Never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long
I never heard the melody until I needed the song . . .
. . . I never I spoke “I love you” till I cursed you in vain
Never felt my heart strings until I nearly went insane
–Tom Waites, San Diego Serenade
It is funny how sometimes one cannot really see themselves until they get a glimpse of a harsh paradoxical reality. Perhaps doing so gives one that alternate perspective that is so necessary to really see oneself and gain wisdom. I think that’s what Tom Waites is getting at in the excerpts of his song I posted above. That is why the ability to relate to others is such a powerful teacher and healer that is so needed in a therapeutic endeavor. Other people’s struggles help us stop and see ourselves better. Even if it is painful, growth is likely.
And, just as the song goes, I never really saw myself as a learning-disabled person until I just recently had the opportunity to sit with an individual while she was receiving a mid-life diagnosis. It was a diagnosis that I thought might be helpful. Little did I know that before this sitting, I rarely considered the full effect of how a learning disorder affects me as a writer, therapist and mental health consumer.
I was hired straight out of college into work in the counseling field. I started to work with an adult mental health population at my second professional job at the age of twenty-three. Since that time I have been increasingly focused on how to make therapeutic engagement meaningful when working with people in “psychosis.” In the field there are many who will say or imply this is not possible. They may argue that the mental health system is the best we can do. This story is for the providers who think more can be done to help individuals who have anomalous experiences.
Working my way through graduate school, I can still remember struggling to get my dumb-ass footings as a professional counselor. I remember thinking about how ironic it is that they start you out with the most sophisticated of problems.
“Oh, you’re good,” said this vagabond homeless man who sticks out in my memory.
“What do you mean?” I asked perplexed by how he could affirm me with such confidence.
“Well, I can tell because you just asked me what was going on with my schizophrenia, like you really wanted to understand it.” Read More
To hell with the insipid emptiness
That keeps good people ineptly drowned!
Gaze into the perplexed distress and bless
The self that is so often shackle bound!
This is my pledge to the introspection
That so often is betrayed or unknown
Or left to rot in the gutter of dread
And then scavenged for the insurrection.
Together we starve and wither alone
Our thirst being a statement left unsaid.
There is numbness that grasps the bone
Which is surrounded by layer upon layer
Of prickle that persistently drones
Out experiences that do conjure
Recurrent traumas of spirits within.
Like swollen flesh, nothingness throbs
Throughout enduring routine of day
Expanding its reign under your skin
Until your inner turmoil sobs
Containing misery you cannot delay.
Having spent last night
In this University town
With well-adjusted kids
Who have nothing
To charm each other,
I wake late
And am struck
Like a sword in the gut
With thinking about
The stress of the clock
And that ongoing need
As I wait
For my host’s
Breakfast to be finished. Read More
I like to think that I could recommend writing to some other people who have been subjected to a diagnostic labeling process that diminishes their hopes and potential. Indeed as emotional tension pulses through my back and appendages, I have found few other outlets that are there for me like the mixing and mastering letters.
Sure, I have been sent to a shrink for being who I am. Sure, I have been buried in institutions at different points of my life. Indeed life on that trajectory has filled me with loss and lack. But when I’ve found myself incarcerated immobile, I’ve been blessed to find value in defining it. Initially as a teen, I found appreciating expressive words through music got me started. The more I switched from song to verse to story, I found the problem-solving that takes place in the editing process satisfying. Indeed for me there are few other outlets that rival writing in terms of learning about life and wellness.
Fifteen years ago, I remember hearing a psychiatrist who had just been away for two weeks say, “There is no such thing as a vacation when you are schizophrenic!” As an unlicensed professional vying to get a staff position on the unit, I had carefully avoided rolling my eyes. I had politely nodded my head as though it had been a thoughtful thing to say.
This year’s weekend of April 1st, my wife supports me in insisting that we take a vacation day. She packs up her hybrid SUV with camping materials and when I finish my Friday commute, we hit the interstate headed north. We plan to camp and hike at the Kings Range on the Lost Coast in Humboldt County, but we know even before we sift through the remains of the Bay Area traffic, there’s no way we are going to make it the whole way.
We make it to the city of Ukiah and drive until we find a Safeway. I am about ready to drop as we load our shit into the front of the car and depart to hit the restroom. We pass the panhandlers and the no camping sign and I start to stress about the possibility that the security will force us to move on in the middle of the night.
“Don’t worry about it my boobie,” says my wife.
I look into the eyes of a particular panhandler and hate our privilege. There sure are a significant amount of late night shoppers who are finishing their long weeks. I ponder the meaning of it all over the urinal. After we regroup, we steal into the back of the SUV.