Alice, my employer, left a check for me. I unsealed the envelope and began to cry her tears. Mine too. The extra $65.00 dollars she added to my check came with a wave of pain, jumping into my energy field. The pain was riding on top of LOVE. Her heart-gratitude, the 65.00, an acknowledgement for the care I give to her brother Don, two years her junior.
“Please visit him as much as you can.” Her note said.
Don, nearly 57 years old, has been battling mental illness. A full blown war has been going on inside his mind and over-chemicalized brain.
Alice loves her brother Don yet she cannot tell him or show him directly, nor spend more than a few minutes a month in Don’s physical presence. Alice’s heart, so protected and armored, is breaking. Afraid to show emotion at all, Alice fears loss of her own sanity – through a waterfall of unending tears.
The caregiver, like any profession, has a particular expertise. What others find difficult to do, is simple for the true care-provider. Like Bikers and bicyclists when they spot a fellow rider, there’s a smiling recognition and inner kinship felt when one care-provider spots another amidst their work.
When I see those like Alice, who cannot show they care, it is easy to dismiss them with internal judgments, like:
“They don’t care” or “they don’t want their lives disrupted” – but the truth is much deeper than that. No matter what I tell myself or what story Alice believes, LOVE is why we care and also why we cannot show we care. For LOVE is all there is. LOVE spoken of in that phrase is not a cliche but a living truth, the eternal reality – all else arises and passes away. Even while absorbed in fleeting thoughts, stories and beliefs, LOVE remains, waiting- always waiting for us. We must realize this truth about LOVE for ourselves. All our greatest sorrows, pains and traumas – flickering wind gusts across the great ocean of LOVE.
People are afraid of physical illness for the same reason they fear death: the idea of loss of existence. With mental illness, another stigma is also added: shame.
“Billy just got cancer.” -but “Tony went nuts” – like somehow those with mental illness earned it or brought it about themselves. And Don was also diagnosed with skin cancer two years ago. A surgeon removed, what he later told Don was the second largest tumor-lesion of the year.
It’s been my secret sorrow, watching Don’s descent into the deeper depths of disconnect. For over 8 years, I’ve been a friend and caregiver for this most sensitive, beautiful man. No one really knows Don, has befriended him like I have. For Don does not see many people except the young lady, 20-something at the convenience store he walks to for a diet pepsi or the two women that share bits of kindness who work for his family business. When we take walks along the coastal shore, Don says a hearty ‘Hello’ to a good portion of the people who pass. He feels safe with me and reaches out to connect with others.
Most of those who Don greets, ignore him, make no gesture or other sign of acknowledgement. For they see Don and sense a deeply- conflicted soul. Don’s inner conflict comes out in his gait, mannerisms and facial features. This disassociation energy pattern which Don embodies, we all carry. Don, however, carries it overtly. This is a very threatening unmasking for a culture taught to avoid the inner life of feelings. They see in Don their own rejected self, their own demons. He triggers the covert aspect inside us and this hidden dimension of pain differs only in degrees of dysfunction. Even Don’s family members can barely muster the energy to be with him- except for his brother Kyle and cousin Richard–who see him a few times a month for about 30 minutes. Don’s sister Lucy sees him once a year on Christmas eve.
I have been the fortunate one, allowed to feel Don’s secret sorrow, to bare witness and befriend all the elements that manifest, from: wall punching to torturous displays of depression.
Don’s father took his own life, a violent form of suicide – a revolver bullet to the head, just one week before Thanksgiving. He had prostate cancer for years, a slow reduction in life quality, along with heart issues. Add to that- the loss of a 100 year old flower bulb business and a no longer manageable lifelong depression. This left Don’s father feeling out of control, thus the quick exit. Don has made 4 trips to 4 different Psych wards in the bay area since then.
Now my beloved friend has entered a new stage. It’s like the anger and depression are gone. The Don I knew is gone, dropped into an abyss, fallen through to the bottom of a crevasse I do not recognize. Our playful camaraderie has lost its luster. Like a flat stone skimming off the ocean my jokes do not even touch Don. We still talk the latest sport’s news and Don always asks about my family only all of this conversation is coming from some robotic muscle memory.
This new San Jose Behavioral Health (Psyche Ward) Don has entered, has only two ratings, both one star:
“A relative was incarcerated here for over a week. Absolutely chaotic. Only one doctor for all the adolescents and some of the adults.”
“Scary, scary place. It’s like they try and get you inside and not let you out.”
Later I called and the phone rang 20 times. No answer. I called back and told the receptionist. She advised me to leave a message before transferring me again. I listened to music for a bit, the phone never rang. And in the last hours it has been discovered that the staff has not been giving Don his medication at all for 36 hours. And he is on a vast array of meds not meant to be instantly dropped.
This facility was the only one with a bed available. It requires a special code to get in; only three of us are allowed to see Don.
I trust it will not be like his last place, El Camino, a lockdown unit with a roving guard, maybe a padded cell with no windows, no chance to go outside and feel the sun, breathe fresh air or see a tree. No nature at all. No soul. Don will most likely be sedated, medicated to the hilt. For the psychiatric profession is about modulating symptoms and side effects, a sort of russian roulette for the mind.
I don’t know a thing really and perhaps this is the perfect place for Don right now. Since he is there per God’s will.
