Some weeks back, I put up a post about a television show that returned to DirectTV. Originally braodcast in 2000, it is called Wonderland, and is a drama about a fictional psychiatric hospital set in New York City. It was developed by Peter Berg, who grew up with a mother who was a psychiatric nurse.
It aired for two episodes and was taken off the air by ABC, succumbing to pressure from various mental health advocacy groups for its stark portrayal of the mentally ill. I just finished watching the third episode and I can see where this series would have made many people uncomfortable.
Tonight's episode made me uneasy, not for anything particular in it, but more so because I found myself feeling that I could not be in any position in the treatment of mental health. Do not get me wrong - mental illness fascinates me more than it frightens me. I have always enjoyed the bizarre, the odd that is found in the world.
All things counter, original, spare, strange . . . - Gerard Manley Hopkins.
I recall once, when I was still married to my first husband, his uncle came to visit while we were at my in-laws, released on leave from a psychiatric hospital where he resided. The man had seen some terrible things, including the invasion of Pearl Harbor, but had not done anyone harm. He came with this smiling, bald, and loquacious fellow, one of his rommates from the hospital, named Eddie. No one wanted to sit with them, so I did. My former husband's uncle did not say much, but Eddie delighted me in telling me that he didn't like eggs boiled with desks. "Who does?" I laughed.
But a story like that does not mean I do not see the evil that can lurk in mental illness. I have family and friends who have lived with monsters, some imaginary and some very real. In one instance, it resulted in the suicide of a young woman; in another, a person whom I never met did unspeakable acts for which I can not forgive. I use the word "evil" with a small "e", mind you - it is not the Evil, but a word used to describe the pain that the mentally ill suffer . . . and the pain that those who deal with them, whether family or professional, are forced to endure.
It is this latter that got me thinking tonight while watching. I deal, in some ways, with mental disorder at my work. Most of the time, when people see me professionally as a family law attorney, they are at an emotional nadir. I see a lot of unrational thought, a misordering of priorities, as they deal with the emotions that come with the death of a marriage. I am fortunate, though. I only need scratch the surface. I only have to determine the legal aspects and if I feel someone needs more, I have my phalanx of "experts" to whom I refer them - the family counselors, the therapists, the doctors.
But a struggle I have in my business is to show compassion while keeping empathy in check. No pun intended, but I must divorce myself from their pain so I can be their rational thought sometimes and help them make decisions that minimize their risks. It is hard sometimes - and at other times it is very hard. It places a lot of stress on me and it is no surprise that the California bar has help lines for attorneys who turn to alcohol or drugs to dampen that pressure. I hear many sad stories; I hear many painful stories. If sometimes I kick my stall out, it is a release, and those who may get hit by a hoof, forgive me. It's either that, or I fall through the looking glass.
God help those who live their lives on the precipice of the same - the doctors, the nurses, and the others who treat the mentally ill. Knowing how easy it can be to succumb to the mental disorder of my clients and absorb them, it must be worlds harder for these people, which Wonderland seeks to show. And worse is when their disorder holds that looking glass up to your own. Because we all have some. None of us hear live in a perpetual state of nirvana. So when I hear a client discuss the problems that arose in their marriages, there are the times the small voice in my mind says, wait - doesn't that sound like something going on in your own? Imagine the intensity if you were a psychiatrist and the voices in the patients' minds trigger your own.
I only have to peek at the looking glass to help my clients - these people sometimes have to fall through it to save their patients.
How do they make it back?