A Psychological Incident

When Warren was fourteen years of age, psychiatric hospitals were commonly called, ”the crazy house”. To Warren, they seemed irrelevant, unimportant, inconsequential and distant. At age fourteen, Warren didn’t have any indication that a psychiatric hospital would be a place that would have any importance in his life. However, at age eighteen, at the end of his adolescent years, a psychiatric hospital would in turn revolve around Warren’s life and through it all, he would gain more knowledge about his life and how he fits into society than if it didn’t.

It was the summer of Warren’s eighteenth year and he was lying on a beach in a state park with a friend named Eric.

“I believe that I am right here in this place and time with you, but I sense that sometime in the near future my life is going to dramatically change and take a turn,” Warren said to Eric.

“Enjoy your life for what goodness it has at the time being. This is your time. Make the most of it,” Eric replied.

It may sound strange to many people that being stricken with mental illness and going for mental health care could bring an individual to improve himself more than if never stricken by it. By overcoming many of these obstacles and barriers presented by illness and suffering, many people have learned more about themselves and society, that all is not completely lost, and that coming down with mental illness does not have to become a finality. Through psychiatric treatments new doors open for hope, transformation and achieving objectives that never had been tackled.

Some mental health professionals would describe someone like Warren based on his psychiatric diagnosis and that it would impose on him a substandard life of dependency and poverty. More progressive professionals who would enter Warren’s life would look beyond the fact of a client’s label of mental illness and look at all aspects of his life which could be improved while leading him through treatments.

For centuries, it has been widely believed by the general population that those stricken with mental illness are categorically different from the rest of society. Many stereotypes and misconceptions remain the same, even though knowledge about and the treatment of mental illness, have changed.

Warren’s initial experience with both the illness and the mental health care delivery system started abruptly at age eighteen during an emergency room visit when he felt exasperated and in a heightened emotional state in which he felt paralyzed. The attack was so severe that the mental health triage staff labeled his condition severe, allowing him to be admitted to that community hospital’s Psychiatric Unit.

There was a mental health consultant Warren met on the Psychiatric Unit named Mr. Coleman.

“You have a severe mental illness. It’s going to be several years before you come out of the psychological state you’re in and you’ll never meet the expectations society has for you,” Mr. Coleman stated to Warren.

Warren recalled memories from a well-adjusted childhood and used those strong recollections to help him cope now that he had a diagnosis of severe mental illness. In addition, he had a strong motivations and ambitions which he didn’t want the mental illness to interfere with or obstruct. He was desperate to find a way around this new situation and not accept the death sentence that it brought with it.

Another mental health client, Dennis, referred Warren to a book, Surviving Schizophrenia, by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey.

“What you have acquired is a legitimate medical condition whose nature is just beginning to be well documented. Reading Surviving Schizophrenia may give you some of the knowledge that you need to understand this medical condition, Dennis informed Warren.

Warren did in fact read Surviving Schizophrenia and it provided him with great insight, information and understanding about what he was confronting.

A parent, Mr. Preston, whose daughter has a psychiatric diagnosis, referred Warren to NAMI, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It is a support and advocacy organization composed of families of those with mental illness as well as those with the diagnosis.

“NAMI is an organization consisting of people who share common experiences with mental illness and how they cope with them. You can gain understanding, feel support and become hopeful from these people,” Mr. Preston informed Warren.

It was through reading Surviving Schizophrenia, and becoming involved with NAMI that Warren became educated about his illness, gained insight into it and felt like a whole person in spite of it.

As far as Warren’s personal ambitions and motivations were concerned, he needed an ally. He wanted to begin attending a local Community College. However, it was required that a doctor provide the Community College with a letter stating that he was fit and ready to begin attending the community college. Warren knew that hardly any doctor would make such a recommendation.

Warren went on a person search for a doctor who could provide him with proper psychological treatment. His search paid off, as he met Dr. Clough. It turned out that he would meet with Dr. Clough for close to a decade.

Dr. Clough at the onset of their relationship wrote a letter to the Registrar of the Community College stating that Warren was fit and ready to begin studies at the College.

“Accept, assimilate and absorb the fact that you were in a psychiatric unit and have been given a diagnosis. Continue going to the college campus, time after time again until you feel comfortable there. As for studying and homework, do some, walk away for fifteen minutes, then go back to the homework,” Dr. Clough instructed Warren.

In meeting with Dr. Clough, Warren’s mental health treatment would really lift off. For several years, all aspects of his well-being and quality of life were looked at and discussed. The meetings were a can-do and can-be done atmosphere. His personal relationships with family and friends, living arrangements, financial status, personal health and well-being were looked at and addressed thoroughly.

“I feel so fortunate to be able to come here and see you. You have been a tremendous help to me and I am moving forward with my life in a well manner. I owe so much to your assistance,” Warren stated to Dr. Clough.

“You’re doing all the work for yourself and not me. I’m just your catalyst,” Dr. Clough responded.

Dr. Clough’s treatment with Warren was so effective, that Warren was able to dive into waters rarely seen by those who had been given a psychiatric diagnosis. He was able to interact with the members of the local Social Clubhouse open for mental health clients and when it was his time to go his job in competitive employment, he would go and interact with the people on the job.

Warren enjoyed being out and about town in his car. He stopped in and met the owners, operators and workers at local businesses. These included restaurants, coffee shops, CD and DVD rental outlets.

These businesses people would say things about others to Warren such as:

“Get away from the lunatics.”

“Those people need help.”

“They’re sick.”

“They’re the crazies.”

At the same time, Warren was able to maintain stable relationships with his friends at the local Social Clubhouse.

Warren was able to observe and notice the social interactions, customs and behaviors between those in the mental health community and those who had never been exposed to the mental health system. The small talk and topics all remained the same. He was learning that the differences aren’t as extreme as one would be led to believe. Some people require psychiatric help for a legitimate reason and are given a diagnosis. Once those requiring psychiatric help are stable, the differences between the diagnosed and the undiagnosed are minute, even miniscule.

“I got an A- in a college course I took,” a diagnosed person said.

“I had difficulty passing my Driver’s License examination,” an undiagnosed person said.

“I saw my primary care physician yesterday. He said I’m in good health,” a diagnosed person said.

“My doctor said my blood pressure is too high,” an undiagnosed person said.

“My son’s school report cards are excellent,” a diagnosed person said.

“My daughter has to work to improve her grades,” an undiagnosed person said.

“I am happy with the wages that I make at work. It pays the bills well,” a diagnosed person said.

“I believe that I deserve a raise on my job. I work hard, but I have trouble paying all the bills,” an undiagnosed person said.

It was through his exposure to the mental health system and subsequently society’s attitudes, that Warren was better able to find himself and his place in society. The experience gave him a good emotional workout. His symptoms and diagnosis presented a series of challenges that once somewhat satisfactorily resolved, led him to a place and station at which he might never had arrived.

Richard Adamski
Waterbury, CT © 2012

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