Vitality: A Psychiatrist's Answer to Life's Problems

By Richard Esser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3.
SEARCHING FOR OPTIMISM IN THE WILDERNESS OF
PSYCHIATRY

When Bill, as I shall call him, came into my life, he was a troubled and threatening man. I was in my first year of specialty training in psychiatry. Bill looked just like the professional football player he was, outsized-big and formidable. He said almost nothing but glowered ominously as if daring anyone to cross him. People kept their distance. It didn’t help matters that he was the only black person in that private mental hospital. Bill was convinced that his wife was trying to poison him. He was admitted to the hospital because his family felt there was a serious risk he would kill her.

I liked him. We played tennis together. We talked together a great deal. He progressively opened up and tried his best to answer the host of questions which I, in my eagerness to understand what was going on, asked him. Over the following weeks he improved markedly. His menacing attitude disappeared as did his suspicion of being poisoned. He was moved successively from the closed ward to the middle ward to the open ward.

That is clearly not the end of that story. But I cite that episode from long ago because it taught me a lesson. Fumbling to learn something about psychiatry, I realized that I could, even in my innocence, reach and help someone in the throes of craziness if we could first be friends. That experience was my first inkling that calling craziness the mental illness of psychosis was a gross oversimplification

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