Yet I wonder: How in God’s earth can these type of environments be conducive to healing a man’s heart and soul? This heart yearns for Don to have a startling reversal, to come to the end of suffering. I feel somehow that I’ve failed him. But LOVE cannot fail. The manifestation and appearances matter little. LOVE pierces through as unseen magic, the formless yet Mighty Touch.
And maybe this overworked, singular doctor in charge of the entire adult ward, will not try to keep Don in a meditative stupor, instead working a miracle. Don has endured mega-extended lockups 30 plus years ago. A year at one place, 18 months at the prestigious Menninger’s Institute another time. These two week stays are nothing—so far. Back in those days, his 20’s he went through shock therapy (“it wasn’t that bad Mike”- he once told me), has had numerous experimental drug therapies yet these treatments could not touch his deepest pain and shame. (Amazingly, though the facility was quite spooky, the outpatient program was great for Don. They used felt pen art as a creative outlet and distraction mechanism and did ‘talk therapy’ which helped him return to a place of a bit more stability).
I’ve felt these places that Don journeys to–been dropped to my knees, praying for mercy, humbled to the core and burned at the stake with him. I didn’t back away. I stayed in the furnace and was cooked too; scalded alive, then thrown in the emotional freezer called hell and felt Don’s insanity directly. I found out that as the spiritual teacher Yogananda once said:
“We are all a little bit crazy but we don’t know it.”
Once we see this craziness, reveal it, a miracle happens. We step out of the craziness and watch the burning fire from the depths of soul. The holy presence of God plays out as crazy and enlightened, angry and ecstatic, depressed and joyful- all the diverse aspects of the ONE. We touch God Almighty in all that; for all of that is God.
The latest crisis came when Don did not sleep for 2 nights in a row. His mind went haywire and his liver and kidneys were most likely not metabolizing the medication properly. His live-in caregiver Manuel (yes a hispanic man from Mexico on another of the tough job assignments) has lived with Don for 15 years. Manuel is in emotional crisis himself, though he refuses to see it. He gives Don his meds twice a day and disappears into his room on most days, in a desperate attempt to retain his own sanity.
Don has been my charge, my brother, my friend. During the last 8 years of my physical illness, his mental illness has been there at my side. I see Don every week for 4 hours. Every time we get together, I show him the light-infused exit door from the penitentiary of his mind. He steps through and lets the light touch for brief respites – but then again the rushing onslaught of mind drags him back into perpetual thought realm we call hell.
I see our connection as a karmic payback of some sort- there’s really no other way to explain this journey. Sometimes it feels like a few sprinkles of pixie dust, a heel click and I can astral project back in time to meet a Renaissance detective to solve the case.
Don was Father Thomas back then, incarcerated in the cell next to me – and the detective will tell me, “…a mystic priest, no doubt about it.” The renaissance sleuth will go on:
“You were alone in some horrific dungeon, your mind absorbed in the repetitive madness of thought. No key, no clue- frantically trying to find a glimmer of truth, of light. But you stopped trying, stepped the wrong way off that fine precipice, cornices on both sides – one leading to the great unknown space of pure Consciousness and loss of personal identity called ego death. The other side a rocky, distorted fall into a incredibly loud city of sound, where voices appear real yet they are all in one’s own head. Listen to what Father Thomas told you back then…
“I was once like you are now, my dear brother. The thoughts are not real. Breathe into the open space. Find your true home there, where it has always been. Then those fugitive thoughts will give way to the enduring background free from thoughts.”
As the famous Jungian-oriented therapist John Weir Perry said:
“…the process that millions of schizophrenics go through in a way that is usually so very hazardous, isolated, and uncreative is nonetheless made up of the same stuff that seers, visionaries, cultural reformers and prophets go through.”
In the 1970’s Perry had many full recoveries (of schizophrenia) at his Diabasis House, an experimental residential facility in the San Francisco area. It was for those undergoing psychotic episodes, spiritual emergencies and other renewal processes. Unlike traditional Psychiatric Hospitals, Perry’s place was a true haven with no locked doors, no electroshock or medications. Instead patients were offered a safe space, creative arts like: painting and dance, along with massage, meditation and conversation. As Perry said:
“This helped those undergoing a profound shift go through their ego-death and emerge weller than well.”
Don has stopped trying now, a delicious place if you realize its the natural state. Total and complete hell if you don’t.
It’s one of those days where the simplest sound, reflection or sight brings tears. Yes, LOVE pours today. Thank God. Tis God. Always God. The spring winds are strong, the surf is alive. I stand overlooking the Capitola beach. I look left, then right. Surfers are in the lineup everywhere. Don is not visible but he’s here.
“Hey bro,” I say. “Capitola is breaking fine today. I wonder what Steamer’s is like? Must be big.” I interrupt Don’s silence. “Can you imagine Mavericks.” I wait for his reply, that wholly unique, heart-oozing wisdom and charm that comes through his words. And Don’s former surfer will sound:
“Well Mike, Capitola’s okay. Just wait though, at low tide it will be even better.” He’ll pause, casting a deep gaze to the distant northern shoreline. “Look at the Hook…”
The waves keep breaking, then a certain stillness remains between each crash. Love-filled tears fall. They are always here for Don.