Tag Archives: humans

Lost Minds: Serving people with mental illness

I have been planning to share a short journal I started months ago that describes my experience as a  mental health counselor.  I work at a P.A.C.T. (Programs of Assertive Community Treatment) which serves people with severe and persistent mental illness, such as schizophrenia and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  The program staff  visits these individuals and provide psychiatric and rehab services to help them prevent hospitalization.  I have learned, in the three and a half years I have worked here, some aspects of these people’s lives.

Why am I sharing this with my readers?  Well, because serving this population fits perfectly (I think) with the Kingdom of Heaven.  People diagnosed with a mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, are usually marginalized and discriminated.  Only a selected few are willing to work closely with these people.   They are the “least of these” that Jesus talked about as well.  They are trapped in their own paranoid and delusional minds.   They are ignored, ridiculed, and avoided.  They are Lost Minds.

Here it goes:

October 2013    Yesterday, I visited David.  I saw him walking down the street ,claiming that he didn’t know where he was going but he complained of people calling him names. He was obviously having auditory hallucinations. He states he doesn’t have any friends and does not want to spend time with others .  David complains of pain on his neck and does not want to eat because he wants to lose weight.  His thoughts are concrete , just like a child.

Today I visited Mary for medicine observation.  We need to observe her take her daily medication to ensure she is compliant.   She opened the door to my surprise. She has a history of not answering the door or the phone when we call her. I could sense a strong body odor.  She sat down on the front porch while I talked to her. I reminded her about appointment with psychiatrist but she tried to avoid meeting with psychiatrist by saying that she had to submit a job application in the afternoon but then she said she would meet with the doctor. She tends to say she is busy or cleaning up as an excuse. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoid type, and has auditory hallucinations on a daily basis. The “voices” started when she was in her late teens.
About a year ago Mary began to act more bizarre by not answering her door, acting more guarded, not letting staff come inside, and exhibiting poor hygiene.  She also lost significant weight, and we suspected that she was not taking her medication. We consulted among the PACT team members and decided to start observing Mary take her medication on a daily basis to ensure she was compliant. She reluctantly agreed. However , her sister called the PACT office and shared concern about Mary acting “weird”.  When the sister visited Mary one time, she saw a pile of trash in Mary’s kitchen. She reported that Mary was hoarding trash for unknown reasons.  Sister also said Mary did not have enough food and found hamburger wrapping paper with leftover food in it and the kitchen sink was clogged and filled with dirty water.  The sister said she offered to help do grocery shopping and cleaning up the trash, but Mary declined.  I visited Mary one time and assertively invited myself inside the apartment. I found exactly what the sister described.  I opened her refrigerator and it was almost empty. The pile of trash in the kitchen was about three feet high, and it included a microwave. When I asked Mary what was going on, she replied “I am cleaning up… ” which did not make sense.  I also offered to help her clean up and transport her to do grocery shopping, but she adamantly declined. I  warned her that if she does not clean the pile and buy some food, the PACT team will have to admit her in the hospital for an evaluation.  She managed to resolve the situation but her personal hygiene continued to be a problem.  She has also thrown away furniture because she has been “cleaning up.”  She still does not answer her door every time we visit her but she has been compliant most of the time.

March 2013   Ronald has a history of admissions to the state hospital and the jail.  He is diagnosed with paranoid Schizophrenia and cocaine dependence.  He has a history of accusing others, including the PACT team, of poisoning him , stealing his money, and breaking into his trailer. He threatens to kill some of his family members. He has talked about owning big companies , having surgeries where his organs have been removed , and having supernatural powers . He is one of the most severe cases of mental illness I have worked with. He was recently arrested and placed in jail for continuing to threat family members. He has been on conditional release which grants him the opportunity to live in the community if he complies with treatment . However , Ronald does not always remain calm and is often verbally belligerent and hostile towards staff and some family members.
I visited Ronald at the jail a few weeks later . He insisted that he was “poisoned ” and that his family “cut him up and shot him several times. ” I decided to confront and dispute his thoughts, but he became increasingly irritable and defensive.  He finally stood up and walked away.  The psychologist who evaluated Ronald submitted a letter indicating that given the recent history of threats and paranoia, Ronald is recommended to go to the state hospital.  And so the cycle continues.

