How watching a man sleep turned me into Jason Bourne

I looked at him as he lay on his bed.

It was 3 AM and the room was eerily quiet.

Three hours I’d been sitting there next to him.

I decided to break the ice…

“So… why did you try and kill yourself?”

Not my greatest opening line (though, to be fair, probably not my worst either).

It was just another night shift on the psychiatric ward.

I was chatting to Dave – a man whose name I’ve fabricated because I’m old and can’t remember what it was – who’d recently tried to kill himself with an overdose.

He was on a “level 4” observation (always within arm’s length.. Yep, even THEN!) and, as he lay, eyes wide open on his bed, it seemed that neither of us was gonna get any sleep.

As a support worker, I wasn’t a qualified mental health professional.

Sometimes, that can be a bit of an advantage.

Most patients find it intimidating to talk to psychiatrists and nurses.

(it’s kinda like an “everything you will say could be taken down and used as evidence kinda thing)

.. so they often open up to support workers.

We sat there talking awhile, swapping between the deep questions (“would the world be better off without me?”) and the not quite as deep (“Sally Gunnell… would you?”).

And that’s when it happened…

Mid conversation, and in the space of about two seconds, I went from chilling, leaning back in my chair, resting my head against the locker…

… to flying forward and diving for cover on the floor…

I heard a crash and looked back…

One of the other patient’s hands had smacked into the locker my head had been leaning against.

Apparently, this patient had decided to take a swing at me, hoping to smash my head in.

I heard nothing, yet somehow knew to move out of the way.

WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON?

– – –

“I don’t know what it is about this guy. He seems legit, but there’s something…

…Ah well, I’m sure it’ll be OK…”

No, no, no, no… NO!

We humans have been on this earth a while. In that time, we’ve developed some fancy-ass ways of communicating:

Words, text, grunts, speech, and emojis…

It wasn’t always like this.

There was a time all we had was facial expressions and body language – you could just look at someone to know how they felt.

A single look was all it took to express all the feelings, emotions, and information you needed…

… to know if someone wanted to lump you or hump you.

That night, on the ward, it was the former.

Copywriters have known for a long time that it’s not about picking the correct words or phrases…

… it’s the feeling you create in your copy.

We’re not trying to convince a rational mind – we’re trying to persuade an emotional one.

Communication is so much more advanced than what we can verbalise.

When you’re walking around, you’re taking in lots more information than you realise…

It’s like that scene in The Bourne Ultimatum where he’s sat in a diner, having no memory about who he is, or where he came from, yet…

… he still knows that he can run half a mile flat out, that there are 3 exits to the room he’s in and that his best bet for finding a gun is the truck in the parking lot.

He has no idea HOW he knows…

… he just knows.

It’s all well and good making a pros and cons list to rationalise a decision, but…

… if your gut is screaming “NO!”, even if you don’t know why, you should probably listen to that.

It’s not about blindly following every single gut instinct you have, rather…

… it’s about PAYING ATTENTION to it when it pops it head up.

This is the kind of superpower that you’d kill for if you didn’t have it already.

(Spidey sense FTW!)

On the psychiatric ward that night, I have no idea what made me duck.

I don’t know if I clocked any sign of danger in Dave’s face or what, but whatever it was…

… it stopped me from getting my head smashed in.

I’m quite thankful for that.

John