Monday, May 29, 2006

Not Out of the Woods Yet

I had a dream recently and believe it is connected to my cousin's situation. In this dream, I was on a winding road in a beautiful ancient-growth forest. I came to a dead-end that led me to an unfamiliar neighborhood. Reluctantly, I boarded a bus but asked the driver whether it would circle back to where it started; he told me yes. I rode the bus, although it felt uncomfortable. It seems that I got off this bus on some kind of rolling platform, like a skateboard but wider. I rolled on this platform for awhile then jumped off, feeling the sensation of my feet running and noticing the contrast between rolling and running. Finally, I broke down sobbing in my loneliness and alienation, wailing, "I want to go home." In another part of the dream, I arrived at a cliff with a suitcase. I looked down with the realization that if I tried to jump, I would be injured. I tried "hanging" from the suitcase, but it was still too far down to jump safely. After a little while, the suitcase strap stretched enough to let me drop down comfortably. I was gently lowered to the ground. People were around me and I still had the sense of being around uncooperative strangers, people who either would not or could not help me. I recall feeling a sense of confidence, however, that I could make it on my own, with patience. (As was the case with the suitcase on the cliff.) The old forest was gorgeous. My fear was real, and so was my sadness and isolation.

A lot of correspondence has been generated lately with regard to my cousin. His next psychiatric appointment is this Wednesday, the 31st. I would like to be there and will probably take the train to meet him at the VA hospital. My uncle continues to speak on behalf of the entire family yet his words do not reflect my own beliefs about my cousin. Much of this has to do with perception. Certain family members are convinced he is mentally ill. They are speaking with authority yet with no foundation, no basis for what they are saying. Their opinions are simply that: opinions, and nonprofessional ones. I do not possess a degree in psychiatry either, but I know that the perception of this cousin as mentally ill does not serve him; in fact, it only reinforces the victimization to which he has already been subjected for far too long. My uncle is making the claim that his parents were in denial about this alleged mental illness until he was 36 or 37 years old. I wonder how he can make this claim when my cousin's father passed away in 1992. When my cousin was 36 (he is 42 now), his father had been dead for 8 years. This uncle even goes so far as to speak for "the cousins," including me, in a recent report in which he claims we all view him as "weird." Well, I was never asked and do not appreciate being lumped into this group. (We are actually 20 cousins, including the one in question and his brother, and I doubt each one was consulted about his or her perception of this particular cousin.) I hope things can be resolved. It is difficult for me to communicate my true thoughts and feelings because of the protocol of respecting the elders in my family, especially since this uncle in charge happens to be a retired Lt. Col. in the Army, a guy who is accustomed to being in charge, and being right. It doesn't matter who is "right" where my cousin is concerned. What matters is him getting the support he needs. It looks like he might be autistic or perhaps have Asperger's syndrome.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Definitive Diagnosis: An Imaginary Session

The man in the chair turned to the question that would put an end to the small talk. To the man on the couch, he enquired, "So, what symptoms have you been having?"

No symptoms.

"None? Why are you here?"

Oh, I don't know. I was bored and wanted to try something new.

"You could have bought a round-trip plane ticket for the cost of this session."

Yeah, I guess you're right. I can still do that, though. I'm loaded.

"You're a wealthy man, you say?"

Yeah, family money. My old man made a killing during the oil boom.

"The oil boom, eh?"

Yeah. Oil boom.

(Silence in the room.)

So, doc. Do I seem to be a guy who has issues?

"What kind of issues?"

Shall I answer your question with another question?

"Are you being intentionally annoying?"

Are you?

"This is your hour, bought and paid for."

Have you ever considered wearing a Houdini hat while you're diagnosing patients?

"No. I take my job very seriously."

You do?

"Of course. Don't you? What do you do for a living?"

I'm a clown.

"Are you always this irreverent?"

I'm deadly serious. I am a clown. I work for circuses, on contract.

"So, there's good money in clowning?"

Not bad. (Pause.) Y'know, I was thinking ... you must come into contact with a lot of nutjobs. I mean, most people who come to see shrinks don't just do it for sport.

"What do you mean by nutjob?"

Good one, doc!

"That wasn't a joke."

I know.

"You just reminded me of that old Smokey Robinson song, 'Tears of a Clown.' Do you remember the last time you cried?"

Very distinctly.


Do you?


Tears are healing.

"They are."

(Both men take several deep breaths.)

"Well, is there anything I can help you with today?"

I don't know, doc. I do a lot of thinking about people, in general. Why we are the way we are and how we become the people we turn out to be. I'm a lucky man, doc. Some people are born into situations that seem like breeding grounds for poverty and misfortune. You know, disadvantaged. I've never really known serious lack of anything. But some people, you know, it's all they know.

"These are the people who come to see me."

Yeah, that makes sense. Hey doc, did you know all shapes are made up of triangles?


My kid learned that in geometry class.

"I see. Thanks for sharing that."

I've thought about it often; it makes sense.

(The men looked at each other until the silence became uncomfortable and they both looked away.)

"That’s fascinating, actually. (Pause.) Well, we've got five more minutes."


(The two men's eyes met once more.)

Here's what I'd really like to know: Has anyone ever come to you asking for a definitive diagnosis?

"What do you mean?"

Well, wanting to know - once and for all - what is wrong.

"Sure. Everyone who sees me wants that."


"If I were ever to dispense such a thing as a 'definitive diagnosis,' I'd have to be wearing a Houdini hat."

I understand you, doc.

"You can't escape yourself."

Thanks. I'll remember that.