Friday, October 30, 2009

Spy in the House of Psychiatry

Welcome Back to Waikiki
photos, click on the-" Goin` up the country, got to get away. . . "
Country Joe Mcdonald

"Truth is not introduced into the individual from without,

but was within him (sic) all the time."


These ladies are public health outreach workers.
They bring help and information to those who need it the most.
They may have offices, but their real workplace is the streets,
and the heart.


One night many years ago, in a city far away, a much younger me was spontaneously initiated into front-line street outreach.

Returning from New York on the train late one night, I arrived at a dozing 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. (Go Phillies!)

This is the huge, echoing sepulcher that steals the key opening scenes of the film "Witness."

Who knows why we notice the previously un-noticed?

Who knows why our lives are marked and changed forever simply as a result of walking left, or right?

That night I noticed an old man and a young boy sitting on one of the hard, wooden benches under the spooky, extreme bas-relief that depicts the history of transportation where the Amish mom and child sat in the film.

Somehow I knew that they were not necessarily waiting for a train. You might laugh at me, but I think that sometimes angels whisper in our ears. Most of the time, I only realize it afterwards. But that night I felt a surge of impersonal decisiveness that propelled me across the vast space to the all-night McDonald's.

There were 14 desultory hamburgers and cheeseburgers under the orange heating lamp. They looked as listless and purposeless as the late shift counter-person in the empty, over lit, late night oasis.

"Please give me all of those hamburgers."

"Is that to go?"

"No, I'm gonna eat them here while you watch! Just put them in a bag please."

What happened next was an out-of-body experience.

As you can tell from the interchange above, I was an impatient jerk who didn't suffer "fools" wisely back then. Thinking about it now, I realize that THIS night I'm telling you about marked my embarkation on another path.

Walking across the giant space, I understood that there are people everywhere with nowhere to go, people who are hungry and cold. They had just been part of the city-scape before. Now I wondered why someone didn't just do some simple thing. It was SO obvious!

Approaching the old man and the boy, I instantly understood that this was not about me; this was bigger than me in a mysterious way. I was not to taint this with my personality or ideas. I was simply there to offer food simply.

"Want a hamburger?"

The old man looked at the warm bag, then at me.

"Who are you?!"

"No one, just take a sandwich.

They did.

That was the first time.

It was the time of Reagan, and there were more people on the streets. I could not shake the feeling, a feeling hard to describe, that this was what I wanted to do.

No bullshit. Just food.

So I bought bread, jelly and peanut butter from my meagre earnings, and made nightly forays through the streets and alleys of Philadelphia giving away the sandwiches that I made; doing it all as simply as possible. Matter of fact: "Here it is."

The only thing that I knew was the satisfaction of doing something worth-while. It was OBVIOUS: this is what you do. The only mistake as I saw it, was to do it "for the feeling."

All my self-doubt, confusion, and future-fear were quiet when I walked those streets. There was at least one reason for me to exist.

Well, long story short, I got involved with non-profit organizations. I saw how a good idea gets mired in "professionalism" and "boundaries" and "training" and measurable change, statistics and funders reports.

I noticed how the word "client" creates a judgement and a separation.

Anyway, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatrists is meeting here in Waikiki. I used to provide medical education around issues of stigma and risk, and have been invited to speak to the shrinks about after school groups for at-risk Isle kids that I launched and facilitated a few years back. A study was published, and re-published, and so I will be the only mere BA to instruct the MD experts.

They will want to know about recruiting the participants, about the curriculum and structure of the sessions. They will enjoy the numerical data generated and published.

But what I want them to understand is that it's not all about professionalism and prescriptions. I want them to understand that it IS all about simply being there with the right attitude. It's really Aloha, unconditional positive regard, that made measurable, positive changes in the lives of the kids who participated. Mine too.

A psychiatrist or other professional is very full.

I have learned to serve others by being empty, by listening without agenda.

So I will be a spy in the house of psychiatry.

And though my presentations have always been well received, it's been a few years since I was really doing that work. I'm grateful that they asked, and hope that my information will help them serve kids better.

But I'll be glad when it's over.

A L O H A! Cloudia