My Experience Has a Name
By Donald Wayne
Doctor “P” Came Along to Name It
Help came in fits and starts over a lifetime of mental illness, which began in the 1960s while in my middle grades. It has been a journey marked by compassionate people and stunning luck. Understanding my illness came over decades of having to piece it all together. Looking back over the years, I can see the evolution of my life narrative.
I'm not sure what my age or grade in school was. The time period is hazy for me to determine. Perhaps it was sixth or seventh grade. I was having a terrible time at school and was miserable. When lunchtime came around I would be my own company, separating myself from the other children. I was anxious. People called it my “nerve problem.” I felt as if I were all alone. Indeed, nobody seemed to comprehend my situation. No one thought it was anything but nerves, at the very least an illness.
My mother was my first advocate. She came to wake me for school one morning and found me lying in bed, as stiff as a piece of lumber, with the sheet stretched taut between my teeth. Many years later, my mother told me she could slip her hand easily beneath the arch of my back.
Something was clearly wrong. She phoned my father at work. “There’s nothing wrong with Wayne,” Dad said. That wasn’t acceptable. Mother called our physician, Doctor “E,” who recommended a psychiatrist in a city fifty miles away.
My sessions went on for years with diminishing returns for the amount of time spent with Doctor “M,” my psychiatrist. Medicine was prescribed, but with no understanding of my condition. He had told my parents that I would have a family, but would never make it through college.
I started college in the late 1970s and did well. Away from the stress of parents and bullies in school, I thrived. I transferred to a university in the piney woods of Texas, a place which I loved, and still do. I had been taking courses in photography, which I later majored in. I remember that day well.
It was a slightly chilly but clear cobalt blue day as I arrived on campus. I was beside the white stone four-story library when a “thought” came, telling me terrible things about myself again and again. I could not make it stop. I lived with these voices and the increasing paranoia until one lucky break.
I was to go see Doctor “F” to have my medicine refilled, but for some reason he couldn’t make it to my appointment. That’s when Doctor “P” entered my life. Talking to this kind physician with his big eyes and tall frame who asked me leading questions, I had the courage to ask about the “thoughts” that were torturing me, which I did not understand.
Consequently, I learned Doctor “P” had once been an army doctor with special training in the area of schizophrenia, which he thought I had. I was not expecting help, and certainly not this. But I was relieved, if somewhat bewildered, at discovering my situation had a name.
Doctor “P” helped me deal with my schizophrenia for a decade. Tragically, for many people, this man who meant so much to so many of us, died in an accident. I then became the patient of physician Doctor “R” for the next decade. In him, I would find a man, distinguished, knowledgeable and a friend.
Doctor “R” would spend plenty of time with me, allowing room to ask questions unhurriedly, a contrast from the several minutes people in my situation typically get. He once offered to take me to a good Dallas restaurant and buy me a steak if I lost weight. I didn’t, though I wished that I had, if just to spend time with Doctor “R,” for he would leave my town after a decade or so. I think he was in the military guard.
Receiving assistance from the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation was the last piece of the puzzle. I had lost my job and needed help. Since then, I have had several therapists, all very good. After six years, I am getting to the bottom of my severe anxiety.
Along with the concern and helpfulness of these medical professionals, it seems that there has been an element of luck with me throughout the years. My doctors and family all stepped in when they could help, combined with my own initiative, as well. I thank God for them all.