Last week, our Three Personal Perspectives on Mental Health forum featured guest speakers who held forth with glorious honesty on mental health and their creativity. Writer, psych nurse and psychologist Dianne Lee read aloud her piece on a personal, transcendent moment of faith and kindness. We’re proud, therefore, to present her piece online for the Twilight School community to read, ponder and savour.
Photo credit: Amanda Piper
Love and Fear
Melbourne cartoonist Michael Leunig wrote, ‘There are only two feelings: love and fear. There are only two languages: love and fear. There are only two activities: love and fear. There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results: love and fear, love and fear.’
My work with violent offenders and paranoid patients supports Leunig’s message. In 1990, I was working the night-shift as a psychiatric nurse on an adolescent residential unit. Seventeen-year-old Rick was admitted one afternoon, presenting with paranoid psychosis after having made threats to kill his parents. I was in charge, working with a nurse who had no training in mental health. Rick was unsettled, pacing around his room and talking to the bedroom walls. He refused assistance and was still fully dressed at midnight.
Every half hour, I approached Rick to offer a chat, hot milk or sedation. He ignored me and averted his gaze. I read his file to discover that Rick had held his mother at knifepoint. My anxiety grew. This was an isolated unit, set well away from the main hospital, with no alarm system. We were caring for seven other teenagers, mainly suffering from depression, anorexia nervosa and phobias. I was three months pregnant.
I phoned the hospital supervisor, who said she would visit if Rick was still awake at the next round.
Shortly after our conversation, a loud thumping noise came from Rick’s bedroom. When I approached the door, Rick came out with a knife in his hand, saying that he needed to kill his parents, who were agents of Satan. The other nurse picked up the phone, and Rick bailed me up against the wall. ‘If she rings for help, you’re all dead.’
The nurse froze with the phone in her hand.
His eyes were dark and cold. The knife was pointed at my lower abdomen. Crazy thoughts were bouncing around my head and gut. I felt responsible for eight teenagers, the nurse and my baby. I assured Rick that we wouldn’t be calling anyone. The nurse remained in a trance; it was the best help she could offer.
Silently, I asked my wise self for guidance.
This is what came forward: the story a friend once told me of an Indian Guru giving a talk at an ashram in New York. The meditation room went silent, and suddenly a dishevelled, agitated man approached the elderly Guru and said, ‘You speak about love, but the world is full of hate. Love is bullshit!’ The man pulled out a gun and said, ‘What would you do if I killed you now?’
The Guru waved back the students who were rushing to his aid. ‘I would die loving you,’ the Guru said, giving his full attention to the stranger. The man fell to the ground and sobbed.
I didn’t say anything to Rick, but I moved into a different state of awareness whilst contemplating the story I’d heard years before. From fear to love, the inner voice kept saying. From fear to love. I clearly sensed the fear in this young man, and I knew that love was blocked in his heart. I just stood there and felt a deep sense of peace entering my body.
We stayed like that for some time. He waved the knife around and talked about killing his parents, who were evil. I could tell he was hallucinating when he said, ‘They tell me you are a messenger of the devil. Do you believe in evil?’
I told Rick that I sense light and dark energy, and that I’d like to talk with him about it. He didn’t answer for a while, and then he nodded.
I asked Rick to put the knife in a safe place, which he did. We sat on the couch and he described his paranoid delusions in detail. I didn’t say much, because it was in the silence between us that a light shone. After some time, Rick fell asleep. He was certified the next day and transferred to a secure facility.
I visited him a few weeks later, and we talked about the night we first met. Rick was surprised that I chose to see him again. I told Rick that the person who confronted me was not really him, but a distorted part of his mind: a part that blocked his true nature.
When I reflect on that experience, I am grateful that no one was harmed, but during that period of awareness, I clearly felt that even my death was not to be feared.
Letting fear block love would have been the real tragedy.
(Previously published in Platform 13, 2013.)
Dianne Lee is a psychologist and registered general and psychiatric nurse. Since 1972, she has worked in a range of settings: hospitals, psychiatric asylums, community clinics, prisons, university, and private practice. She is also a writer who has been published in Platform magazine and is currently working on her manuscript, Shelter Song.