As my heart constricted and my stomach knotted, my eyes were drawn to the young man standing before me. On this spring day in the mid 90’s, my weekly psychotherapy session with Collin was proving to be as fascinating, challenging, and as heart wrenching as most of the others. Collin vacillated from fighting the demons within to coping with his fear of being seen, being unremittingly vulnerable and, very simply, being.
Here it comes, the litany of curse words and accusations of betrayal…”fuck you, bitch”, “I hate you”, “I wish I could kill you”…usually followed by screeching, growling and fists pounding the floor and walls. Then, without skipping a beat, Collin curls up into a ball on the floor…wincing, crying that the “light” inside him is trying to keep the “monster” at bay. “Please help me, Miss Kimble!”, Collin begs, holding his outstretched arm toward me, his hand reaching out to grasp mine, indicating the need for the strength he derives from safe human touch. “I’m afraid of the darkness”, “It’s bigger than I am”, “I can’t fight it”, “It’s taking over”, “Help me kill it, Miss Kimble!” - all typical weekly outcries from Collin.
Unfortunately, Collin epitomizes the national mental and medical health systemic failure, spiritual repression, and the unchecked re-victimization of our special needs children, and indeed all those identified as mentally “ill”, through labeling, over-diagnosis, and most tragically, a devastating lack of understanding about the genius and necessity that is mental “illness”. Collin had been diagnosed, and re-diagnosed, with everything from Autistism to ADHD to PTSD to Schizophrenia and more. Collin was medicated, and re-medicated, with a pharmecutical cornucopia of powerful drugs ranging from sedatives to anti-depressants to anti-psychotics. Nothing worked. Collin’s behavior was, and continued to be, bizarre, unsafe, aggressive, and overtly sexual. Collin’s history of severe sexual, physical, and emotional trauma, neglect, and abuse – in addition to being forced to witness the same against his little sister – had taken its toll.
What most professionals and practitioners do not realize is that Collin’s mechanisms for survival, including the aggression and bizarre personality shifts, had saved him from complete emotional and spiritual annihilation. Unfortunately, these same genius defense mechanisms and survivial tools were now his undoing, subjecting him to a mental and medical health culture that thrives on labeling, hiding, and shunning those whose extraordinary ability to survive devastating trauma is viewed as “dys” functional.
Collin is actually a typically adaptive, intelligent, loving boy born into a world, a culture, a family that repeatedly let him down – a system whose efforts to “treat” constitute spiritual repression, shame, fear and non-acceptance in disguise.
As a student of traditional clinical psychology from my early 20’s on, I too was trained and educated to understand mental “illness” as; a breakdown in our brains; as a problem or ‘dis’order; as an internal system which is failing; as a cognitive activity which is undesirable; as a state of mind or being which is worthy of shunning, inhumane treatment, seclusion and denial of human acceptance and validation. Indeed, it took me years of my own self process and healing coupled with an advanced education in transpersonal psychology, the study of the human spirit and other nonphysical aspects of existence, to understand that the misguided and harmful notion that mental “illness” is a severe “dys” function rather than the wonderfully functional coping tool and genius survival mechanism it truly is. What I have come to understand, and believe, is that the human mind, and ultimately the human being, does not create mechanisms or engage in processes which are inherently “harmful” or unnecessary – alternatively, the focus of all human mechanisms is survival! We employ tools such as depression, schizphrenia, etc. in order to survive a particular, or set of, circumstances.
Our brains are hardwired to assist us in our physical, emotional, and mental survival under all circumstances – what a tremendous ability and gift! It is unfortunate that our medical and mental health systems and services do not honor these survival tools as the natural gifts they are and instead treat those who evidence any such “mental” states as illness, disorder, dysfunction and other equally unacceptable and undesirable states of being.
If we are truly seeking to support the healing and wellness of our human/spiritual selves, it is imperative we begin to view and honor what have been previously categorized as mental “illnesses” as states of human and spiritual wellbeing and tools of mental and emotional re-ordering, protection, support and health seeking. These traits are as essential to our evolution, survival and wellbeing. as those traits deemed acceptable and desirable such as euphoria, creativity, drive, determination, joy and others. In accepting all of our human traits, abilities and characteristics as necessary and timely, we also honor and nurture an equally significant aspect of our being, our Spirit.
If the educational, mental and medical systems had viewed and treated Collin’s so-called “disorders” as magnificent tools of reordering, healing and survival, perhaps Collin would have been able to move beyond his seemingly permanent state of terror, torment and resulting socially intolerable and unsafe behavior. Maybe, if Collin and others like him were validated and honored for their effective utilization of so-called mental “dis-ease” they would be able to embrace, honor, process and move through such periods of difficulty successfully and with grace, resulting in the re-establishment and re-ordering of health and wellbeing.
So, ponder these words, Collin’s story, and this new perspective of viewing mental “illness” as mental “wellness” and embrace and honor yourself as well as others as we experience the often complicated, challenging and blissful journey of human spiritual beingness.