The Quiet Woman
Part 1: Connection
Sunday, April 8, 2012
I met a new client this week. She didn’t come to me through the usual route by scheduling an appointment, having her insurance verified, or through referral from the managed care company. She came to see me because someone had told her I would help her find housing. When she came into the clinic asking to see me last week, our clinic administrator was confused — this wasn’t the way new clients came in. I spoke to the woman briefly and asked her to come back to see me at…
This is my story about Joe, whose name has been changed. He is a person who lived with schizophrenia. He received his mental health treatment in the STEP Clinic at the University of North Carolina Department of Psychiatry, where I worked from 1995–2012. I worked with Joe from 1996 until his death from lung cancer in 2008.
Joe received Social Security Disability Income, SSDI. He had a work history before he became disabled by mental illness. His income was about $1000 a month — slightly too high to qualify for Medicaid. He had Medicare for his health insurance…
On March 8, 2013, I gave a talk for a Faith Connections conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When I was asked to give the talk, I welcomed the opportunity, because over the past several years I had some remarkable experiences in my chosen field of mental health, and giving the talk would give me chance to work through some changes in how I thought about my work.
One of the organizers of Faith Connections asked me if I would talk about any personal connections I had to someone with mental illness. So I spoke briefly spoke about my own…
Part 3: A Home
(from summer 2012)
Today the quiet woman moved into her new apartment. And she smiled, and laughed, and told me that she was starting her life anew. She ran into an old friend at her new apartment complex, and neighbors greeted her with friendly hellos. She has a home. And she is happy. Her new home is in an apartment building for people over age 55. In addition to having a home, she is joining a community. She is looking forward to the Spaghetti Dinner on Friday — just $1.00. A fellow resident is donating all…
Part 2: Sorrow
Sometimes my heart breaks. I hear sad stories from my clients frequently, and I can sit with suffering. As a therapist, I know that my ability to be present with a person’s pain is a gift, and sometimes my presence is all that I can offer. The quiet woman is still coming to see me. She is still reluctant to tell me much. This week, she was willing to talk a bit more. In the midst of our session, she handed me a note, addressed to her, and stapled shut. She asked me to open it and…
She invited me in —
Gave me tea and we talked.
She spoke of spectral visits on the astral plane
And of her healing powers.
She offered them to me — was I sick? Did I need healing?
It was a gift I yearned to take, but declined.
And then —
She reached out, and she raged.
Cursing me, and all of us.
Powerless to ease her mind —
And yet so much awe at her beauty.
She slept then/no more waking.
Her paintings ripped and torn.
Her music silenced.
Part 1: Connection
As a psychotherapist, it can be tricky to write about your clients. A few years ago, I decided that I would only write about clients I had worked with who had died. I had to find a way to tell their stories, because they were my stories, too. I would honor their privacy, and not include identifying details.
This is the first entry in a series of Ghost Stories.
The context: I worked in a specialty clinic for people living with schizophrenia and related disorders from 1995–2012, the UNC Schizophrenia Treatment and Evaluation Program.
In 2001, the…
A fire and an explosion on the UNC campus. A professor is injured, the Davie poplar is scorched, and a young man’s life is changed forever.
When I read about the recent events on campus, I wondered if the perpetrator might have a mental illness. What I read sounded like classic symptoms of mania, and likely psychosis.
Over the past thirty years, we’ve made significant advances in our understanding of serious mental illness. We know what treatment works, and we’ve made progress in understanding strategies for prevention.
But we still don’t get help to the people who need it.
Humanist. Social worker. Feminist. Working for humane mental health.