Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What Goes Around Comes Around

Sometimes when I’m driving, I see a car stopped in the road, often with someone inside who’s trying to figure out what to do.  I’ve been in that situation more than once myself, and know what a frustrating and even scary experience it can be to have a car stall or shut down, so I’ve made it a personal rule to pull over and try to help.  Is it easy to do that every time?  No.  I don’t know much about engines, and I’m almost always hurrying to something important.  But I know what a relief it is to be in that situation and have someone stop and offer to help.  No matter what each of us has going on, we’re all in this life together, and it’s important to remember that when we see someone in need of help.  Like in this week’s story...

Jonny was ten years old when he first started experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia.  It was also around that age when he first began to feel attraction to others of the same sex.  But these weren’t happy, pleasant feelings.  In fact, what he felt most was an enormous sense of shame.  Being Jewish, Jonny had been taught that homosexuality was a sin, so he did his best to deny any existence of his feelings for other young men throughout his teenage years.

At the age of twenty, Jonny became deeply unwell with psychosis.  He believed he was being possessed by the devil, and that it was happening to him because he had done something seriously wrong.  After being admitted to a hospital, Jonny was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.  And as treatment began, his psychiatrist naturally began asking questions about his previous relationships. 

No one ever discussed the possibility of complete recovery from schizophrenia, nor had anyone in Jonny’s life ever proposed that it was acceptable to be gay.  His background just didn’t allow for it.  But as the conversations with his psychiatrist progressed, Jonny began to recall the memory of being a ten year old boy experiencing attraction to another male.  The feelings were unbearable, and his immediate thought was, "I'm going to kill myself."

At around 10am on the 14th of January, 2008, Jonny went to Waterloo Bridge in central London, feeling distressed and hopeless.  Unable to come to terms with his circumstances, he had decided to end his life.  He climbed over the railing, readying himself to jump off the bridge.

Before he could jump, he was approached by a passerby.  The man, a total stranger, was on his way to work when he saw Jonny.  It was clear what Jonny’s intentions were.  The man was very calm as he walked up, and he simply said, ‘Please don’t do this.  I've been where you are and you can get better.  Let's have a coffee and we can talk about this.”  The man’s words reminded Jonny of what people do every day, and he found the normality of it inviting.  He climbed back over the railing to safety, where police were waiting to take him for medical attention.  He never got to know the stranger’s name.

Exactly six years after the incident, Jonny Benjamin, who has since learned how to manage his mental illness, undertook a campaign to find the good Samaritan who helped save his life, in hopes of finally being able to thank him.  Calling the man “Mike” because he couldn’t remember his actual name, Jonny spread his #findMike mission through social media, where it was soon trending worldwide, augmented by TV, radio, and newspaper interviews.  Within two weeks, “Mike,” whose real name is Neil Laybourn, had been located.

Speaking about the incident, Neil says, "I did what anyone would do.  I wasn’t trying to fix his problems that day, I just listened."

"He was the first person to give me hope," Jonny says.  "His words actually prompted my recovery, and I can safely say now, on my 27th birthday, that I am truly the happiest I have ever been.  It means the world to me to have finally had the opportunity to say thank you.”

Today, Jonny Benjamin works as a mental health campaigner with an organization called Rethink Mental Illness, and his outlook sums up the We Are Connected Mindset perfectly:  “The impact of someone planting even the tiniest seed of hope can have a profound impact upon the mind that had no hope before.”  When it comes to living your dreams, just remember that we need each other… because if you can achieve your dreams alone, you’re probably not dreaming big enough.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

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