Decaf, Ok? Part 4


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red coffee cup with shadowI look back on my interaction with Dan as a pivot point in my understanding of who we are as human beings, and want we want.  I began to recognize that, at our core, we simply want to be valued by another human being.  But too often to be valued we first have to be trusted.  I think we have this out of sequence.  It seems that to develop trust, we first need to feel valued. Too often we see each other through a lens of judgment and prejudice, rarely doing good enough.   How can trust develop through a lens of such intolerance?

Dan wanted to feel valuable, but his mental illness left him apparently unpredictable, and therefore untrustworthy.  Left without value.  In some odd way,  his psychosis afforded him a degree of protection, leaving him oblivious to the stigma of mental illness so prevalent in our society.  But even so, I believe he sensed he was not trusted, nor valued, and this activated his need to protect himself and survive.  I present here the last part of Dan’s story, but in a future blog will explore the broad ramification of the stigma of mental “illness” and how using the Imax approach can shift the lens, and shift the brain.

Decaf, OK?
Part 4

Some weeks passed.  Slowly, slowly, slowly Dan began his return to reality.  His paranoia abated, his rage receded, and he began to connect to the world in a way he had not done for almost half his life.  He had not passed a day without being psychotic or delusional, despite heroic efforts with medication after medication.

And now he was beginning to clear.

And now he began to see his reality without the lens of psychosis obscuring his vision.

And now was very, very real.

I sat with Dan after his psychosis had cleared.  Together we began to look forward, to a time when he could indeed leave the confines of a psychiatric hospital and start his life in the community.

“What have you done to me?” he asked.

His question took me by surprise.

“What have you done?” he repeated. “I didn’t know what I had lost.  All those years.  Why have you done this to me?”

Dan was no more psychotic, but the enormous grief of sixteen years lost was beginning to overwhelm him.  He began to wonder about his friends from high school, how they had gone on with their lives while his had been frozen in a world where his mind betrayed him, where he lived without freedom, locked in the abyss of his mental illness.

Free of those chains, he now had to face his world, far, far behind his peers, far, far away from his family who had grown on without him, never giving up, but having to give up, having to continue with their lives.  His mother had died without him being aware.  His father was now old and infirm.  His brothers and sisters moved to other States, families, children, jobs.

And he had nothing but his sanity.  It was too much to bear.  The horror and trauma of his sixteen years of psychosis, an unexpected defense against the despair he now experienced.

No more psychotic, he was depressed.

Healing has its dark side, as some people begin to face the results of rescue.  Perhaps infirm, perhaps with handicap, perhaps with anger, deep regret, the grief and loss and outrage of opportunity gone, of facing days upon future days with a body or mind that had betrayed them at the deepest level.

I put Dan on an antidepressant.  It would not heal his wounds of lost years, but would at least give him a chance to begin his path back to some degree of functionality.  He had every right to grieve, but at the same time could not afford a regression back into psychosis, although part of him desperately yearned for this retreat.

In time he rallied.  A team was built around Dan, and he was, indeed, able to transition slowly slowly slowly to a group home, a day treatment program, closely monitored, given job coaching, training, support.  He was not a stupid man, and without the gauze cowl distortion of his psychosis quickly learned a skill at which he excelled.  With time and help he rebuilt a life, not as a replacement for his lost years, but rich with potential, and a renewed sense of whom he was, who he had been, and how he was emerging out of the fearful world of distortion and depression.

Dan taught me a lesson.  A break with reality can be a trauma, but coming back can sometimes be worse.  At first.

And it is always good to have someone with whom to share a cup of coffee, even if it is decaf.