I hope you are all doing well as we move into November. Now is the time to enjoy the bright autumn leaves, wear your favorite sweaters, and take advantage of mosquito-free walks.
This week, I thought it would be interesting to share some experiences I had with my patients that helped me to grow. I wanted to highlight three experiences: an insightful analogy, a spiritual realization, and a courageous moment.
Being a holistic psychiatrist allows me to live and learn vicariously from the thoughts, feelings and experiences of many people. It is a life packed with life! I hope you will enjoy a glimpse into the ways I grow and learn from my patients, as my life intersects theirs, along their healing journey.
The Wisdom, Insight, and Power of Patients
Being at the crossroads of life as a holistic psychiatrist is truly a privilege and an adventure. Not only is life made more meaningful through service, but at the end of the day, I feel as if I have condensed three day’s worth of living into one busy work day. My artistic nature finds creative expression in nurturing beauty and color back into another human being’s life. In return, patients help me to grow, by teaching me through their lives, how to truly live. I learn from their insightful analogies/metaphors on life, examples of courage, and acts of faith. Because of my patients, I have become more patient, humble, and compassionate. The advantage of a life of service is that it leads to the same transformation and healing being served to others.
I will share just a few experiences from this week, starting with an analogy given by a patient, during a session, that I thought was immensely insightful, not only about herself, but about human nature:
1) We were discussing how she often used dissociation, a coping mechanism, to brush away negative feelings. Several times, I pointed out that she was speaking in a child-like voice, with a shrug, while ignoring her deeper awareness of pain and suffering. The patient also noticed it and, at the same time, was struggling with her inability to stop doing it. She wanted to feel again, but could not, because of her fear that it would lead to a never ending “black hole.”
She said, “I guess it’s like being on autopilot for so long that I’ve forgotten how to do it on my own. And when I try to jury-rig it, it doesn’t quite work the way it should, and I end up crashing.”
I was delighted by her brilliant analogy and told her so. Isn’t that a common problem we all face? I asked her how she could avoid the automatic autopilot response of dissociating her feelings, and instead, become present and engaged with life. This question led to some steps. First, to notice when she is on the verge of going on autopilot. Second, to choose to stay and face whatever life is presenting to her at that moment. And third, to love herself, even if she jury-rig the process and fail to do it perfectly. For, how else can anyone learn to shift and grow?
2) “After I leave, she needs to sanitize this sofa,” he said loudly, while waiting in the waiting room. He was grimy, because he had been homeless. When I looked at him, I had the impression that, if he had a good shower, he might not look so tanned. He reeked of alcohol and slurred his words through half-closed eyes. He was emotionally, cognitively and socially impaired. His mother had brought him in that evening for some urgent care. His diagnosis was bipolar II, and he had not been taking his medications. Instead, he had taken a bottle of cough syrup that morning, which he said, “worked well for me.”
As I handed him some supplements to swallow in the waiting room: Li-Zyme Forte, Recancostat (glutathione), and Ultra-CBD (hemp oil cannabinoids), he took them trustingly, all the while, talking himself into doing it, saying, “It’s just supplements, natural stuff; it’s not going to hurt me.”
While typing out a nutritional regimen for him in my office, thoughts flowed into my mind, as if angels were whispering to me: he has the divine light within him. God lives through him and knows his suffering. God loves him and knows who he really is. A warm feeling of compassion and respect for the patient accompanied these thoughts.
When we ended around 10 p.m., we shook hands and looked into each other’s eyes. I saw intelligence and goodness there, and I hoped that he could feel my genuine compassion for him and remember the divine within him, keeping him company, no matter what.
3) The patient had been tearful and irritable during the week, despite lowering some of her antipsychotic medication for the past several days. “Perhaps,” I thought, “she needs more medication and not less. Perhaps I had made a mistake, by tapering her antipsychotic medication too quickly.”
I did an analysis, using muscle testing, to check for the patient’s qualitative function, and the results indicated that the patient was on too much medication, not too little. I had been too conservative with the taper and not aggressive enough. This was it. After six months of treatment, we would need to stop the remaining 0.3 mg of Risperdal. To do so would go against my training and would require courage and faith in following the testing results. I shared my results and conclusion with the family and patient, looking a little concerned, worried and apologetic.
“Yes!” the mother said exultantly, triumphantly pumping her fist in the air, “Finally!”
Her daughter smiled also, looking pleased and happy.
I looked at both of them and blinked in surprise. “You’re not worried about stopping the medication?” I asked.
“We’ve been slowly getting to this point over a long time. It makes perfect sense. It’s just a little bit of medication. No, I’m not worried,” the mother replied confidently.
“Well, call me, if you have any concerns this week,” I called out, as they left the office, after going over what to watch for, if the withdrawal didn’t work.
“She’ll be all right,” the mother said. Her reassuring smile comforted me, despite my trepidation from ten years of medical brainwashing.
As I closed the office door, I marveled at her and her daughter’s courage, faith and strength, and hoped that all will go smoothly for them. Withdrawing from an antipsychotic is to risk the possibility of psychosis, to lose one’s ability to think logically. To taper, nonetheless, requires tremendous faith and courage. For a thousand, thousand times, I have witnessed such faith and courage in my patients and their families. Without their strength and determination, I would have given up such work a long time ago. Where the darkness is darkest is where we see the brightest light shine. What a wonderful privilege and honor it is, for me to accompany my patients and their families, on their healing journey.