Unseeing a Diagnosis

I was out early this morning riding my bike through the local wetlands near my home.  I came across a lovely view of mud-lilies and photographed the scene (blog image). The serenity captivated me for a moment. I felt like I had merged with a Monet painting.

You have probably seen Monet's beloved paintings from a series called “Water Lilies”. “Water Lilies” contains nearly 250 paintings of the very same lily pond near his home. During the last 25 years of his life, Monet painted little else than his lily pond. He even kept painting when cataracts in his eyes blurred his vision. How could Monet keep creating when he was painting the same lily pond over and over again? Part of the answer can be found in this quote from Monet:

“In order to see, we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.” 

In other words, in order truly see the lily pond, Monet had to forget the label “lily pond”. The words lily pond limited and constrained what he could see. He wanted to capture the essence of the lily pond on a specific day: the light, shadows, the wind, the peace, the fragility. To do that, he had to forget the words “lily pond”.  Only then could he see the true pond in that very moment: the one that changed from moment to moment, hour to hour and day to day.

The same principle of unseeing must be applied when we are working with folks who have a psychiatric diagnosis. Seeing a diagnosis limits what we can know about a person. It limits our creativity as peers or clinicians. It's only when we unsee "schizophrenia", "bipolar" and "borderline", that we can fully appreciate the unique, never-to-be-repeated individual in front of us. That's when truly recovery-oriented practice begins.