May 2014   Today I visited Anthony who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and cocaine dependence.  He admits to drug use but does not have the motivation to quit.  He lives in a dirty motel room.  He has roaches crawling everywhere and it has a lot of smoke from the cigarettes.  He talks about going to war, which did not happen, and being shot.  He only gets $10 a week from his payee, because if he gets anymore money he will use it for drugs.  I am supposed to transport him every week to cash his social security check.  But many times he uses the $10 to pay back one of his “friends.” So he often has very little food and goes out on the street to panhandle.

September 29th, 2014    Today I visited Robert.   He is currently struggling with the anniversary of his marriage with his deceased wife. He has cravings of drinking alcohol so that he can numb the pain that he feels for spending one more year without his wife.  He suffers from panic attacks and depression.   He tries to avoid large crowds.  His best friend is a little kitten that he owns, which gives him comfort during difficult days.

I also visited Will, who lives in an apartment that has numerous things around the living room and dining room which represents his mental status.   He suffers from disorganized thinking and substance abuse. He may also be suffering from dementia.  Having a counseling session with Will is almost impossible. He does not follow a logical conversation , since he jumps from one topic to another.  He also smokes marijuana.

December 11th, 2014     Today I visited Anthony again at the state hospital … He looks physically healthy, but exhibited some delusions. He wants to return to the community , and smoke cigarettes.  He said he will not smoke marijuana but I don’t believe so.  He does not have contact with his family .  He has no friends… He has no place to call home.  His mother died about 14 years ago… She appeared to have been his whole life.   Now he has nothing , except the hospital and the staff.  After this visit, he went back to eat lunch.   He was sitting by himself at a small table . What kind of life is this ? It is sad to see him like this.  What if he was my brother .. My friend… My cousin? Does his father ever think about him?

What am I going to think about this person’s life situation? He is doing fine? He is suffering? He has an addiction that is consuming him? He is just another worthless life?  Or is he a unique human being that needs help?  Lots of help….


To Seek or not to Seek…?

Here is a dichotomy in my mind…

I can remain calm , through acceptance, self denial, and simplicity.  This will include being satisfied with what is, and refusing to desire so to avoid suffering.


Or I can live this life seeking for meaning through prayer, reflection, reading, and studying.  Being unsatisfied and wanting more in life, but feeling hopeful and maintaining faith that I will find more satisfaction .

I can let life continue to be without necessarily trying to “find ” God , or live by trying to discover who and what God is and hoping that a divine intervention will come.

What would be the correct path? I can decide to remain calm and accept life as it is, meditating and simply being.  I can do  this by being aware of the present moment.  Living in the here and now.  I can also remain calm by refraining from desiring and wanting.  Happiness would then be wanting what I already have.  Being a minimalist.  Believing that less in more.  Letting things pass through me… letting go…. without resistance… without judgment.  And experiencing peace.

But I am suddenly aware of the injustice of life.  I am aware of wars… hunger… terrorism …. and famine.  I then become more sensitive to the “evils” that poison this world.   I  start feeling anger…. frustration…. and disgust.   And then  I am motivated again to fight for justice and peace.

Which means I cannot just be. I have to move and do something.  So the question remains: Should I seek justice and peace?  Or should I simply be and accept?  Should I turn the other cheek, or fight for equality and justice? Should I remain calm, let go and let God…  or should I stand up and take action?

Blessed are the poor in spirit… but also are the ones who fight for justice.  Blessed are the meek, the ones who mourn,  and the peace makers… but also the ones who reveal the hypocrites, give to the poor, and speak the truth.

Maybe there is a time for everything.  A time to fight, and a time to make peace.   A time to speak, and a time to remain silent.

Perhaps we are called to act and not act according to the circumstances.  According to the needs at the moment.  But who decides?

Maybe it does not have to be a dichotomy, but a more fluid, mixed approach of seeking and not seeking according to our calling.


Alone: A reflection of myself

Today I received another bad news at work. A co-worker is resigning- my assistant.  I work as a supervisor at a psychiatric and rehab program.  I have been working in this facility for three years now.   There is only one co-worker left , out of 12, who is from the original group.  And for some reason, I start thinking that people are leaving me, and not the work itself.

