The Pond, Learning and Humility


What an amazing ride I’ve had in the past few days on the tsunami of commentary from my previous post. While it’s been fun (dare I use the “F” word again in a post?) it has also left me unsettled. I’m not used to so many eyes reading what I write and discussing it. Although I re-write many times in an effort to get the words of my post just right, I still miss the mark for some people some of the time. This seems to be part of the deal.

Written communication is tricky when I have lots of time for revisions, edits and spell checks. Writing back and forth in the comment section is like having a whole lot of new high-speed pen-pals all at once whose faces I may well never see.

I was caught off guard by the intensity of expressed emotions, the willingness to reveal personal experiences and the genuine tenderness and warmth.

And we’re still talking to each other. Mostly. I think. That’s amazing. And wonderful.

This morning I flipped through my idea pile; the barely conceived, the half-done and the near done, looking for what to write next. I could find nothing that really pulled at my heart. Sure, I have a lot to say about a lot of things. Trust me on this one. I do. But not one of these scraps of ideas feels like what I need to write today.

This brisk, multi-partied public conversation we’ve had over the past few days has stirred a great deal up from the bottom of my pond. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been given fresh humility with regard to the generosity, caring and resilience of my fellow humans. I was aware of these things. But they now have a sparkling new coat.

Today, all the subjects in my “write next” pile are flat and tasteless beside the real conversations and relationships we’ve miraculously forged with nothing but words riding electrons inside cables and invisible vibrations though the sky. These are the seeds of genuine human connections. When I decided to take a swing at writing on MIA, I had no idea this was possible. I am more than a little humbled by this.

Today, I wish my words could reach out to each of you who reads them and hug you. Okay. I hope you understand this to be a loving impulse. I suspect not every single one of you reading these words would want this “word hug” from me. Still, this is how I feel as I type these words on my laptop with the cool breeze blowing through the open window beside me.

First the pond. Then learning and humility.

I live in an small pond created and maintained by me. I keep the water of my life as still as I can so that I can navigate everyday life as a psychiatrist, writer, wife and mother. I work outside the home as little as possible. The TV and radio is off. I ignore current events and news. I go to bed early and get up in the quiet dark to write. We eat at home. Until this sabattical I did not have internet at home. What I know about the “real world” comes from everyday life and conversations with real people.

I keep plenty of slack in the fabric of my life. When life throws me a curveball, I can generally catch it. This approach to living has good parts. The mud stays down, the water remains clear and the family gets dinner. I’m certain many would find my life dull.

The drawback to this intentionally mundane existence is that my world view becomes more narrow and shallow as the settled mud of passing time and life builds up. Plus, there’s a lot of reality I don’t get exposed to.

These recent on-line conversations have been pond-stirring for me. I thank everyone for sticking their paddles in the pond and gracing me with truths from their lives. My pond is muddier now but it’s also deeper. I seem to see better with more mud in my water this week. There is more to think about.

Learning and humility is tougher for me to think and write about than the pond. When I have a visual metaphor like a pond, it’s easier for me to explore thoughts and feelings. It gives me a patch of reality to swim around in and look at.

As I think about my new learning that has come from our recent conversations, I find it to be inextricably woven with humility.

Why don’t I tell you about three things I’ve learned. I’m certain there will be more understanding yet to come for me. Different lessons come at different times. These three are simply for starters.

First, real people with deep feelings reveal their traumatic experiences and sensitive selves here. They open their hearts and leave themselves vulnerable. This is where my new-found humility enters the picture. I’m humbled by the courage it takes to write personal truths before unknown and invisible eyes. I wasn’t expecting these: the revelations, the emotions or the courage.

Second. I’ve learned, again, the power of saying ‘I’m sorry’. There are so many hurts in this world and never enough forgiveness. There are some incredible peacemakers here among us when we move beyond the pain and anger. This gives me more humility. It also infuses my life with hope. I find I can’t have too much of either humility or hope.

Third. We are all one. In ways I am not able to say in words, all of us are connected. I know this and feel this but my words are inadequate to the speaking of it. Here’s that humble feeling again. It wells up inside me like clear cool water and comes from my eyes as tears.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. About that discovery…
    “I’m humbled by the courage it takes to write personal truths before unknown and invisible eyes.”

    I appreciate the humbling… and yet I’ve found the more one is present to your last ah-ha… we’re all one, that ‘revealing’ is not really happening… we all know these things, we all have our empathic connection to each other and do feel the others reality even without them saying it. They’re only being canaries in our collective coal mine.

    So, I’m left being appreciative, and having a sense of connectedness, to those who are out loud about OUR condition (albeit each of us carrying a different portion).

    After all, we’re all canaries.


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    • Becky,

      I hope you saw my apology to you on Dr. Keys’ last blog. I think it was me who upset you and my comment is at the end of Dr. Key’s blog. I’m glad you continue to share despite the fact we all have our past traumatic experiences that can cause us to get easily triggered and shoot off the hip only to regret it. I’m glad you shared your feelings at the end of the last blog because I could finally “hear” you once I had moved beyond the triggers of my own traumatic encounter with psychiatry to save loved ones. I wish we had our own delete buttons at times like this.



