One of the required assignments in preparing for our trip to Ghana was to read one of two books. The one I chose was called THE BROKEN CORD by Michael Dorris. It is the story of a single father, who adopts a child named Adam who eventually he finds out has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. At the time that the story took place there was very little information out there about FAS and it took a lot of time for Mr. Dorris to realize the reason why Adam was struggling so much and not improving. Mr. Dorris is one of those people that inspires the rest of us to be better--- he is a dreamer and a believer but some things dreams cannot overcome and education and prevention is the only answer. Education is the constant in everything I am reading about before this trip and it seems to always be the answer…. I did not need to read this book to know that but it just reminds how important it is to create a dialog and educate the world. It is a never ending battle.
In my internship setting we have one student who has FAS and also HIV from birth. He too was adopted and struggles academically, socially and behaviorally, but is higher functioning than Adam. In reading the book I found myself frustrated and saddened, Of course it is not Adam’s fault or Mr. Dorris’s that he suffered the way he did and we always hope for a happy ending and unfortunately that is not the way it goes all the time. In my own work I have been faced with challenges of patience and empathy, as well as expectation. We just want to be able to help, fix, make a difference. All of us who are in a helping or teaching profession went into it because we wanted to make a difference and we believed we could but I cant help but think about being jaded and giving up. My students all have so much potential and goodnees inside of them but almost all of them will not end up graduating high school or making a life for themselves in an independent way. They most likely will end up on SSI, Disability, Section 8, Food Stamps or some combination of the above. I guess you can’t win them all and even if you help one person you have made a big difference. I know that remaining optimistic and passionate despite the challenges of the work you are doing is essential to 1. Any success and, 2. Resisting burn out and ultimately quitting. The turnover in mental health and work at psychiatric facilities is very large, and it is understandable.
What comes up for me though, is how do you stop a cycle of negativity? I think about Adam, and I think about my patients in terms of lineage and cultural practices. The norm where I work is to rely on the system, to be born into a culture where there is rarely 2 parents in the home and adequate nurturing in terms of financial, emotional, educational and psychological well being. The school systems are not as good, there is not enough money to go around and everyone has to work like a dog to make ends meet. There is a lot of abuse, substance and otherwise and it is what it is. Who am I to make judgements and tell other people how to run their families, the issue goes so much further than a blog post. It is like Emmanuel, it start with one person, one voice and you must stand up and say something. Also, who is to blame? Should the parents be punished, sterilized, imprisoned? These are issues brought up in the book and they are important to talk about. How do you control a population that is free to do what they please and the legal drinking age is 21… there is no law, as far as I know, about drinking while pregnant so what do we do? How do we control drugs and marijuana now that it is becoming legal even though it is PROVEN that cannabis can onset Schizophrenia that otherwise would never exist?
I am not saying to put blame on one community or person, but it certainly is real and there is blame to be had. Issues of class, race and gender all come into play and inevitably if these issues were addressed educationally it would help to reduce the struggles that I see everyday but you can’t change everyone or everything and you do what you can and hopefully it helps you sleep at night knowing you try. Disability is a complicated subject--- some disabilities can be prevented and some cannot. Some disabilities can be opportunities for education and information to flourish and changes to be made, but others don’t and they are nothing but a tragedy. The only way to make a difference is to do just that…start to make a difference. The book wasn’t my favorite but it was an important read—it touched on some very real issues that resonated with me and that I am sure will be thought about and talked about in greater detail in the weeks to come. I look forward to discussing the issues that the book brought up with my collegues at the hospital where I work in the near future.