I am trying to fight the thoughts of “abandonment” and “loneliness.”  After reflecting for a while, I think this is my main issue.  I feel as if these experiences bring up the reminder about the possibility of being alone.   It is weird because I tend to prefer to be alone in many situations.  I am not a social person and crowds are not my favorite places to be.   My tendency is to remain isolated in my own happy world; what many people consider an introvert person.   But at the same time, this isolation is what I want to avoid.   And when people resign in my work place, I have to fight the idea that I am being betrayed… abandoned…. and left alone.
In my early personal life, I experienced several changes of living arrangements,  as a result of moving from one place to another.  My family moved a total of 17 times in my childhood.  And every time it happened, I would have to adjust to new a environment.   New peers.  New house.  New neighborhood.  New school.  It was also a way to keep me from settling and growing roots.  I could not develop strong friendships.   As a result, I think I developed a strong sense of insecurity.  When I engage in arguments with my wife, I tend to feel extremely anxious.   And I wonder if it is because of these same thoughts of being alone.

This may explain why I still struggle with feelings of betrayal and abandonment, which can be manifested in the present time.  But at the same time, I am cognitively aware that it is not necessarily “bad” to be alone.  It can be a moment of reflection and peace.  I enjoy reflecting and meditating.  But these feelings of “abandonment” and “betrayal” are often present.

I am actually glad I am reflecting on this, since I also believe that by thinking more about it, I may be able to deal with it better, observe it, and move on.

Does Atheism cause depression?

I was talking to a person today who stated that he believes that “atheism causes depression.”  And I have been wondering if this is the case or not.  Does the act of not believing there is a God or a divine being cause people to feel hopeless about life?  Does it create a sense of meaninglessness?   I think it is important to start considering the correlation between the existence of God and our level of happiness.  I started wondering also if believing in a divine being is necessary in order for humans to have hope and meaning in life.

Is the concept of God a way for us humans to desperately decrease the chaos that invade our minds if we would not have this belief?  Does believing in God help us to feel safe, worthy, and meaningful?  If this would be the sole reason that we choose to believe, is there a way to feel safe, worthy, and meaningful without the concept of God? Do we even need to feel happy in order to have meaning?  Do we need meaning to live a worthy life? Do we need life to be worthy?

I think few people will doubt that humans are complex beings who strive for purpose and have aspirations.  We develop organized systems called societies that help us to live productive lives.  We are not like the other beings we call animals and plants.  We can be creative, ambitious, merciful, and entertaining.  We can definitely destroy and kill each other, but we can rebuild and forgive.  Where did all these special attributes we don’t share with other living beings come from?  Are we just a pure accidental chance that happens to evolve out of nothingness?  Or could we have developed these characteristics from a higher being?

This brings me back to the basic question of “What or who is God?”  I do not believe God is the humanly figure that sits on a golden celestial throne up in heaven punishing sinners and protecting the loyal believers.  God is much more than what our limited human minds can even imagine.

Can we imagine forgiving those who hurt us?  Can we imagine loving those who hate us? Can we think of how we can serve the hungry, the sick, and the naked when we have our own problems to solve? Can we ponder on how to give the criminal another chance to contribute to society, the addict another opportunity to be sober, and the cheater a chance to be honest?  If we can, then we can imagine the characteristics of God.

The person I referred to at the beginning of this post used to be an atheist at one point in his life.  So he surely has some personal experience and knowledge about the nature of atheism.  I understand that the unbelief in a God implies that this universe must be an accident.  It is a random set of particles that happen to interact in such a way that it triggered molecules and chemical reactions that caused the beginning of life.  This life evolved somehow to ultimately create consciousness and, thus, human lives.  But it was all an accident and random chance.  According to atheism, we have no purpose and meaning.  We just exist without a reason.

And I wonder, does having no meaning and reason lead to depression?  We may think we can create our own reason and meaning.  But then what?  What good is it to create my own interpretation of life and then cease to exist forever?  Living with atheism would be almost like a dead end.  There would be no designed cause for my existence, and no ever lasting effect as a result of my existence.  Sounds depressing?

