A new person was at the table one day. He was teenager dressed in faded jeans, a loose flannel shirt, and wearing a knitted stocking cap. Listening to the chatter among the group, I could tell he had been here before.
When the therapist walked in he said very warmly, "Jimmy, welcome back. It's good to see you. Why don't you introduce yourself to those at the table who don't know you."
Jimmy slouched back in his chair and said that he suffered from paranoia, psychosis, and depression. He also let us know he had been in the program for three months but took a week off.
The therapist asked, "So how are you doing?"
He shrugged his shoulders, "OK, I guess."
"Are you still hearing voices?"
"How is your depression?"
"It's been pretty rough lately."
"And your paranoia?"
"Well it was so bad last week I could not leave the house?"
"Well I'm thrilled you are out today, but 'OK' is not the best answer to the question I asked."
Jimmy just buried his head on his arms on the table.
The therapist turned to the rest of us. "This morning we are going to discuss communication. Better communication will make your life so much better. Jimmy I'm not picking on you, but what you just said was a good example."
Like many of you when family and friends ask how you are doing and you say 'fine' or 'OK', even though things are pretty rough, they will not be able to help you, since they most likely will take your word for it. Everyone needs a support system. You need to be honest with your support system so they can help you. Also, at work and school if your illness is getting in the way of your productivity, you need to tell someone so they will understand."
John spoke up, "But if I mention I'm Bi-Polar, people think of some really bad psychotic condition."
The therapist replied, "Then you need educate them about the illness and describe the depression and mania aspects."
John was unsettled.
The therapist added, "John, keep in mind 1 of 4 people suffer from some form mental illness." He chuckled, "Whether they know it or not."
Mary asked, "OK, I get it. I can easily explain my paranoia, my ADHD, and my depression, but explaining my psychosis diagnosis? Do I just start out with 'You probably need to know I hear voices in my head'." (In my head all I could think of was George discussing messages from the UFO's in a calm manner to some unsuspecting soul who had asked with all good intentions - "Can you explain your "psychosis"? I just pray they do not mention little green men.)
The therapist answered Mary, "If you have the right support system, they will understand and be able to help you. The more you explain, the less strange it will seem to them."
She just shook her head, obviously not convinced.
I spoke up. "I kept my diagnosis to myself for a long time. Granted I am only dealing with depression. I feel for those of you trying to manage multiple conditions. When my family learned about my condition and I sought treatment, they asked, 'What should we tell people?' "
"I never hesitated but said, 'Tell them what happened, that I have been diagnosed with severe depression and am getting help.' " I continued, "I figured hiding something would be more stressful than just being open and honest. Just open the closet and let the skeletons dance."
The therapist asked, "And how has that gone?"
"I have had so much support from friends and family. In fact many have confessed that they suffer from a little depression themselves."
"Wow, that's unusual?"
"That I would be upfront or they would be supportive?"
"Both. I rarely run into someone who is willing to be upfront and then gets so much support from their friends and family. You are very lucky."
"Oh, I know that, isn't that what you are talking about?", I asked.
"Yes, but I can rarely get anyone to be open about their illness."
Jimmy lifted his head off the table, "Oh, I've told parents and my brother about my problems. But they just they say it's all in my head."
The therapist laughed, "Well literally it is. That's hard Jimmy, and it is not helping you at all. Maybe we can get them in here for a family meeting soon."
Sarcastically Jimmy replied, "Good luck with that."
Ruth, who had been quiet spoke up, "But shouldn't my pastor be part of my support system?"
The therapist very calmly replied, "Yes, in most cases a pastor should be great help and support. However, in your case, Ruth, as we have discussed, I think your pastor is not helping you. Don't you feel bad every time you speak with him?"
"Yes, but he says that I don't need therapy or drugs. God will take care of me. He says I am just weak."
George chimed in, "Ruth you just need a TV?"
We all looked at him. Ruth asked, "And why would that help?"
Because on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9:30 in the evening, if you turn it to channel 18, Jesus will talk to you."
Ruth replied,"Is it one of those televangelist or a video taped sermon?"
George laughed, "No, Ruth it is Jesus himself. He is there alive and in person. If you invite him, he'll join you on the sofa. He did that with me once. He's real nice."
Ruth smiled and politely said, "I'll keep that in mind."
George finished with, "Only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and on channel 18."
The room fell silent and then Peter (my Eeyore) spoke up, "My mother knows about my diagnosis. She just always tells me I'm doing something wrong and I should be over this by now."
The therapist looked at him, "Peter, as we have discussed, if you work at it, you can keep your mental illness in remission. It is not easy. We are here to help you. But you will always have it."
Peter lowered his head, "I know, I know. But I just can't get her to understand. I don't think anyone likes me."
Thankfully the therapist let that one go. The last time he followed up with Peter, our whole session was about his mother, his cat, and his self esteem.
"It's the elephant in the room. If you are going to get better, then you need to find people who understand and a place where you feel comfortable and can thrive. Your illness will never be cured. But it can be controlled if you take your medication, pay attention to your karhma, and find a support system." He laughed, "Hey, we've come a long way from images of people being taken away in straight jackets by men in 'white coats'."
As we stood to leave, George reminded us, "Don't forget channel 18 at 9:30".
I thought to myself, maybe they did away with the straight jackets and white coats a little too early,
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