Archives for posts with tag: Mental Illness

Many years ago, I was working on a research study evaluating the efficacy of bullying prevention program for elementary schools. To do this kind of research, schools must be recruited for participation. I was placed in charge of the task of contacting schools and districts as well as making presentations onsite. If memory serves, I made over 50 presentations. (In perhaps another post, I will write more about this. I enjoy public speaking but this was a very high pressure situation. Basically, I threw up about 2o minutes before nearly every presentation though I think I did a good to excellent job with everyone. Looks can be deceiving. A person can be funny, informative, and relaxed, and still have thrown up 20 minutes earlier. You just never know about another person’s life, just by looking.)

One of the presentations was to all elementary principals in a particular school district. After I was completed, there was a bit of time for one on one conversations. There was one principal who made a bee-line for me. She gave me the kind of handshake that starts as a firm “how do you do” and turns quickly in a seemingly never ending grip. Meanwhile she was earnestly telling me about her school. My co-worker, Truc, was also there. Truc observed this action intently; Truc is an excellent observer as well as being very funny. Later Truc said, ‘Elizabeth, she was saying, “Please, Elizabeth you must help our school. You ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN HELP US!”‘

School principals have very demanding jobs with a lot of rushing around. That principal had a story to tell me and she was going to hold onto me until she had a chance to finish and could see that I understood.

Back in days as a researcher, that kind of poignant social interaction was rare. In my clinical life in private practice, especially as a psychologist with a specialty in diagnostic assessment, it is a frequent occurrence.

Everyone has a story, a life story. Families in need, need to tell their story. Some of them do not know where to start. Some of them don’t know how to stop. Both of those extremes keep me on my toes. In particular, parents and their teen children who engage in self-harmful and life threatening behaviors carry an incredible urgency in their stories. This is not my treatment specialty but within my diagnostic specialty, suicidality is much more prevalent than in the general population, especially for girls. So I encounter this situation with some frequency and help families secure appropriate services, which unfortunately, are in short supply.

Parents of suicidal teens are some of the most isolated people you will ever meet. They have a story that they are afraid to tell for fear of being judged harshly, among other reasons. Given the way that many people judge teens and their parents, it is a realistic fear, unfortunately. Sometimes we see another person’s tragic situation and blame them for it. To believe that they have control over it makes us feel safe.

I have heard many stories from parents, so many in fact, that I can tell you one that story is based on many.

I am incredibly alone. My house is full of people and each of us are shell shocked and alone. The loneliest moments are when we are yelling at each other.

I have met many many healthcare providers. I have gotten anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes to tell my story. There is so much to say, much more than I ever thought there would be to say in my life, ever.

You are a stranger to me but I need to tell my story. I will trust you with my helplessness. I will trust you with my failures as a person and as a parent. I will trust you with my shame at times for the unspoken regrets I have about ever choosing to be a parent. Bringing this child into the world has been painful and ungratifying but I will try to move try to move Heaven and Earth to save him.

I will trust you the best that I can. Sometimes I may not do a very good job. Three seconds later, I may do a good job again. My emotional life is like that; it is lived three seconds at a time, either dealing with, waiting for, or trying to ward off the next crisis.

I will do this because it is my job, to put myself second when my child is sick, so very sick that she may take herself from this world before she really even knows who she is, where she is, or the things that can heal with maturity.

Please help us.

We want a different story to tell.

Robin Williams was my middle school homework buddy. Yes, I used to do my homework in front of the television, which is a very bad habit. (Shhhhh, don’t tell my patients or my daughter.) As I recall, Mork and Mindy was a smash hit almost as soon as it debuted. Even as a kid, I could tell that the writing on that show was not that great. And some of the characters were not funny. But Robin Williams improvised a lot of his dialogue. He was fast, charming, impish, hilarious, and able to switch from utterly naive to lascivious in a split second.

As a young teen girl it was not lost on me that he was damned cute. So cute that despite my preference for clean cut boys (remember, I was a very young girl) who were on the pubescent side, I looked past Robin’s manly mane of chest hair that could clearly be seen peaking out of the top of his rainbow colored t-shirts. Mork was a stand up guy even when he’d sneak a dirty joke into each off his lightning fast riffs on the English language, pop culture, history, and astronomy.

Robin Williams went on to be a star and a good actor. I loved him as the lead in The World According to Garp. Very funny, very sweet. This was also the first time I noticed the sadness in his eyes. There is a common image of a comedian or a comedic actor as a “sad clown”. I don’t think that all funny people have to be sad but I do know that a good deal of famous funny people are sad. Frankly, I think most celebrities are sad. There is the drive to get attention with so much rejection interspersed. The attention and recognition are so inconsistent. When they come, I imagine it is like the high of a drug and you can never get enough.

I went on to enjoy most of his films over the intervening years and then he became involved in my school work once again in March of 1997. I was living in Florida at the time for my psychology internship. I had flown back to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for a couple of days because I was defending my doctoral dissertation. The doctoral defense is a centuries old tradition going back to the Middle Ages and deserving of its own post. Let’s just say that it is the day I wore a business suit, presented my dissertation research to five professors, they peppered me with questions for an hour and a half, then made me wait in the hallway for a half an hour while they determined whether I would get my Ph.D. or not. The whole thing lasted three hours and was the culmination of 6 1/2 years of graduate school.

There was another notable occasion occurring on campus that day. Robin Williams was just a little ways away filming Patch Adams. And I missed him! My friend and fellow graduate student, Jawana did not miss him. I excitedly asked her, “What was he like?” She replied, “He’s a small hairy man.” Ha! Not very nice, Jawana! Robin probably noticed this himself. Perhaps he would have compared himself to a muppet. Hairy, funny, and adorable.

Robin Williams, the world is never going to forget you and I’m not just saying that because I’m sad that you’re gone. You were a singular sensation. I could see the sadness behind your eyes. I could see the addiction to attention as well as other substances. The mania that delighted us when it was at the right speed. Nonetheless, you shocked me. You had lived through so much and escaped alive. You were 63 and somehow even though I’d heard you’d gone back to rehab, I thought you’d keep yourself around.

I am a professional who knows better. I was naive and hopeful. I thought you had enough Mork in you to keep you alive.

To feel alone with such love around you must have been devastating. I didn’t know you but you knew how to make me smile. Rest in peace.

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