The atheist  may disagree with the idea of living in depression.   He or she may also be in denial.  All I know is that life must have a meaning and a purpose in order to be worthwhile.   Otherwise, our existence would truly be meaningless, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves we are worth something.

The Delusion of Life

We tend to believe we are the center of the universe.   We like to think we are advanced beings capable of so many things.

But we  are simply a whole bunch of self proclaimed “intelligent” creatures living in a huge piece of circular rock, spinning and revolving around one humongous burning star among billions of stars in a seemingly limitless black space.

In spite of this humbling fact about our existence, we limit our growth by fighting each other over land, religion, and money.  We learn to hate each other faster than we are willing to accept and love one another.

Even after realizing the insignificance of our presence in the vast universe, we keep fixated on how to win the competition through consumerism and mass manipulation.  We prefer to compete rather than cooperate.

In spite of realizing that we definitely not know everything there is to know about our human lives and the reason for the universe’s existence, we still live our lives as if we have everything figured out.  We tend to pretend to know instead of living and accepting uncertainty.

We live in our own bubble of grandiosity and self-adoration.  But we are truly unsecured and we constantly feed our egos to the point of living a fantasy through religion, fame, professionalism, fashion,  patriotism, and pride.

This is our delusion.

This is what keeps us in a superficial sense of security and invisibility.

Will we ever fully wake up to the reality of our limitations? Will we accept the fact that we are all the same?  Will we accept and embrace our mortality?

God versus Humans: Part 2

We, humans, have declared war on God.  But this is not an ordinary war.   It is a different kind of war.  We have tried very hard to fight Him, not with guns, tanks, and bombs, but with our egos. Our weapons are our egos.  We try to use human logic to explain away the existence of God.  We attempt to justify the non existence of God by using suffering and evil as evidence.  We try very hard to live independently. We try to own our lives.  But we truly own nothing.  Not even our own bodies. Once our bodies die, we lose them forever.

No matter how many rules, regulations, and laws we create, we humans will continue to break them.  And when we break the rules and laws, we must create consequences to enforce the laws.  And when we enforce the laws, we are also creating a hierarchy of those who have the power to enforce the laws, and those who must obey the laws.  This creates different classes based on different levels of authority.  And by doing so, we create inequalities among ourselves.  Those who can and those who cannot. Those who must obey, and those who must be obeyed.  And this almost always leads to injustice, abuse of power, and hatred.  It is a dead end.

This dead end is even more enforced by a very powerful armor that we tend to use: Pride.

Pride is a very dangerous thing to live with.  It blinds us to the point of exalting us to a level that is more than we really are, but is truly an illusion.  Pride gives us a false sense of security that is temporary and shallow.  It makes us even more vulnerable to suffering and pain.

But someone once said “love your enemies.”  He also said “be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect,” “walk the extra mile,” “turn the other cheek,” “forgive seventy times seven,” and “those who are free of sins can throw the first stone.” How can you do all of these things, and still enforce rules, create hierarchies, and maintain our pride?

We simply cannot.  It is either us with our own strengths, or something else.  Something outside of us.

We humans cannot ever function perfectly without failing with our own limitations, unless we rely on something greater than us. Because, after all, it is not about us and our limited strengths.    Like a community is not built with an individual but a combination of different individuals, humans cannot surpass our limited ways of living without the collaboration of something beyond us. And it is through this collaboration that we can move beyond the strict set of rules and regulations that we cannot escape from on our own.  This collaboration is with something greater than us. Something transcendent.

I think we need to surrender to the fact that we cannot do this on our own.  We need to empty ourselves from our arrogant ways of living. We surrender ourselves by being poor in spirit.  In this spiritual poverty, we will then have the space to fill ourselves with something greater.  We will cease to look at other humans as inferior, but will see them as worthy.  And the key word here is Surrendersimilar to when soldiers surrender in a battle field.

We would not need to maintain a hierarchy.  We would not need to keep ourselves segregated or compartmentalized.  We would not need to create fear, abuse, or hatred. We simply would need to Surrender. And by surrendering, we are automatically welcoming Grace.

And when you have grace, then we start experiencing forgiveness.  We start having true harmony.  We begin to love our enemies.  We experience strong communities.  We encounter and start living a new way of existence.

“…for God, nothing is impossible.”

And by doing the above, we humans are already making peace…. With God.

