Discover more from Aamer's Letters
Bipolar Disorder & The People That Make An Impact
A diagnosis that seemed apt and a journey that made dealing with unpredictable people a bit easier. And yes, an introduction that you will skip.
This one’s about the unpredictable landlord.
A Story For You
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” - Marcel Proust
If you quickly skimmed through that quote, it’ll seem like philosophical gibberish that everyone chooses to ignore because they’d rather get to the meaty part of the newsletter. However, that quote summarizes this story beautifully. Read that once again before you scroll further, maybe even close your eyes and reminisce. Breathe. Be present. Live.
Human connection, that’s what keeps us alive. Unfortunately or fortunately, you’re not purely you - you’re a culmination of all those interactions, all those experiences, those conversations you’ve had with people you’ve met over the course of your life. We’ve learnt to prosper together, to build homes and live together, to share this wonderful world… together.
(Jeez, what are you guys on about?)
Right, right, we’ll get to the story…
Finding an accommodation in Birmingham is easy; but finding a private student residence that’s safe, accessible and budget-friendly is not. I was pursuing my master’s degree and was desperately in need of a roof over my head. Fortunately, I lucked out with one - its landlord was a 75-year old fragile British man with a gravelly voice.
A mutual friend connected us and asked my other friend and me to pay him a visit, so we took the first bus to the location and were on his doorstep in no time. He opened the creaky door but didn’t greet us. Instead, he opted for silence and showed us around, his back to us the entire time. I’d say he was grumpy given that the only words that came out of his mouth during our interaction was in conjunction with us keeping quiet if we decided to reside there.
He wasn’t the best first impression giver, but the rent was desirable and the neighborhood was safe enough to not keep my parents awake at night. As a student, barely surviving on the income from juggling several part-time jobs, that’s all that mattered. We nodded in agreement and I moved in - the top floor was mine. It was a lovely home, not too photogenic but it was good value for money. The cherry on the cake was that I barely saw my grumpy, old landlord for the first week. John wasn’t around much and that was one less thing I had to worry about, with everything that goes into moving in and making a place your own.
But it was his house and it wasn’t long before I bumped into him. I hopped downstairs to make myself some breakfast and caught him humming and cooking in the kitchen. He even managed to pull off a smile and initiated a conversation. This was the same person that commanded his peace and quiet the week before. It was perplexing; I even thought of the possibility that this was his twin brother, the lesser of two evils.
He turned out to be quite the conversationalist. I even told him that he didn’t make a particularly great first impression. He grinned but with sorrow and said that a week ago, I had met with a sensitive, ornery old man whose wife passed away due to a cancer; and that he barely ever saw his children. The years that followed, were spent drinking wine and gardening and that if I caught a hold of him in the afternoon, he would be too wasted to care. He discreetly designated his mornings to have good chats.
We’re not as moody as John but we do enjoy the occasional ‘new subscriber’ mail! Help us get there, won't you?
I had obviously judged him too quickly. It was good to come across his softer side though. Honestly, I was a bit relieved. For a week, I thought I was living in a safe neighborhood but not a safe household.
He went AWOL for a couple of weeks after our little chitchat until one day, we heard someone bellowing outside the house. A fellow renter was making a ruckus and a fuming John hurled insults at his neighbors for allowing such a monstrosity inside their homes, disrupting the sanctity of the neighborhood. It was terrifying to see him in that state and I retracted my opinion of him, reinstating the one I had during our first encounter.
He was unpredictable. Was he moody or bipolar?
Well, it seemed like the latter but it was my diagnosis and I was no expert. He showed some symptoms though:
Abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired. Check.
Depressed mood. Check.
Exaggerated sense of well-being and euphoria. Check.
Manic episode. Check.
It was unclear but he had ticked some of the symptom boxes of bipolar disorder. I could’ve never known for sure and I wouldn’t have risked asking him.
The following day, I ran into him in the hallway, on the way to the kitchen. He was going for grocery shopping and asked me if I needed anything from the mart. He was in a much better mood but I was still frightened because of the episode the previous day so I respectfully declined, worried that it might create an unwarranted reaction. He followed that up by asking me if there was a particular fruit that my friend and I would like to try since he was heading to the farmer’s market. I had already declined once so I politely said, “We do enjoy strawberries.”
“Sounds good,” he chirped before he left the house.
I returned home from university to prepare lunch, only to find two boxes of strawberries and a heartwarming sticky note to go with it.
It was really sweet of him but that gesture added another layer to the confusion. Was he a good person or a bad person?
We all have this itch to put people into little black and white boxes and I had it too. But John was making it incredibly difficult for me to label him. He wasn’t a danger to society but he didn’t exactly radiate harmless energy either. It was all a bit much in the beginning but with time, his fits and subsequent acts of kindness became a part of our lives. We even started keeping track of his drinking regimen to avoid meeting him when we thought he would be in a bad mood. It doesn’t sound as restrictive as I’m making it out to be because he never once showed aggression towards us in the time we lived with him.
It was only during one particular month that I stretched my efforts to avoid him and that was because the rent was overdue and I was strapped for cash. He was quick to notice and act on the avoidance as well. I opened the door one day to find a beautiful handwritten letter that wrote, “Are you having problems with rent this month? If so, all you’ve got to do is tell me. It’s definitely way less painful than avoiding me, don’t you think?”
John, you beauty. From that moment on, whatever my complex little brain said about John and his fits, I took it with a pinch of salt. I was done trying to label him. Because I had accepted him.
A Story for You
We’re all a bit more evolved than just categorizing people as good or bad. John taught me a lot of things about human nature and acceptance.
In fact, it was because of John that I learnt how to deal with people that couldn’t control their emotions. It came easier to me because I had the practice.
Who are the people that have made a difference to your life?
Ever so uncritical,
PS: I really feel his wife haunted that house!