I was blown by this bit of conversation at the swimming pool.
Context : Me still learning to swim, but gaining basic proficiency (by that I mean, I was floating well and easily swimming across the pool), a newbie in the pool (who was at least 60) and a regular swimmer (again someone who was over 50 at least).
Regular swimmer is giving me and the newbie tips. His advice is good, though slightly patronizing (I learnt on my second day in the pool, why are you still just swimming across, learn to control your breathing and do a lap). His advice to newbie (be regular, you should get to a stage of doing 40 laps if you need to shed that belly of yours). I cant help mentioning that regular swimmer also had a pretty Healthy Belly.
We got around to discussing what we do for a living otherwise and regular swimmer asks newbie, you must be in business too. Newbie replies, “No, I am a doctor.”
Regular swimmer removes his goggles and looks closesly, recognizes him and says “wow Doctor, didnt realize it was you. You may not remember me, but I was one of your patients.”
Normal enough conversation, you may think.
I decide to contribute and ask Doc, so what is your practice doctor, are you a specialist. I expected cardio, or diabetes, or I dont know, maybe opthalmology.
Turns out he is a psychiatrist, running a psychiatric hospital in town.
Regular swimmer adds, “He is a great psychiatrist. Helped me a lot. You should go to him if you have a problem. He also does good counseling. ”
Now this conversation is surreal at so many levels.
For one, in a country like India where it is still rare for people to seek psychiatric help unless driven to it , in a relatively small town (Tier 2 city) like Trichy, where one presumes messages of Therapy is good for you may not have permeated, here is a man openly talking about having sought psychiatric services, to a complete stranger. What is more, he even recommends the service, just as non chalantly as he would a hotel. And considering that till about a moment before in the conversation, this guy was trying to be a total alpha male who was trying to impress us- accomplished swimmer to our bumbling ineptness- this acknowledgement of his vulnerability was surprising. Nay, he did not even think of it as a vulnerability, just stated it in a complete matter of fact way, like he would have if this doc had been any of the other specializations.
I learnt a lot from Regular swimmer, many of it swimming related. It got to a point when he was so judgmental about my efforts that I started going at an alternate time, simply to avoid him. He is definitely not my favorite person, but his casual acknowledgement of his mental health issues thought me a lot. I dont know the precise nature of his problem. I know there are different kinds of mental illness and people sometimes acknowledge a few but not others. But I am simply not bothered. In a situation where he never need to have acknowledged his issues, he tossed it in so casually, and thought me a valuable life lesson.