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  2. Do tears have words Alice?

    Your post certainly shows signs of a deep stirring beneath a cognitive sense of self which seemed to be pretty sure that words shape the world?

    I wonder if you still feel/think the same way as you follow your famous name sake down a certain rabbit hole where we find not word thoughts, but a deep well of core affect/emotion which can only be expressed as dream like metaphor.

    Personally I’ve found that the affect/emotion which stimulates my psychotic experience has nothing to do with cognition, its about innate survival responses hard wired from birth. My cognition is something I was taught, my language, vocabulary, my thought/words.

    Normally its fine, my educated response and how I was taught to be, its only when I fall down the well, into that body of sensation, that my existential nature exposes a core reality.

    That’s when a psychiatrist’s need to maintain homeostasis via thought/words often fails me, they seem so distant in their cognition, and I pause to wonder, “which one of us is dissociating here.”

    When nature wells up from within and the tears flow, can you be certain that its really words make the world, Alice?

    Perhaps your sensitive soul will dream a little differently now, and your cognition not so dismissive?

    Love your work Alice:)) Keep up the stirring posts.

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    • David,
      You make good points. Perhaps I would amend the “words create the world” statement to “words create our waking world”. My unconcious, nonverbal and dream-self are the bubbling well from which my words arise.

      I’m not meaning to be dismissive of reality. When I say “Words create the world” I hope I am suggesting we all use extreme caution and care when we select our words. Especially in this word-based communication on-line environment.

      Thanks for reading and writing here.

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  3. About saying sorry: when my son came out of hospital totally paralysed by risperidone physically and mentally I looked at him in sorrow, thinking:”what have they done to you? They were supposed to help” and things like “God forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing” In my heart I knew that the doctors were not out to harm him, that they actually meant well and that made it more difficult for me. My son hated the lot of them with a vengeance. After he managed to get off the meds behind the doctors’ backs and slowly got back to his normal self, we talked a lot and I thought: “If only these doctors were allowed to say sorry to him we didn’t mean to harm you”, It would make his recovery much easier. But doctors are not allowed to say sorry even if they want to because of the modern compensation culture. And as time went on and my son was healing emotionally and came to grips with what had happened to him, I realised one thing that he will never be totally healed before finding the strength in his heart to forgive because doctors are only humans, and move on. I think he doesn’t hate them any more but he is still afraid of them and their power, noone should have such a power over his fellow-humans.

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    • “My son hated the lot of them with a vengeance. After he managed to get off the meds behind the doctors’ backs and slowly got back to his normal self, we talked a lot and I thought: “If only these doctors were allowed to say sorry to him we didn’t mean to harm you”

      “Modern compensation culture”

      I’m sorry, I find this ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with justice. Negligent people are forced to pay in many areas of negligence. You think a simple ‘sorry’ washes away a destroyed life? You think good intentions excuse having no respect for fundamental civil rights?

      What difference does it make to the outcome if someone ‘didn’t mean to harm’? Can I become a rapist and say I was only trying to give pleasurable orgasms? is it only intentions that count? No! It is outcomes. Can I become a child molester and say I was only trying to ‘spread love’? or does the child’s HUMAN RIGHTS not to be interfered with matter more than what ‘i am trying to do’. ?

      Hey guess what? I’ve just stolen all your money and invested it in the stock market for you. But rest assured, I only want to make you some money, I’ve got your best interests at heart. Forgive me, I’ll say sorry, and don’t worry about litigating to stop me or right this wrong, that would be just another example of the ‘compensation culture’.

      I also decided someone’s hair would look better if I cut it while they were asleep, it is intentions that count, not rights.

      I thought I’d decorate someone’s new BMW parked in the street at night with some red paint, I think it is intentions that count, not property rights.

      I have also decided I have the right to assault and handcuff each homeless alcoholic on the street that I see, and smash the bottle out of his hand. I only want to help. It’s intentions that count, not the rights I spit on the process of carrying out my ‘good intentions’.

      I didn’t like what someone was saying or thinking or doing, so I forced psychiatry on them to have them drugged so they would shut up and start thinking a different way. I only wanted to help.

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    • Alix,
      I agree with your statement that “no one should have this power over their fellow human beings”. I wish we lived in a culture where saying “sorry” wasn’t an automatic lawsuit liability. I have been advised by auto insurance folks (years before “no-fault” insurance) to never say “I’m sorry” at the scene of an accident, that this implies it was all my fault and I’m taking full legal and financial responsibility.

      Here, I hope I can say “I’m sorry” without fear of legal retribution. When this is how I feel, I should be able to say it.

      I’m very sorry you and your son have had such bad experiences in your search for help. I’m sorry that those involved can’t say “sorry” as well. I’m glad to hear things are better now for you both.


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    • Agreed. No one should have the kind of power that those doctors had over him. Forgiveness is important in recovery and healing. However, even though they may not have intended harm, they should still be held accountable. My grandmother always told me, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Your son is lucky and blessed that you stand by him. Many parents don’t. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Alice, Thank you for the collective hug! Talk about a powerful metaphor! That your post garnered 400 comments is not only amazing, it would seem that it was the perfect vehicle for an incredibly robust healing dialogue in which so many “facets of the gem” or nuances of the problems at hand have been revealed.

