I feel as if I am looking at a mirage and all I see is sand- I am in a desert- helpless- As I watch the wind hurl the sand in a violent storm- something that is not real- that will never be real- that only I see- I watch it dance in front of me. My life and its truths have become a burden that is not easy to carry…
My name is Robert, and I pen this story as my clock turns 1:30 a.m. I am sitting in my study at home. Presently I am captivated by distressing images and discussions of a patient that move through my head- one realization- after- the other- Almost as if I was flipping through a photo album- or perhaps even sand through an hourglass. I believe that writing this story on paper and with ink-well- it is the only way I can alleviate the burden that rests on my shoulder. This writing will be buried away in a drawer where I keep many of my sorrows.
When I die, I know they will find my countless cases of distress hidden away in my bottom drawer— seemingly in shame. Yet, my experiences in life are anything but shameful- I am human and as such- I feel sorrow like any other man.
In the world of psychiatry, I seem to understand the troubles of patients, unlike my colleagues. They tend to patients all day and retire to their home where they lead a healthy life. While I- I am plagued by inadequacy.
Although I am a Psychiatrist and I am looked upon for guidance- the truth is I do not always have the answer- No- It is not easy, but I mask my timid emotions well. Behind my glasses rests a pair of light blue eyes that look at my patients with curiosity, but I am careful with my gaze- I want to appear unbiased- I want to appear caring- But most of all- I want to appear sane. Yet, I admit- I judge my patients- In fact, on occasions I find some hard to like- and I know I am anything but sane. Yet, I give the appearance that I have the upper-hand and that I am- so to speak- The Wizard of Oz. The problem is- as I stated previously- I am human. The story that I have to tell at 1:30 a.m. rips into my flesh like a tiger pouncing on a calf as it searches for its mother in the foliage. Yet, before I tell you this story- I want to share my experience in Medical School, and how I came to enter this hellish existence. It will help you understand my predicament.
I remember attending college and taking a course called, “Madness in Medicine.” It was about the history of psychiatry and while people took it with strides- I was blown away with pity and sorrow. The idea that people in mental distress could be treated in such ways- I felt waves of shock overcome my youthful mind.
As class ended on the very last day- I sat in my chair while students filed out. The professor was in the front of the room as he collected his notes. I approached him.
“How? How can people be treated this way? Why would people who clearly have mental health issues- a medical condition- how could people only afflict further turmoil upon them? What can be done?” I asked him. I was naive- keep in mind- I was just a college student in my third year. And as I uttered those words- it was evident how emotionally affected I was. I realized this, and yet, I do not think the professor picked up on it, and if he did- he probably took pity on me.
The professor looked up at me and studied my face for several seconds. He shook his head back and forth as his eyes trailed into deep thought and then he refocused on me as he said something that would change my life forever.
“People are cruel- people are naive- but to be honest with you- I have no idea why people act the way they do. Perhaps that sounds odd- given that I am a psychologist,” He paused and chuckled slightly before continuing, “That is a good question, and I am not sure there will ever be an answer to that question. There isn’t a solution. At least not yet.” The professor looked at me in distress. Several moments passed, and he said, “I am glad you got something out of this class.” He left out the door with me standing silently and in deep thought. As I stood still and calculated the professor’s remarks- I realized I could be the solution.
I would go into the field of psychiatry. My heart beats with love for this field of science in a rhyme that was akeen to my youth and Nativity. I would complete college with an M.D. in Psychiatry. Yes, dear readers— I thought I had a solution. I would treat patients with care and kindness. I would look into the depths of their mind and solve issues like no person before…
Yet, as my career progressed, and years began to unfold- one after the other- Well, I realized that this was going to be a hard journey. No matter what I did- many patients would wander down a stray road as I realized that I could not change people. Kindness does not alter the core of an individual with a mental illness, and pharmaceuticals are only a band-aid. Yet, I still thought there was a solution out there- Even after many years of practice— I would never admit to the callous remarks that professor had stated many years ago. I was sure there was a solution. But- it was stressful, and time wore on me. After a long day— to unwind— I would take to secretly smoking cigars and drinking wine in the evening as I contemplated the entire course of my life…
Now that you have a greater understanding of my life- I shall tell the story that has kept me awake all hours of the night for the previous two weeks. It is a story that has broken my philosophy on life, and yet worse- broken my understanding of humanity.
I was drawing doodles on my notepad as I usually did when patients were in my office. It was not an attempt to ignore them, but rather- it was my way of dealing with stress. Trust me- I was always listening. Yet, some people thought I was taking notes, and if a patient were curious or paranoid about what I was doing in my notebook, I would smile widely and show them the doodles. My patients would usually laugh or were amused by this.
As I sketched out a picture- I was listening to a 23-year-old African American. We were in my office on a locked-down psych ward. She was a beautiful African American girl, and intelligent – in-fact, she was going to college. I listened to her as I drew in my notebook. The way she thought- the way she carried herself- her verbal expression- she had a place in this world. However, what put this youthful and talented individual in my hospital was that she had threatened suicide.
We spoke for a long time. I enjoyed spending time with many of my patients- I liked talking to them— this was my only chance to guide them back on a road that would deliver them to peace of mind. It was the only shot I had, and I truly thought I had helped her and guided her onto a path that would drive her to success. She had been in my hospital for a week, and I finally placed my notebook down, and I asked her, “Are you ready to return to your house?”
She nodded her head, and I stared at her soft face, youthful lips, and long black hair. She was always very reserved when speaking her thoughts.
“Do you have any more suicidal thoughts?”
“No,” she said as her eyes averted from my own.
She had recently given birth to a child with severe defects, and I knew she blamed herself, but she was strong— I thought she could lift herself up. Believe me— I really thought this, but nevertheless, I have a lot of remorse over what I did next.
“Okay, I am going to discharge you,” I said as I studied her. She was not an easy person to read, but I suppose that is a lousy excuse…
As I got into my office the next morning, I went through my newspaper. I know everybody is crazy about reading the news on electronics— all the damn gadgets, but there was something about holding a newspaper- the creases, the crumbling of paper- the flipping through pages- I enjoyed it. However, this morning was not going to be enjoyable. I read the headline- “23-Year-Old Steps in Front of Car on Highway.” As I continued to read, I would realize that this 23-year-old was no other than the soft face African American that had left my psych ward. She had driven her car into the side of the interstate and jumped into the traffic. Dead.
I recall placing the paper down and closing my eyes in distress. I took off my glasses and bit the end of them as I recoiled in distress. Honestly, I thought she was going to go back to her home— I figured she was ready. Yet, ultimately I had failed her. I kept my composure as long as I could, but this was where I cracked, and I whispered into the air, “There isn’t a solution.” Her child would grow in an icy world— a world where his mother committed suicide because of him— because she thought it was her fault that her son had birth defects. As I thought about this, I brought my fists down on the desk with rage. Picking up my coffee mug- I hurled it at the door.
Truth is, “There isn’t a solution.” That professor was right, and I was naive to think I could change the world. So naive.