“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Hopeless. Given up, throwing in the towel. This is pointless and I cannot do this anymore. This is a feeling we all have at times. I remember a time when I was working at a rehabilitation facility. I was sitting in a staff meeting and it all boiled over. I screamed at all the staff, “What is the point of this, what are we even doing for these patients! We just take their money, give them 80 dollars a month, and do not help anyone! This is a complete fraud. We write notes so we get paid, not because we care!” “Someone tell me what we have done for Bill!” No one answered. “See we do not help anyone, this is a complete joke and it is wrong.”
The looks on everyone’s faces said it all. It was a small room packed with many people as we had the projector on as we were required to go through all the patients. Some had agreement on their faces. Others disappointment, but mostly shock. People had their heads down. It looked like shame. No one said a thing and after this went on for 10 minutes I walked out in disgust. I went to my office upstairs and closed the door in complete defeat. It was over. I am done.
After years of working in the field of psychiatry and addiction. I had quit internally. I watched over and over as patients would come in and leave. They would come back. No one seemed to be getting any better. We made money either way. We were told to write notes, because that way we could get paid money for that day. It was all about money and filling beds. We had to fill the beds.
At times, it did not seem like the patients cared at all. They had a place to stay for a few months while they attempted to get into new places. The social workers in the community did not care, because they just wanted a place for their patients to be so they did not have to worry about them. The hospitals did not care, they discharged people to us because they needed placement. Hospitals did not care about how a patient was doing, they only cared if the patient had a place to go.
I watched the other staff. They came in and sat in their offices, basically the walking dead. They sit in the offices and stare at the computer, and in the 5 minutes that the patient wanted to talk, they would blow the patients off. They would come to work, goof-off at times, but basically dead on the inside. It was like zombies walking all over the place in a dark dreary place. They would talk about how this whole system is a fraud, how we are making money, patients do not want to be here, the staff themselves do not want to be there. I would listen to this, and then as it got in my head, I would look and that is what I would see.
I gave up. My whole life was a fraud. It was a scheme and what I had lived for, my passion, was now exposed as a complete fraud. It was painful, and defeating.
We had a patient at this time and his name was “Bill.” Well, “Bill” came to us, he would not even talk. He would not eat because he thought food was poisoned. The man was about 90 pounds. Can you imagine thinking your food was poisoned? How scary that must be. He would go into the bathroom and spit until he had no saliva because he thought we were trying to kill him. He would hold his bladder because he feared going to the bathroom. He had a look of fear in his eyes, he was scared of everyone and everything. Then we had to force him to take medications. In his mind, he was at a place that was trying to kill him, poison his food and kill him. He then is told he has to take medication that makes him sick, tired, and shaky. Then he is told he has to take it and is locked up if he refuses. Imagine that as your reality for a moment. He would not even sleep. It was torture I am sure. It was heartbreaking. He had no family to come visit, he would never come to groups, and he would never participate. No one really cared. We got his money every month, we wrote a note on him every day and got paid. He had a place to stay. His social worker figured he was ok and would work on a new placement for him. But treatment? How was he getting any treatment? Staff did not care, they got through their shift. I did not care anymore, this was the blow that was ending it all for me. It is official, this is a fraud and I cannot help anyone or anything. I give up.
Then the staff meeting I described above in which I let loose on everyone. I blew up and it all came out in an angry speech in front of all staff at the meeting.
As I sat in my office with my heart pounding and my heart racing and emotions all over the place. I hear a knock on the door. I say “come in.”
It was Lonny. Lonny was the business manager of the place. He was the one that collected the money and paid the bills. He was a kind and direct man. I always wondered how he could take money from these people who had nothing. He did it every day, which was his job. He was not a bad man, he was a good man. He had a difficult job. He did not speak often, but when he did, it was important and meaningful.
So my thought as he walks in is “Oh my god he is going to give me a lecture about this, but I do not care I am quitting anyways.”
He said, “Can I sit down.”
I said “sure.”
He said to me, “I was thinking about what you said. What have we done for Bill? What are we even doing? And I think I have an answer for you.”
I said, “Ok.” I was thinking, “I cannot wait to hear this one.”
He said, “Well maybe if we do well, Bill will have a place that he can go back to some time in his life and say, you know the world is a scary place, but there is a place that I was at for 90 days that was not so scary. People were nice to me, they took care of me and listened to me. So maybe the whole world is not so bad. Maybe we can plant seeds in his mind that he will use later.”
I said “How do we get to that, he will not even talk. He is scared and no one cares.”
He responded. “Start by saying hi every day. Smile at him. Regardless of his response. Let’s just start with hello.”
This conversation changed my life. I am rarely speechless, but this was one of those times. My mind went blank. It was all still. All the emotions were gone and my mind was blank. It was like once again in my life when I could not take anymore. I was delivered a message to continue and to go on. I was given a spark of hope and a different way of thinking from a most unlikely source.
Every moment in life can teach us lessons, and every person is a possible teacher. If we are not fully present in each moment, we miss out on the lesson. IF we have preconceived notions about others, we miss the lesson. If we are elsewhere in our mind, we miss the moment. If we miss the moment, we mess with the future. Every moment builds on the next, which is how the future is built. Moment after moment.
I never thought this man had this life changing lesson for me. When I was broke, defeated, and had given up on my life’s passion. The man who pulled me up was Lonny.
I started to listen to this advice. I said hi. Nothing at first. For a couple weeks. Hi how are you doing? Then one day, it happened. “Bill” looked up at me, and said hi. Then he smiled. Then he would say he is “doing fine.”
I watched him start to talk to other people as well. Others would talk to him and be good to him. Now the same staff that were zombies were still being zombies. But my mind was not focused on them anymore. It was focused on the 2 or 3 staff that were trying every day to make a difference in each moment that they had. These were the people that I was not noticing before, because my inner turmoil did not want to see it. Now I saw it.
One staff. Her name was “Rochelle,” would give everything she had to each patient and in each moment. If they wanted to walk, she would go for a walk, they were the most important people to her in that moment. She also heard all the negativity, however it did not disturb her. I was in awe of how she did this. Maybe it did bother her, but it did not seem like it. For each patient, the moment they were with her, they were the most important person in the world. How had I not noticed this before?
“Bill” eventually got better. I mean not completely. He shaved his head, he was smiling and talking to us about his life. He actually was eating. He would still eat as fast as possible and cover it up, but he would eat. He was no longer afraid of the bathroom. It was amazing.
I go back to Lonny’s words often. Planting seeds. Sometimes we just need to do the best we can do and let go of the results. Sometimes we won’t see the results. Sometimes the results we see for other people will not be what we want for the other person, but it is not about us. It is about them. It may be that they got the result that they wanted. We cannot define another person’s success by our expectations and standards. What is their goal, and how can we help them. Do they even want help? We are like the passenger with a road map that points out things. They are the driver, it is their journey. Sometimes all we can do is make someone feel safe, or plant seeds. Or make them feel like the most important person in the world for that moment.
I thought for a long time that I planted seeds in “Bill.” Maybe I did. I let go of the results because I did the best I could.
What I know happened is that “Bill” planted seeds in me. So did Lonny. Thank you Lonny.
I thought I was the gardener, however I was the flower.
Or maybe, I was both. Maybe we all are both at all time.