I have a friend a very good one, though there is a certain level of care giving involved in it. Juan (not his real name) is a little younger than I am, in his mid- fifties, his physical health not so good; however it is his mental health where his main problems lie. I first met him in the early nineties; he came across as a very intelligent man, which he is indeed, of Cuban descent, and his family well off.
I was at first put off by him, because he was very direct about his problems, his failures, and how much he was striving to live a deep spiritual life. He had a rough background, though it was not from his immediate family, but from those who worked for his father. There was some sexual abuse from some of the workers who were his father’s employees. They also at a young age introduced him to pornography which took him years to overcome. When we met, he was really at the beginning of his inner journey, just starting to mature and his insights deepening about his relationship with God and also the church.
Apart from the above, he was also bipolar, and had a strong tendency to paranoia. So he had a full plate to deal with. He spoke slowly and deliberately, and at first I found him a little boring, until I listened a little more deeply. For at the beginning, I was not aware that he was looking for friendship and failed in giving him the attention that he deserved. Yet he was undeterred. So over the years we have become close, he, very honest as usual, and me, well I just listen and once in awhile give him something to think about, though listening is the main thing. He just needs someone to see him as he is and not react or shut him out. He is lucky that his parents are supportive of him, accepting and loving, even though they know of his past, in acting out in sexual ways, which have roots from the abuse from his early childhood. If he did not have their love and support, I am sure what would have become of him.
About three years ago he called me on the phone and did not sound quite right. He was talking very aggressively about the police in the area, how they were out to get him, how the towns people hated him. He told me that when he went into a store people would stare at him in a hateful manner. This was the first time that I experienced him during a period of paranoia. I really did not know what to do. I tried to get him to see his therapist, but he was not aware that he was being paranoid and would not consider it. So I decided not to push it, but told him to please call me if he needed to talk. I did not hear from him for about three months and was concerned but not overly, for again he had loving parents who would do what was necessary if it was needed.
The next time he called me he was back on track. He parents, after observing his deteriorating condition, had him committed for observation. It seemed that Juan’s doctor changed his psychotropic medication, even though his old prescription was working fine. The new prescription did not work, which led to his psychotic behavior. This meant that Juan was not aware of what was going on and did not interact with his physician. I was glad to hear from him and that he was doing better. He changed doctors since his trust level was gone; also his anger over this took some time to get over. He finally came to the realization that doctors make mistakes also and he was able to forgive and find some peace.
It took years for him to get over the shame of the above episode. So one day after yet another replaying of the event, I decided to talk to him about it. I pretty much told him that even though the event was still felt strongly by him, it was not true of those who know him. People were not constantly thinking of what happen a few years back; that he was causing himself a lot of useless suffering by trying to explain himself to me and others over and over again. Now that could be a problem after a while for those who had to listen to, to be reminded over something that they would never think about again, if not reminded of it by him. It is good to talk things over, but after a number of runs around the track it was good to stop and give it a rest. I am not sure if it was even the right thing to say, or if it even helped, but he stopped talking about it with me. I think he was relieved, though, who really knows what someone else feels? This could have been a failure on my part.
He moves forward, deals with his past. He will call me and tell me that a lot of shame is surfacing from his childhood and early adulthood. So he talks, I say something, he talks some more, and he feels better. Shame if talked about lessens with each round of communication; well it does for him, for as the years go by these episodic communications are lessening.
However the same cannot be said for his paranoia. He called me this week about another round of this problem. Not as bad as when his medicines were changed, but painful enough to want him to talk about it. I did learn my lesson from the past, I tend to be a little blunter and at the same time knowing my very real limitations in dealing with this kind of thing, carefully phrase what I say. When he is in the midst of this break with reality, even if not full blown, it causes him a great deal of pain. When he called me he said, “Mark I am becoming paranoid again. People everywhere are looking at me with hatred and I feel very uncomfortable”. So we talked about it. So at one point I said, “Juan, you know, at least from what you told me, that you are being paranoid, so use that to keep your feet on the ground. Tell yourself that you are having an episode, admit your discomfort, accept the fact it is flowing from you and then leave the area”. We talked about how lucky he was that he could do this.
Learning from the past, I also told him my concern that he could be swallowed up by his paranoiac tendencies, also they seemed to be coming more common. I said this because it was the third time he called me in a month over this issue. I asked him if he told his therapist about this escalation of symptoms, he said no. We talked about the wisdom of this, so he promised that he would call his doctor and let him know the situation. For he may simply need a change in his dosage; at least from time to time, for he was increasing his dose on his own without his doctors knowledge, which is another can of worms entirely. I also reminded him that I was not a professional and could not really help him with this, so please do not think of me in that way. I am merely someone for him to talk to, nothing else, just a good friend. He agreed.
Juan is a man I have the deepest respect for. To me he is a man who is broken, knows it, works with it and stumbles forward. A man of courage, who reaches out and knows when to ask for help and does not hesitate; for he has a number of people that he talks to, and they all respond to him and love and respect. He is on a true path of spiritual growth and insight, which makes him a very humble man in the truest sense of the word. For humility is the simple courage to accept what is, and to do what needs to be done to move forward.
He has a lot of baggage from his past that he is slowly unloading. His faith in God is deepening, and from that there is also healing. People often think the walk towards God is one about a steady climb up the mountain, when in reality, it is often about dealing with the inner rubble, without giving in to despair, but with a quiet determination to move forward one step at a time. The deeper the self knowledge, the closer the walk with God; for the awareness that all is known, even before it is acknowledged by the soul, is freeing and life giving,; an enlightenment of sorts. Repression is no longer needed. For no matter how fearful it may be to enter into some inner room where perhaps monsters do dwell, to know that the lover of your soul is there, has been there waiting, is indeed freeing.
So yes, Juan has no idea what a great soul he is, nor how brave, and certainly is not aware of his deep humility. One thing he is aware of however, his is deep faith and trust in God. For as he told me one day, “You know Mark, as I look back over my life, I see that Jesus was there all along, in my shame, in my failures, in my pain and degradation, yes he was with me, for he never left me”. Yeah he really has no idea.