The Soloist

I watched this movie, on the flight from Singapore to HK.  In case you’re not familiar with the storyline – its about a chance encounter between a journalist and a homeless cellist, which led to an unlikely friendship.  Both of them received something from that friendship, even though you may think that the weaker one was the homeless guy.  His name is Nathaniel, so I’ll address him as such.    Nathaniel was a gifted musician who enrolled into a prestigious music school, only to drop out before graduating.  He had symptoms typical of schizophrenia – hearing voices in his head.  Instead of getting treatment for it, he chose to live in open space and play his instrument.  And this was how the journalist – Steve – met him. 

The movie dealt with issues of homelessness and people living with mental illness.  There’s a severe lack of understanding of mental illness.  Unlike physical illnes, where we show the ‘evidence’ of being physically ill, with mental illness, it is often all in the mind.  With very little ‘evidence’ of  suffering, people afflicted with mental illness are easily brushed off as attention-seeking, weird or lazy.  They are misunderstood at best and ignored, at worst. 

I remembered thinking during the movie, “how did life get so complicated and how easy it is to lose our way in life”.  Somehow it’s as-if, there are more people suffering from mental illness now, compared to say 60 years ago.  Maybe then, there was alot less diagnosis and people just carried on with life.  Perhaps now, with increased awareness and discovery of new mental illnesses (and diagnosis),  more people are coming out to seek treatment.  Although there is more awareness but people who’ve never suffered from mental illness find it hard to empathise.  In most parts of asia, there is still a stigma attached to being diagnosed with mental illness. 

I was deeply moved by the movie because it challenged a few of my preconceived notion about the homeless and lost.  It was enlightening to see self-less people (Lamp Community) dedicate their life to helping the homeless and people with psychological problem as they try to manage as best as they can.  One lesson i learnt from watching the movie is that medication isn’t the only way to treat problems.  Just like the journalist in the movie, I’d wrongly assumed that to help means to force medical diagnosis, wrongly believing that a proper diagnosis would lead to proper medication and a better quality of life.   Maybe in some cases, it will help.  But more often, this help is neither requested nor required.

Again and again, I’m reminded that Acceptance and unconditional friendship is what we need.

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