Friday, April 15, 2011

Laundry List

Today I spent in consultation and in a car. I arrived with a speech to review for the morrow and emails to answer in my 'inbox'. I'm going to do something I've never done before. I've reached way back in my archives to bring forward this post. I read it every now and then to remember what it is I pledge every year. Hope it fills the void for the day...

laundry list

After I had explained what a resolution was, he said in a voice still full of the thought he'd put into it, "My resolution is that the staff be nicer to me." He didn't get it. He was confusing a resolution with a wish. I'm not one to give up easily (unless we're talking about diets or other attempts to self reform) so I persisted. "Well what could you do to make it so that the staff would be nicer to you?" I asked.

At the time, I thought that a clever question. Remember, if I was meeting with him, he had a problem. I don't go out and meet people with disabilities who aren't a danger to themselves, to others, to the neighbours cat. So, I thought this could bring about some reflection, maybe even - heaven forbid - insight that leads to change.

So he puzzled and puzzled until his puzzler was sore. And he brightened.

"I could make them happy."

Do you feel the roll we are on here. No surprise that I took my masters in counselling, huh? This is good stuff. I truly hope you are taking notes. This is "feet of the master" stuff.

"And how could you make them happy?" I asked. Now I expected him to say something like ... "I could stop breaking the furniture over the staff's cars" or "I could stop terrifying the other residents into catotonia." Either of these would be a good start. But, to be fair to him, the fact that I was even having this conversation meant that he'd already done a good bit of changing. He'd been one of the most difficult people I'd ever worked with. He took tantrumming and non-compliance to a whole new level. He inspired awe.

One of the things that women don't understand about the male body is that when we men feel frightened or threatened our genitals pull into our bodies. This would explain why, for the first view months visiting him, I always had a lump in my throat. He terrified me. But here we were, talking, he'd just made it through the Christmas season with no blood spilled no insurance forms filled out. Then, he answered.

"I could die."

I was shocked and looked immediately to his face - was he joking. No he wasn't. He was just thoughtful. The idea had come to him. There was a way to make the staff happy. He could just stop being.

We'd programmed the violence out of him and somehow he'd got the message that we wanted him gone, disappeared.

But who hasn't had those feelings. Who hasn't wondered if the world would be better off unburdoned by our presence. Weekly through my childhood I wished, not for death, but for non-existance. To just disappear. To make the world brighter, lighter, happier by vanishing.

But there he sat, waiting for me to comment - like I always did - on his idea.

"But, why would that make the staff happy?" OK, not great but he took me by surprise.

"Because I wouldn't be here and then everyone would be happy all the time." Now he was beginning to understand his own words. Now tears were entering his voice and muffling the words he spoke.

"No, no, no, you'd be missed." I meant it and he knew it.

"Why?" He threw the challenge down to me.

Why would he be missed? His tantrums wouldn't, his unreasonableness wouldn't, his inability to be second in line wouldn't. But then I realized. He was much more than those things. Clinically he sounded like a mess - but personally he was pretty cool. He was a person that was written about in two dimensions but lived in three. He couldn't easily be captured by words, filtered down into a psych report, collected into data points. He was flesh and blood, fist and fart, laugh and dance human.

"You be missed because," I picked up some of his laundry out of the basket on the office floor, "who'd wear these."

To my relief, he found that funny. So did I. So we laughed and went on.

This leads me to my resolution. I know it's a few days early, but this one is a no brainer. I make the same resolution every year.

"This year I will see each person I meet as a whole person, not as a bundle of behaviours, a wack of needs, or a jumble of concerns. This year I will see the nose AND the face. This year I will seek the center of the person - not the person at the center."


CL said...

Oh, wow. I knew something sad was coming, but I didn't expect it to be "I could die."

The resolution at the end is beautiful.

Jen said...

I read this yesterday
"he puzzled and puzzled until his puzzler was sore"
That made me laugh out loud. Class! :)

Lori Maloney Young said...

love it - thanks!

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I want to carry this with me as I teach people to be support workers.


Jan said...

We all should remember the person not the parts when we are dealing with individuals. This is a powerful post and makes us remember that there is a person inside of those "behaviors". Thanks Dave for the powerful post. It is a message we all need to remember.

Jim Currie said...

Dave, thanks for this insight. However much we feel these things theoretically it can be difficult when faced with "behaviours" to keep remembering it. Your encouragement to others and bringing such issues to the fore is always a blessing.

Can I also say that I usually read your blog on a computer that doesn't allow me to post comments. So I read every day and don't often manage to comment to thank you for all that you contribute on a daily basis.

Keep it up even when you get down!

Kasie said...

"He was a person that was written about in two dimensions but lived in three."
I love that! If only we could forever keep that in mind.
A couple years ago, I challenged people in our company to refrain from the use of the term "behavior" as in "he had a behavior", etc. It's rewarding and fun (in an odd way) to watch people struggle for a different way of saying what they are trying to say. It almost always leads to a more respectful, three dimensional way of saying that someone was disappointed, hurt, sad or mad and reacted like people sometimes do.
Thanks for all you do, Dave!

Kristin said...

Thank you fro using the way back machine and reposting this. What a powerful story.

Anonymous said...

thanks, dave.

Princeton Posse said...

Thanks for the reminder, Dave.

maggie said...

Powerful reminder on many levels.

One that's present for me in my own life just now: The people who want one person to change may not realize how important that 'thing they want changed' is to the person's self-concept.

Whether I want someone to stop throwing tantrums, or to stop drinking alcoholically, or to stop making fun of others ... I need to realize that on some level they do it because they think they need to. And if I take that away, what can they put in its place?

Thank you so much for this.

Noisyworld said...

Seeing the whole person- very wise words.
I *TRY* to do this- very difficult when somebody's just done something loud near me but I try... and I'll continue to try :/