PSYCHConcentric Circles

Psych Class

During my practicum I was presented with a County hospital that housed the severely and persistently mentally ill.  The class was instructed to present themselves as benignly and as unobtrusively possible.  I sat at one of the round tables on a gymnasium-sized wooden floor.  I did not illicit eye contact with anyone other my instructor and a fellow student.  There were many patients milling around the tables; much like the Conestoga wagons portrayed in the old westerns I watched when I was a child on TV.  My arms and hands were stretched forward toward the center of the table, not knowing what could be perceived as a hostile gesture.

Introduction to Psychosis

Charlie was one of the more paranoid individuals in the group.  He would pace relentlessly in a circle.  His eyes were piercingly dark and he would utter what I discovered were bits of words or a word salad composed of neologisms.  His tone was sometimes threatening, but always had a discernible paranoid quality to it.  The concentric circles that he walked brought him closer and closer to me.

That was it.  I was captivated.  Charlie spoke in a manner I would come to recognize in countless evaluations that I performed over the coming years.  I was not to watch him in a manner that would increase his delusional state of paranoia.

I discovered that Charlie and many of the other patients were often in cognitive therapy group for only a few minutes of what is typically a 20 minute session.   Charlie simply could not tolerate such a session.  Later, after reading his medical history, I discovered that Charlie had a profile that tends to fit a person with a chronic and persistent mental illness.

Not A SpiralPsychotic Cycles

Charlie and countless others typically feel better in their own minds. They stop taking prescribed medications.  They then begin to spiral into a delusional system that consisted of ever increasing ideas of reference, paranoia and grandiosity.  Charlie began to feel he was Jesus and that people were plotting to poison him.  Each episode would take him farther into the depths of his illness, and his level of recovery would diminish.  His ability to recover to a point that he could function in society outside the walls of a mental institution were at a critical threshold.

A Path to Mental Health

I never saw Charlie again.  I do think about him however and secretly thank him for his role in seducing me into a career working with the mentally ill.  A profession that always left me feeling I had contributed to the greater good.  I always felt that I would see something new or different each day. Although there have been many trying moments in my work I have had the satisfaction of seeing improvement. There were also great moments of progress in educating the family and loved ones. I know my motivation was selfish in that regard but it worked for me!

Among the many trying moments in my work, there have been many moments of satisfaction as I saw improvement in patients that were a lot like Charlie.

Looking Forward

My goal is to remove some of the stigma and shame that accompanies the presence of a mental illness in the family and among friends.  Classic, overtly visible afflictions are viewed in a totally different manner in this and many industrialized societies. Wounds you can see … broken arms or lacerations … are viewed with sympathy and understanding.  Invisible illnesses such as brain injuries or mental illnesses are surrounded by stigma and fear.  The objective of this blog is to provoke thought and promote understanding.

Ron Walls

Ron Walls has a BA in Anthropology from USF, an Associates of Science in Registered nursing and has worked in the Psychiatric field for 30 years.  His special interest is working with adolescents and adults in clinical settings.  He worked several years ins chemical dependency detox.

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