|Posted on September 18, 2017 at 4:25 AM|
Over lunch yesterday, someone was talking about the patron saint of the mentally disabled, St Dymphna, who started the tradition of families taking in a mentally ill person instead of gathering them all in a single institutionalized asylum that is still practiced in Geel, Belgium today. He said that the average stay was 21 years, where the 'patient' really becomes part of the host family and requires much less intervention than those in standard psychiatric care who are institutionalized. He gave an example of a family who had one such patient who hallucinated lions coming out of the walls at bedtime every day, where the wife and husband took turns 'scaring the lions back into the walls' for their psych patient every night for many years. Decades.
In our country, that man would be locked up and doped up on heavy duty prescription meds.
Interestingly, when their own son developed mental illness (I forget how, due to an accident of some sort I think), they were unable to provide the same quality of care for him, and their son had to placed with another family in Geel who did not remember his personality from before the accident.
This makes me think of the Chinese phrase 關心則亂 (guān xīn zé luàn), which roughly translates to "Caring [too much] leads to chaos." It can also be read as "Enmeshment causes entanglement" or "Attachment creates disorder" or even "Codependency is messy." Caring too much interferes with our ability to do well by the person(s) we care about.
There in the dumpling restaurant over my third tiny glass teacup of snow chrysanthemum pu'er tea, I felt the beginning of forgiveness for my inability to show up for my parents in the way I seem to be able to show up for patients, students, friends & colleagues unrelated by blood. I have never believed that the objectivity required by biomedicine was necessary for my own practice of Chinese medicine, which in so many ways is a subjective, experiential science, but I also feel unnerved by Sun Simiao's suggestion to treat every patient "as if they are the closest of [your] kin."*
Now I have an explanation why I feel this way.
Finding a Chinese concept that explains my paralysis, anguish and resistance to 'helping' or 'being helped by' my direct family is a relief. For this alone, it has been worth it to come to Nanjing.
*「皆如至親之想」 (jiē rú zhì qīn zhī xiǎng), from The Absolute Sincerity of Great Physicians 大醫精誠 (dà yī jīng chéng) by 孫思邈 (Sūn Sīmiǎo)