It seems to me that either one believes that all human beings are equal to oneself in dignity and are entitled to the respect that we would give to “our own” or one believes that some human beings are intrinsically better than and more deserving than others. I had two experiences this week – the same day actually – that struck me with the difference.
After meeting with the social worker for the boy in the state psychiatric hospital last week (see last posting), I met with the boy’s psychiatrist this week. There has been a huge positive change in this boy’s behavior over the past two months. The hospital staff, across programs, have noticed it and commented on it. Prior to the change though, there was a change in the boy’s thinking, which led him to recognize in his gut that he’d been the emotional target of his parents – who’d ended up giving him up for adoption. A very freeing revelation for him.
The issue now, for me, is whether or not it is now time for him to be weaned off the psychiatric medications, which have served – no matter what they say otherwise – to control his otherwise out-of-control behavior. Thus the meeting with the psychiatrist. I am convinced that the anger that has been released in this kid from recognizing that he didn’t deserve what had happened to him now makes the meds unnecessary. Weaning the boy from them would tell us for sure; would build up his confidence; and would protect him from who-knows-what-future-physical-consequences may lie in store for him by having his thirteen year old body being subjected to this routine of four daily psychiatric meds be given to him. Those of us of a certain age have a deep emotional reaction to one of them – thorazine – due to our experience of seeing Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The psychiatrist told me that he would not wean this young teen off the meds as it is the meds that have brought him to this level of behavioral stability. (Did God tell the doctor that, I wondered?) When I pointed out that this now is the exact time and the exact place to try getting him off and see what happens, he told me that that was not so. He told me that just as some diabetes patients have to take insulin for the rest of their lives, and some folks with high blood pressure have to take meds for that for the rest of their lives, so too, some folks who are mentally ill have to take – he specifically said this – thorazine for the rest of their lives. Really?
That distancing from this kid – he is, after all, mentally ill – made me mentally ill.
We had a psychiatrist at one of the institutions I once worked in with the same attitude towards his “patients.” We simply called him “Doctor Doom.”
That evening in the mail when I got home was a letter from the man I met in February or March of 2012 (see blog postings from that time) who was one of the three convicted of manslaughter in the beating of my son, Abraham, that led to Abe’s death (see postings from August 2011). I haven’t heard from him – Micheal (sic) – since I met him that day in the prison.
He was writing to tell me that he has his first parole hearing coming up this spring. He wants me to write to him to give him my opinion, based in part on our meeting, of whether or not he should be released. He apologized once again for “the pain that I have caused you and your family.”
I was very happy to get that letter. It took guts for that man to write to me and to risk me then doing everything in my power to keep him in prison. I had not paid any attention to when he gets out of prison and did not know about the parole hearing. I suppose my supporting him would help him with parole just as I suppose my opposing him would hurt him. And certainly that has to be a motivation behind him writing to me. But I don’t believe it’s the prime motivation. I think Micheal is looking to see if I will continue to be as real with him as I was in that prison visiting room. Remember, I went to see him because I wanted something from him: I wanted to know what had happened that August night. All human motivation, as Chris Huntington taught me, is mixed. No one but God Himself is capable of doing anything for one pure reason. We don’t work that way. Our job is to continue to grow over our lifetimes and thus to get our motivations as clean as we can. That is the best we can ever do.
I gave Micheal’s letter to one of my adult sons to read. My son’s response was that it was “considerate.” Micheal’s realness in that letter came across even to Abe’s brother.
And I thought: whom do I trust more? Hell, which do I trust at all? This man who was partially responsible for my beloved son’s death or this psychiatrist who is very responsible for this other boy’s continuing to be written off as “mentally ill.”
Without a doubt, it’s Micheal. I miss Abraham, desperately at times, but I’m proud that it’s Micheal whom I trust.
I took risks in meeting Micheal; he’s taking risks in telling me about his parole hearing and putting it in a letter (he could have had his family reach out to me by phone or in person.) This psychiatrist is taking all the risk that a robot might.
Yes, it’s Micheal whom I trust. I’m proud of it. I’m also proud because I am certain that Abe would stand with me on this.
And I am most certainly going to help Micheal with parole. Why wouldn’t I? He wants – unlike one of the others convicted of Abe’s death – real. And real in the end is the only thing that protects any of us.
Powerful, thoughtful, brave post.I like this every week posting. It’s a great Sunday morning gift.
Take the shrink out and kill him then bring himback and ask if he gets it yet…. How anyone in the field of medicine could think it was okay to leave a 13 year old on Thorazine for the rest of his life is beyond me. Having worked with kids who were put on it I’ve seen the short term side effects and they are not good and no one knows the long term effects. These kinds of meds for children aren’t meant to be lfelong, they may help in the short term , but beyond that they place the child on hold emotionaly and intelectually. Maybe we should start a letter writting campaign to get this guy fired.
Paul, if only he were the exception who deserved to be fired and the problem would go away……but I find him to be the norm.
Very powerful stuff, Jack. That shrink should be fired. No one should be on Thorazine for one day longer than absolutely necessary. I know you’ll keep fighting the good fight.
In my twenty-four year experience as a social worker, what I have learned about psychiatrists is that they are intensely uncomfortable in allowing anyone to experience a feeling that is anything less than a constant glow of happiness. Diagnosis in psychiatry, as far as I can see, is completely subjective, haphazard and conducted with little to no scientific background. It is completed in a ten to fifteen minute interview with the patient, resulting often in a lifelong diagnosis that requires a lifetime of taking serious medications with significant side effects and ever-increasing costs. There are some people with serious mental illnesses that do respond favorably to medications and for these people these medications can be the difference between life in an institution and a fairly “normal” life, lived in the community. These are not the people about whom I am writing.
For many patients though, the psychiatrist’s first line of defense is to medicate the problem, and send the person on their way, with subsequent visits not focused on dealing with the problem, but on adjusting the medication(s) so that the person continues to “feel good.” When problems or behaviors return or the medication(s) begin to wear off, as they inevitably do, the response is to increase the medication(s) or change it for something stronger. If there are side effects to the medication(s), add more medications to counter those. It is a never-ending cycle that does little to nothing to help the person learn to deal with their problems on their own and there is no discussion of ever becoming free of the medication(s). Most psychiatrists that I have dealt with will not voluntarily reduce or remove someone from a medication they have been taking. It becomes a vicious cycle with no hope of getting off. This is what is now considered “treatment” of mental illness.