    In addition to humility, compassion, love and forgiveness, I hope you have found a keener sense of your truths as well. It would seem that you have. One that is very evident is your ability to hold a very big space for different possibilities including shifts in your own perceptions. I cannot think of a more important quality in a healer.

    Sending you a mother bear hug right back!

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    • Jennifer,
      I am truly blessed by all the vivid commentary and conversation here. What a great gift Robert Whitaker has given to us with this vehicle for communication and change.

      I am amazed by the responses as well.

      Hugs back to you, mother bear,

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  5. Hi Alice,
    I had been determined not to write to you in this setting but feel compelled to this time. I had been thinking about people’s anger toward psychiatry and psychiatrists. I decided that what was at the core of some of their anger was anger and frustration over the arrogance of many psychiatric professionals. We don’t know what causes psychiatric disorders and we mostly don’t know why the medications at our disposal work at all. Some would say that they DON’T work at all. My 30 years in the business doesn’t allow me to go there. But our ignorance far surpasses our knowledge in this arena. I have met and worked with Psychiatrists who keep their ignorance in the front of their thinking and humbly offer what resources they can bring to the situation. There are others who do not.
    As I know you do, one needs to respectfully enter into a dialogue with the “client”, “patient” and together explore what is wrong and what might help.
    If this were done more often, the pond would probably be s/w less muddy.


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    • Joe,
      Thanks for bringing your decades of experience to the table. I agree with what you’re saying here.

      Arrogant people are everywhere. I’ve bumped into arrogance in every technical and professional field. Maybe there’s a higher percentage in medicine than in other fields. Maybe it’s more obvious and “in ones face” in medicine/mental health because it’s so personal and vulnerable to ask for medical and mental health help.

      “One needs to respectfully enter into a dialogue with the “client”, “patient” and together explore what is wrong and what might help.” I like this a lot. Can I quote you some day when they let me teach student doctors? This is the basic tenant of approaching all patients in every field of medicine, likely for every healing/helping professional.

      Thanks for putting in your point of view here.

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  6. I like the pond metaphor, and we did have a Super moon last night.

    Your post generated all this action, reaction, and hurt feelings, apologies, and it felt like being in the middle of a room with “real” people.

    It is somewhat exhilarating, since before you came along MIA was pretty stuffy in the comments section.

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  7. The waters are calming,well done, healing through compassion, right here in blog city. I think that your recent post set a tone of humility most people got on an emotional level. And that is a most important level. Most of the work we do with each other takes place there.
    My experiences with the so called mental health system are close to Joe E.’s experiences. Our words are important they can form bridges or start wars. We all know something about being human and the darkness inside all of us. The more we understand how we as individuals operate the more we know about everyone. This is the begining of compassion.

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    • robertr,
      I am grateful for your kind words.

      I’m sitting here re-reading your post to see what else I could add. There is nothing else. This is a lovely, poetic, understanding and compassionate post.

      It’s clear to me that your work in mental health is rooted in an understanding of both the human condition and human communication
      Best always,

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  8. As a Buddhist, when I look at another person I must accept that they are me. This is that, that is this; you are me and I am you. It’s more than just being connected. Your post reminded me that this is true for me when I look at some psychiatrists who are arrogant, hateful, hurtful, and ignorant. Where I work I get to watch them drugging people right and left, harming human lives; and I have to say, “There I am!” It’s very hard to swallow but that’s reality for me as a Buddhist. I often conveniently forget this. It’s easy for me to look to the people being harmed and say, “Yes, they are me and I am them.” I want to draw the line when I look at the people resposible for their oppression and destroyed lives.

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    • Stephen,
      I agree. It’s easier to feel “they are me and I am them” when the “other” embodies good qualities or is the injured party.

      There is a ho’o ponopono (Hawaiian) meditation that goes like this:
      “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”

      I read once of a psychologist that used this meditation/prayer in his mental health work in a state hospital. Any time he heard or read of bad things that happened, he took the responsibility on himself as the cause of the harm and did private meditations with this while holding the person in his mind and heart. He took the embodyment of “all one” all the way.

      Thanks for reading, thinking and sharing here.

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  9. Dr Keys, Ive read each of your posts with appreciation and respect. I knew exactly what you meant about confronting returning to work after reading Anatomy of an Epidemic. My reaction was to begin to educate the people i work with, even though they are afraid to hear it. Im sure they will fire me eventually. I simply stick to facts, refuse to agrue with people who havent read the book, and tell the truth about what ive seen. Cognitive behavior therapy is all I do, and I think there will be a place for me and my work in the future. It will be all of our loss if you also cant find a role again in the helping professions. you are not alone

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    • Marcellas,
      Thanks for your kind words. There will always be a place for therpaists who can teach folks how to manage their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Keep talking and teaching. You’re gentle teaching approach is right. Confrontation shuts people off to hearing. But you’re a CB therapist. You already know this.

      I find ways to make contributions. Today, I write.

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