“In Japan we have a phrase Shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind”. The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose you recite the Prajna Paramita Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it. The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.”
Taken from Zen mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
I have read this book so many times and this precept has stayed with me, even though my practice has never lived up to it. This is not the reason I have opened with it though because my blog today is more directed at those who chose to deal with mental illness. I have written much about my personal experience of dealing with being ill, and I have touched on my feelings for the system that is supposed to help me. Today I wish to speak to those who have made a life choice to help those with mental illness.
This is not an attack on the NHS or those who work for it really, and I do not wish it to be interpreted so. It is my feeling and thoughts, I speak only for myself. I don’t know if this post will reach anyone it would be about, but if it is read and understood by just one person, I may have achieved my goal.
I, as a person, have the humblest admiration for anybody who choses to care for others, those people who give their days to saving lives or making life better are heroes. Those that chose to help the sufferers of mental illness have a difficult task. Taking myself as the example I am an accomplished liar, I even know how to change my body language to disguise the lie. I will look you in the eye and lie to your face if I need to, I have had plenty of practice. I don’t do this to deliberately deceive you, I do it because you are poking around where I don’t want you. I do it because I don’t trust you.
For me personally trust is the key to my inner self, if I don’t trust you, you are not getting in. You can be the top of your class, read every book, got letters after your name longer than my actual name, but if I don’t trust you, I will beat you every time. You may have a masters but trust that I am a master and if I’m going to give up myself I need to trust you. Even when I was at my most broken, probably even more so then my survival instinct kicked in and trust was the first key.
With trust comes security, safety and then the guard may come down. If I feel safe with you I may let you in, if I don’t feel safe then I do not trust you. I want to and that is an important point here, I want to trust you. You are the person who has trained to help me, you are between me and the darkness. You are my Virgil leading me through the layers of hell. If I have to walk that path I will only walk it with trust in the person leading me. You have taken on the mantle of Virgil when you chose your career path, I wonder how your training prepared you for this responsibility.
Trust comes from understanding and while I appreciate that you may know my illness in all its complexity and the whys and how it happens, you do not know me. Just because I have anxiety and depression does not mean that I am the same as your next patient. A broken arm is a broken arm, but before you do anything to fix it you take an X-ray to be sure your actions will heal it and not cause other problems. Well to X-ray me comes from talking to me and when I start don’t let me stop. Just listen and understand if you can but don’t just sit there taking notes, there is time for that later.
I feel that I am treated as a child, I look at you all and see you picking up on key words and statements and forming your conclusions. I see you using your textbook knowledge and experience of others like me, pick a pill and pop me in a pigeon-hole. Well just so you know myself and a lot of others like me are not as stupid as you make us feel. You may wonder why patients are not responding to the limited treatment you give us? Well it might have a little bit to do with the fact that you treat us like children and often come across as wooden. I know the precepts of CBT (still on the list though for actual treatment) and frankly a normal anxious depressive is going to walk all over you if they don’t trust you.
For those Doctors and Psychiatrists, you may be experts in your field but if you don’t gain my trust I don’t care what journal you are published in. I mean this post not as I said as an attack but as a personal statement. I feel let down by the system, I know you are under staffed and under funded but that is your problem not mine. My problem is keeping from hurting myself, my problem is your problem as you chose to take on the contract. Telling me it’s my fault for lying, telling me I need to do more to self-help is such great advice. Your job first and foremost is to care, to let me know you care. Read again my quote at the start, and find your beginner’s mind. Find that part of you that compelled you to choose medicine in the first place.
I love you for trying to help me but you are not doing it right. Not for me and I feel a lot of others. Please look inside and the next time you see a patient look for the trust. It is your best tool to do your job. Save us by gaining our trust and stop looking at us like subjects, we are real, we are in pain, we are not stupid. In fact we help more of our own kind on our own than you do, and I don’t even have a degree.