I'll Be Alright

I think you all have a pretty good sense of the people I work with, 85% schizophrenia (involved in a variety of stages of the dehumanization process) I'd like to introduce you to James.

A few weeks ago, it was a really hot day; I noticed James was sitting outside with sweat dripping from the tip of his nose. I asked James to come inside where it was cooler; James has long history schizophrenia, 30+ years. I decided to have James come and sit in my office. My office is one of the cooler spots in the building. I got him a cup of cold water, as he tried to drink his water, he was spilling it all over himself, his shirt was soaked. He could barely put the cup up to his mouth from shaking so badly (TD), "I'll be alright", he just kept repeating, I could tell he was trying to compose himself, stabilize himself.

I do what I do best, talk to him about his life. How are things going? For men, I always start with sports, "James, tell me what your favorite sport is?" and the conversation begins.

What saddens me is, I could "see" him trying to maintain his dignity, respect, and humanity, as he was spilling his water all over himself. Throughout the 1/2 hour conversation, he was attempting to tap into what little pride he had of surfing, playing football and baseball as a young man, repeating throughout the time, " I'll be alright" -- he was telling himself, Several times, he crossed his legs and clasped his hands together and hugged his knee, the shaking was less, "I'll be alright", Every once in a while he would look up, our eyes would meet, only for a second, as he quickly veered away, once again, down casting his eyes and head, "really, I'll be alright",

He went on to tell me about a girl he loved when he was a young man, wondering what ever happened to her, told me about his boyhood buddies, Greg and Joe, "we used to surf together". I asked him if he ever talks to Greg or Joe, " oh no, we don't talk the same language anymore."

Reduced to exist on such a primitive level now, he continues to sip on the cold water, grasping his knees tightly together, "I'll be alright".

Day in and day out, I see very painful examples of reductionism, fine people who once hit a bump in the road and now over the years have been tossed aside, disregarded by society, as if they mean nothing. Well, they mean something to me. He told me; you're always so nice to me, thank you, for the cold water.

I can't undo or make-up for the 30+ years of medication, but what I can do, is offer a simple gesture of kindness, encouraging words, eye contact if possible, laughing at their silly stories, providing a space for James just to be.

Mary Madrigal