie has taught me something else about mental health and people. We’re all vulnerable. We are imperfect, and we hate to show it. We can be affected by events out of our control so often and so quick. And this movie, although I didn’t realize that for a long time, showed me that. The fragile sides of human personality. The sides that push away our inner desire to be caring for others. And that when we don’t understand something, we laugh at it. That laughter can be endearing, but it could be hurtful, especially if one misunderstood stranger is faced with a group of the ones not in the know. Now because I know how addiction affects mental health, I can understand how people can feel when they are ostracized, laughed at, shamed, and persecuted for something they have no power over.
Thank you yet again, Levinson/Hoffman/Cruise team. I learned something again. And thanks for the laugh again, but with no roar this time.
“Well, Raymond, aren’t you more comfortable in your favorite K-Mart clothes?”
“Tell him, Ray.”
Quotes used in the post are from the movie, tracked by memory or copied from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095953/quotes/?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu . Front image was copied from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095953/?ref_=tt_mv . thank you.