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Welcome back to Robert Wertzler with the second of his posts in his series of four. Today the subject is Shizophrenia and the need by anyone suffering from any mental illness to be listened to and understood. It is fair to say that many of us shy away from both the subject and those that we know or assume are suffering from mental illness. However, most of us will encounter it in one form or another in our family and close friends. This post will definitely give you a different perspective that will guide your approach to disease of the mind going forward.
On Listening to Schizophrenia by Robert Wertzler
I have written elsewhere on the subject of listening to those afflicted with mental illness, especially to those diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder without the assumption that they do not or cannot make sense. In his own account of his psychosis, treatment, and recovery, John Perceval, an English gentleman who became psychotic in 1830 puts the case more clearly than I can:
That need to be understood, or at least for someone to be willing to listen and to try to understand is universal. Someone in the throes of psychosis, or depression, or anxiety, or flashback of PTSD, or mania is no different. Another thing which Mr. Perceval makes clear in his account in his very detailed telling of his hallucinations and delusions, and how he was dealt with by others, is that he remembered all of it. I think that too often when someone is seen as not making sense, it is assumed they will not remember when they are in some less disturbed frame of mind. He shows us that it ain’t necessarily so.
He has little good to say about the “lunatic doctors” who tried to treat him. From his pen that term seems to carry more than one meaning.
I have found among the various blogs and posts only a few writers from the lands of schizophrenia and schizo-affective. From knowing those I worked with who had these labels, I can see how that would be very difficult for many. But, I hope that more of those who can, even with help, even poorly will try. We, who have been fortunate enough not to have experienced such states of mind can only do no more than guess (often badly) what it is if the stories are not told. If a first draft comes out like what is popularly called a “psychotogram,” that’s ok. You can edit and rework it if need be. If it comes as poetry, or with drawings (like a graphic novel, perhaps), or a vlog, that’s great. There are eyes ready to read and ears ready to hear.
And to those who know such folk as family, friends, peers, and care givers, listen. If you don’t understand, still do not dismiss. However strange the story, see the person before the “disease.” They really are there.
Since first writing this I’ve realized that the end of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is also significant in this context:
So, he who has heard the Mariner’s tale is also changed. We are not told what he has learned or what he makes of it, but changed he is. We are told only that he is wiser. In the end, this is why such tales as Percival’s need to be told and heard, that both the teller and the hearer may find wisdom and, in the Mariner’s words, “loveth well.”
©Robert Wertzler 2017
About Robert Wertzler
Currently I am retired from almost twenty years in the mental health field in California and Arizona. There are times I like the title, “Recovering Therapist”, but that does seem a bit excessive. In 2006 I retired to move here in Western North Carolina at my father’s request, and found him in the early stages of Dementia. I took care (with some help in the late stages) of him in that worsening condition until he died in late 2013 at the age of 98. Before all that, I worked at various times as a soldier (US Army 1967-70), community organizer, cab driver, welfare case worker, wooden toy maker, carpenter, warehouse worker, and other things.
I cannot look down on what anyone finds they can and must do to make their way in the world that is not intended to do harm. An undocumented migrant farm laborer, for example, deserves as much respect as the CEO of a major corporation, perhaps, in some cases, more. Politicians are often a different category.
But, there is a life beyond work and keeping myself fed, clothed, and sheltered, and for me that has been much involved with reading, writing, and listening. I leaned to read and love books from my father reading to me at bedtime and gradually transitioning to me doing the reading. It was not generally those things called “children’s books” that I remember, although there must have been some.
My sharpest memories are of the works of Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson (What 6 year old boy wouldn’t want to meet a real pirate like Long John Silver?), Robert Heinlein, Louis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway (age 7 – “The Old Man And The Sea”), and others. Nothing the school presented could hold a candle to those story tellers. I credit whatever skill I have as a writer to that experience, and those examples absorbed as if by osmosis. Parents, whatever else you may do about your children’s education, read to them. Read the great writers and classic stories.
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My thanks to Robert for sharing his post with us and he will be back again next week same time.
If you have up to four blog posts in your archives that you would like to share with my audience, then send the links to email@example.com.
Thanks for dropping by.. Sally