Sera Davidow Questions What We Think We Know About Mental Illness
I’ll tell you what we don’t do: we don’t call the person’s doctor, or dial 911, or drive people to the emergency room. We ask what’s going on for them — not what’s “wrong” with them or if they have been given a diagnosis. If they do mention a diagnosis, we ask what it means to them. If they talk about voices, visions, suicidal thoughts, or injuring themselves, we meet this with calm curiosity. We’ve found that what helps people move through such feelings is being able to talk openly about them. Unfortunately many people don’t talk openly in clinical environments for fear that alarms will be sounded.
My mother is a wood thrush, and my father is a great snipe. They aren’t my parents in this utopia. They’re birds who met once, then drifted apart, as birds do, so they could lead their own lives and become who they were meant to be. They have no children, bird or otherwise, tugging them in a different, boring direction.
It’s already sweltering at sunrise on this August Sunday morning in Norfolk, Virginia. My Lebanese grandfather is taking my brother and me fishing for blue crabs on the Elizabeth River. He stands on the dock and drops the oars into the flat-bottomed rowboat.
While my father was stationed in Germany and dating my mother, he wrote her a letter saying, “Someday I’d like to have twins with blond hair and blue eyes.” Twenty-seven years later, here I am, one of his identical blond-haired, blue-eyed twin girls.
Once, a donkey ascended to the shining gates of the kingdom of heaven. The gates were open. The donkey heard music more beautiful than anything he had ever imagined. Each note was a star going supernova, a pack of wolves running down an elk over snow. The song poured itself into the world. The donkey stood transfixed. Without thinking, he opened his mouth wide and brayed.
Then Hallie meandered in twenty minutes late, glowing in bright colors — orange and green and purple. Her clothes looked like they’d been knitted by a blind person. She wore a scarf on her head and yellow combat boots, and I would give anything to experience that same fear and elation again, the feeling that we were starting something new together.