Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ingrid Waldron's talk on communication at Warminster Hospital, Warminster, PA - Poem: The Night of Your 302

Ingrid Waldron, PhD, is a research biologist who teaches at University of Pennsylvania. She's also president of NAMI Main Line and gives talks on how to communicate with a mentally ill loved one.

I'm also a researcher and just figured out why I left my red notebook in the kitchen instead of bringing it out into the living room to use for this blog post.

It's called 'the law of two.' I went into the kitchen to retrieve my red notebook

and also to fill a bowl with almonds.

Apparently, at my age, late sixties, I can't remember two things at a time. Sadly, true.

Ingrid is also a lay counselor. Here's a website that shows her publications.

I was happy to see Raighne there. He's on the board of NAMI Bucks County, which hosted the event.

I can't show my photo of director Debbie Moritz - the greatest! - bc she's chatting with one of the 25 or more attendees.

Reighne is an assistant teacher - English and Special Ed - at an excellent high school in Bucks County. Can't remember the name - Central Bucks perhaps.

When he saw me, he said, "Too cold to go to Lake Galena."

Told Reighne - and this is the first time I'm spelling his name correctly - that I sent in a photo of myself to a lit journal, while paddle-boating with his mom on that great glassy man-made lake.

This book - third edition - is the bible of communicating with a mentally ill loved one. Ingrid noted that it can be used to communicate with anyone.

Except if you're President Obama trying to talk to contrary Republicans. While we were at Warminster Hospital, he was addressing the nation with his immigration reform plan.

Can't wait to read about it.

NY Times photo. I spose I'll listen to the pundits on Charlie Rose at midnight.

COMMUNICATION, said Ingrid, is a two-way process. Listening is crucial. You must really listen to your mentally ill loved one and pick up clues about what matters to them.

Doing so will contribute to greater compliance with treatment. Do 'reflective listening' with curiosity.

"I hear that you're very upset about...."

Perhaps the individual believes that the CIA are tapping the phones.

"That must be really scary," you say, empathizing with them.

If an individual is delusional, you can't argue with them. There's no way they can respond to logic. Ingrid said it reminds her of her 4-yo granddaughter who is so stubborn she won't change her mind.

Hmmm, that sounds like my 4-yo Grace Catherine, PhD of Stubbornness. 

We all want to refute untrue ideas from our loved ones. Allow their criticism of us to flow over us. Pretend you're in a movie and don't react. I did hear on the Charlie Rose Show, that Obama is supremely confident and doesn't care about the opinions of others. That's because, he said, Obama is not a politician in the traditional sense. 

   Sadly, the director, Mike Nichols, died yesterday of a heart attack in his Manhattan apartment. Diane Sawyer was his wife.

Ingrid said that when your loved one talks to you, you must be relatively calm. You must take care of yourself b/c this will be a lifetime challenge.

Change or transition is exceedingly difficult for people with mental illness. Our group consisted of parents or siblings of folks with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. At group's end I mentioned our upcoming program on DBT this Saturday at the Giant. Nothing worse than an empty room.

To take c/o yourself Ingrid suggested people attend NAMI groups or call someone on the phone to vent. Vent b/c of all the things you could not tell your loved one b/c it would loosen the bonds of trust. So tell someone who knows what's it like.

You must find out what works for YOU. Every situation is different.

To communicate, use I sentences and choose your battles.

"I need you to take out the trash."

People in the audience shared their concerns. One woman said she had to watch her ill son "give up his dreams."

This was a tough one: The elderly mother died. The ill son had lived with her his entire life.

He will not hear of moving elsewhere. Does not respond to conversation.

Ingrid said it will take a while before he's ready to hear about it. Keep planting the seed.

SET LIMITS. I'm just not open for business at all hours, said Ingrid. There's too much distress she listens to.

Find a time when you're calm and can talk to your loved one.

Speak in brief, concise sentences. Be specific.

"Please finish loading the dishwasher."

Don't use expressions like 'always' or 'never.' The loved one will take them literally.

When speaking, stick with one thing. Be willing to negotiate.

"Change" is a long process, whether it's smoking cessation, getting more exercise, or eating almonds every night before bed.

In the book, Xavier Amador, who was born in Cuba, and has a brother with schizophrenia, advocates for the LEAP system. Amador doesn't have a Wiki page, but you can read this interesting piece about him. I sure will after I finish this post.

LISTEN. Reflect back
AGREE, finding areas of agreement. Maybe the two of us like the NY Yankees.
PARTNERING - we can achieve goals, little by little.

Below is one of a dozen poems I've written about mental illness.

3 0 2

The following poem was written when I worked as a psychotherapist at Bristol-Bensalem Human Services in Bristol, PA. “302” is a nickname meaning “involuntary hospitalization.”

I watched
through the glass doors
of our mental health clinic
for the person to be 302d,
he would walk through
the outer doors,
a man who’d lost the
finer workings of his mind,
and would be delivered up
for safekeeping by the cops,
escorted into a tiny room that locked
and was filled with windows
that can’t be broken.

They were wild sometimes,
crying out in broken words,
fighting to escape their captors,
believing until the end
deliverance was at hand.

From my perch at the door
the doctor joins me.
She is eating an apple and
talking about going out for
Chinese food after.
302-ing makes you hungry.

I tell her that once
I had ridden
in the back of a police car.
My senses gone,
radiating to the
staccato points of night
and the babble of the police radio,
I leaned forward in my backseat nest
like caged Hansel in the gingerbread forest
and stuck my little finger
through the iron grates that contained me.
It was all I had of freedom.

“Were you scared?” the doctor asked.
“Why, not at all,” I said.
“I thought they were taking me to a live
performance of the Nutcracker Suite.”

Thinking I was kidding
she crumpled up with merriment.

We watched as a police car
pulled in sideways.
Black letters like ribbons scrolled
across the door.

I watched as
a man stepped from the car,
steady, unafraid,
handsome as a game show host
striding on stage
to marvelous applause.
his hair uncombed with
great prodigal waves falling upon
his brow,
his face had a pulled-down look
I hadn’t expected to see.
He’d played his chips and lost.

Chin up, I whispered.
This is your hour,
for now --
for all time.
Use it well.
Don’t get hurt,
run a comb through your hair,
And, for God’s sakes, pay attention
with whatever’s left inside you,
for this is the night of your 302.


  1. I never heard of that book "I Am Not Sick, Etc". The tips you mention are indeed good communication tips for everyone, dealing with or not dealing with someone with a mental illness. Your 302 poem is so powerful and scary. I have read it before, but it still grabs me, partly because I know your story and partly because I have been on the periphery of this with a loved one. Thanks for sharing it again.

    Mike Nichols was a favorite of mine!

    1. yes, the book is famous. on FB there's a guy Larry Wilkins, sarah's former librarian at her private school, who runs into famous people. his account of meeting mike nichols is fantastic and hilarious. i'll send you the link