Friday, January 11, 2013

The Mylar Period: Get Well Soon

It seemed like a good idea. That’s how pretty much everything starts with me. I think it’s a good idea and since it’s a good idea, other people will follow suit and play along. It never happens this way.

I saw a picture of a dead raccoon on the side of a road. Tied to the dead raccoon’s leg was a Mylar balloon that said Get Well Soon. It floated 6 feet above the dead animal, framed by a wire fence and rolling hills in the background. The picture had more questions than answers.

What I saw was a different take on the Get Well Soon balloon. Instead of the omnipresent photo of a skier with a broken leg, a Get Well Balloon hovering over the injured in the corner of the room, I saw the balloon in a different light, in a different context. I imagined the Get Well Balloon being given everyday of the year, to anybody that was depressed, having a bad day, hiding dark thoughts and/or the myriad of people with various mental illnesses. Basically everybody! Everybody deserved a Good Luck Balloon…at any time… on any day. It was a big thought for a small picture.

This idea set me off. It was a bit after the shootings in Connecticut, and mental illness was foremost in the collective minds of the nation. To embrace the new idea, I changed my Instagram bio to: Accepting Get Well Balloons every day of the year. I mean, come on, I’m a tad mentally ill (getting worse as I get older), so why don’t I get a balloon?

I came up with a plan.

Before work, I stopped at SF Party Supply to get a Get Well Soon balloon. I’d been in the store before and I knew they could supply my needs – them or possibly Safeway. I’d seen a few Mylar balloons floating near the flower area at Safeway. Safeway would be a backup.

SF Party opened at 9 am; I was their first customer.

A person that looked like he didn’t work there – possibly the owner – asked if I needed help. I told him I wanted a balloon and he summoned help. The help produced a 1 inch thick catalog of various Mylar balloons, in all shapes, sizes and colors. It was awesome and got me really excited. I had no idea the enormity of the Mylar balloon community.

He opened the catalog and found the Get Well Soon section. I looked at about 30 different designs and picked one that was easy to read. He went downstairs for a few minutes and returned with one balloon.

On the short drive to work, I came up with a narrative to go with the balloon:

The Get Well Soon balloon is greater than broken bones. It’s greater than the flu. And it’s now for mental illness too.

I felt the balloon needed a mission statement.

And there would be rules to handling the balloon:

1. The balloon would go with me everywhere for one day: car, work, meetings, bathroom, therapy, Subway (lunch), corner store, etc. Tucked in my pocket, following me like a shadow blimp, I would attempt to act non-chalaunt, like it was a bag or some other accoutrement.

2. Seeing no visible problem, inevitably, someone would ask what was wrong. If they asked about my wellness, I would pull out a small piece of yellow lined paper from my pocket. Written on the paper would be 21 personal problems. The problems would range from personal problems to the heartbreak of psoriasis.

I would ask them to choose a number between 1 and 21. Depending on how well I knew then, how much I wanted to share and a myriad of other on-the-spot criterion, I would truthfully share the info on the number they chose, or I would lie and toss them a soft ball: mild depression.

Given the choice of sharing personal thoughts with friends, family or coworkers, or choosing to keep them to myself, I mostly chose the easy route of keeping the family secrets intact. No brainer. However, the unintended consequence of growing closer to a friend (or changing the relationship rules and freaking them out) through sharing a fear or a hidden ailment was a nice afterthought. It never happened, though.

3. After sharing, I would answer questions. When conversation ceased, the rules of our departure would be explained: “When I leave, I want you to say, ‘Get well soon, Greg.’” This was the best part of the game. Oddly, everybody I encountered played along with game and wished me well.

As I prepared to leave work, exhausted from my day with the balloon, my coworker looked at me and said, “Tell people you’re an artist and your medium is Mylar.”

I thought about it, shook my head and opened the door to my office.

“Hey, Greg,” he continued. I turned and looked: “Get well soon.”

“Thanks, man. I’ll try,” I replied, smiling.

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