God versus Humans

We, humans, function better when we set up limits.  We can maintain peace and order only by creating a rigid set of rules and regulations.  These rules and regulations are called laws. And we need to enforce these laws.

For every infraction that breaks the laws, we create a consequence to punish the infraction.  We have to set limits… otherwise there will be  chaos in a lawless world.  We need to enforce the laws by creating a set of punitive techniques to maintain as much order as possible. We need to be fair.  We must practice nonmaleficence  and benevolence.

We need to reward people according to their deeds.  The more people contribute to society, the more rewards they should have.   This is how we come up with the concept of morality.  Whatever helps to promote more peace, harmony, and thus benevolence, it is agreed to be labeled as “moral” and “the right thing to do.”  On the other hand, whatever contradicts what already has been agreed as that which helps the  continuation of society’s growth, is labeled as “immoral” and “unlawful.”  This is why we develop constitutions, laws, monarchies, governments, and regulations.   To remind us of the “wrong” things we need to refrain from doing and to avoid punishment, and enhance society’s growth.

The more people disrupt peace and harmony, and thus affect the benefit of society, the more punishment they should receive. Someone has to pay for the “wrong” that is made.  This is also why there exists jails, prisons, sanctions, etc.   The laws reflect the wrong that we can perform.  The rules limit what we can do because it remind us of our flaws.  They tell us how corrupt and “evil” we can be if we are not careful.

This is also how we create the notion of human rights.  We create the idea that individuals have rights that need to be protected. The right to free speech, the right to practice religion, the right to vote, the right to equal employment, the right to not be discriminated, etc. This is how we maintain equality.  And we arduously protect these rights because it is the “right thing to do.”  This is how we humans operate.

But I wonder…. is this the highest possible way we can live our lives? Is there a better way than to punish defiance and reward compliance?

I believe there is something higher than our human ways of functioning.  There is a much different set of operation that surpasses our limited human understanding.  This something is what many choose to call  “Higher Power,” “Supreme Being”, or “God.”

God does not operate in the human way.  I believe He functions in a much higher level.  His ways are not our ways.  God does not operate based on laws and rules; He operates based on grace.  He is not about punishment  but about forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. God does not protect the rights of individuals, but the benefit of the whole. God is  not fair or fights for equality.  He reflects unconditional love and giving.  God does not manifest in  prosperity and power, but in poverty and humility. God is not found in ambitions and abundance, but in emptiness and scarcity.

This is why we don’t understand God.  This is why we often call God “unfair”, “mysterious”, “uncaring”, “distant”, and  “evil.”  Because of our limited human understanding of the need to set rules and regulations, we also tend to limit God within this concept and thus justify our human regulations by claiming that God also operates based on our laws and policies.  God simply does not meet human standards.

But God does not operate like we do.  He is much more higher.  So different, that we cannot comprehend how can He ever forgive murderers, rapers, thieves, child molesters, and all kinds of criminals.  So much higher than our standards, that we need to create religions, rituals, and the concept of “hell” to maintain control of each other through fear and try to explain how “evil” people receive what they deserve.

God is so much more advanced than all of human beings combined, that the simple teachings of “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemies”, “walk the extra mile”, and “pray for those who persecute you” are totally foreign to  us humans and almost impossible to digest.  Who can really forgive a murderer?  What human being can willingly submit to an unfair authority? Who can reach the point of putting their own needs aside to help those who are less fortunate? Who can surrender their personal agendas to benefit others in need?

We simply cannot operate like God does.  It is not natural.  It is not human.  It is rather irrational.   Unfair.  Supernatural.

Can we ever reflect the character of God?  In other words, can we forgive the unforgivable?  Can we love our enemies? Can we set aside our individual rights and work towards the benefit of others even if it is unfair? Can we serve others who do not deserve to be served? Can we have the grace that God has? Can we even compare ourselves to God with all of our flaws and limited intentions?

My answer would be a simple no.  We cannot possibly operate like God does.  We do not even deserve to be compared to  God. We are too limited and flawed to even begin to act like God does.  We would need something outside of ourselves to even start practicing the kind of grace that God uses.  We cannot possibly forgive and have mercy in the magnitude that God does …

Not with our own strengths…..