“There is no such condition as ‘schizophrenia,’ but the label is a social fact and the social fact a political event. Schizophrenia cannot be understood without understanding despair.” – R. D. Laing, psychologist
“… that startled, ‘deer in your headlights’ look about him.”
I had known Benjamin casually for several years. We had both been in the education field and had crossed paths at professional development events. He had even attended one of my communications seminars a few years back. Maybe that was why he called me for an appointment.
Ben was a middle aged, soft spoken guy who often carried that startled, ‘deer in your headlights’ look about him. I attributed it to his life challenges or maybe his medications, or more likely, both. Once we got reacquainted I asked him how I could serve him?
He replied, “I have this new relationship, and Barb…that’s her name, she wants us to get more serious…more permanent even?”
“…why would anyone want a future with me?”
“And what do you think about that?” I asked him.
Ken, I have been divorced for 15 years, have no dependents, come from a screwed up family, have been diagnosed schizophrenic for 20 years and getting ready to retire soon…why would I want to start something new like that?”
“Ben, my guess would be she knows all that stuff and is still interested in a future with you…what is your biggest concern about this?”
“Ken, I’ve been on meds for schizophrenia almost 20 years…why would anyone want a future with me?”
“Ben, what is your understanding of schizophrenia?” I asked him.
“It’s ‘crazy thinking’ …and incurable, is what I’ve been told!” he replied.
“Ben, what was your severe stress back then?”
“Ben, actually, schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown in thinking and poor emotional responses generated by severe stress. Common symptoms include disorganized thinking; hearing voices or noises and a lack of emotion and motivation.”
“Well that sure describes me!” he replied with a half smirk.
“Ben, what was your severe stress way back then?”
He paused, looked at me…then he looked down at his hands and said, “That was probably my daughter Megan dying and my divorce from Pam!”
Ben told me his daughter, Megan, had a genetic disorder at birth and, died in his arms, at 5 years of age. He and his wife, Pam, never really got over it and she started drinking. They ended up divorcing about three years later. The tears welled in his eyes…I waited quietly for him to regain his composure.
“…ever wonder if the schizophrenic behaviours were just an unconscious way to cope…”
Then I said, “Ben have you ever mourned the loss of Megan, or the loss of your relationship with Pam or the loss of the dreams you all had for your future together?”
“Ken, you are the only person I have ever mentioned it to in a long, long time! I don’t go there in my mind, I can’t handle it…there is just too much pain there!”
“Ben you mentioned a ‘screwed up’ family…what were you referring to?” I asked.
“Oh that! There has been an ongoing family dispute over my parents’ estate between my brother, sister and I . My brother is the executor and he has managed to upset everyone with his handling of the job…stealing furniture and money, while trying to keep my sister and I in the dark about it.”
“Ben, it sounds like you have some serious unresolved grief. Did you ever wonder if the schizophrenic behaviours were just an unconscious way to cope with it? I suggest this to you because the best description I have come across for schizophrenia was “a last ditch effort to survive an impossible situation!”
“It was a tough time, but I keeping thinking I should be able to let it go by now…but, I just don’t know how!” he said, despondently.
“I’d love to get off my meds, I feel like a zombie at times…but I’m so afraid!”
“Well, I can show you how in a way that honours both your daughter and your former partner. And, are you also ready to let go of some of the frustration you are carrying about your brother?”
“I sometimes think, if I could learn to let go of my past pain, I could deal with my current challenges…that’s really why I called you this week!”
“Ben, I think you could too! And, if you learned how to let go of the past and deal with your present challenges, do you think it would impact the behaviours you connect with schizophrenia?”
“I never really connected them that closely in my own mind before. Are you telling me they are linked in some way?”
“I never would have believed that Ken if I hadn’t just learned how my life works…and everyone else’s, eh?”
Over the next few weeks Ben broadened his perception of himself. He realized he was the perfect father for Megan and, even the perfect spouse for Pam…at that time in their lives.
As he uncovered more and more self worth, he had the self confidence to look at his future and make a decision about Barb. About two months later he decided to talk to his physician about cutting back on his medications. At our last session he said most of his brain noise was gone and he no longer needed his meds or his label.
“The value of schizophrenia is it drives people to to find out who they really are before they miss the opportunity!”
– King Ayles, author
Until Next time…
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com