09 Jan 2011

Growing Bananas

The San Francisco Bay area is a temperate place, with relatively sour citrus and figs that often never ripen; strong winds and heavy fogs come roaring through my garden which is filled with hundreds of roses and apple and plum trees. Peaches don’t do too well, but pears and persimmons and even kiwi are quite productive. My large organic vegetable garden is always filled with something tart or delectable, depending on the season.

I’ve gardened since childhood. The smells and tastes and work of the garden are deeply ingrained in my being. It’s a work I’ve done far longer than Intensive Psychotherapy. I do the work myself as a solitary and spiritual respite from–and continuation of–the Intensive Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia and Delusional States.

Intensive psychotherapy of schizophrenia and delusional states is similar to gardening. You put time in, planting and tending and weeding and pruning. Gradually, after long fallow periods when nothing much appears to happen on the surface, growth occurs. New canes develop on the roses after I throw Epsom salts around them. (Magnesium is the secret ingredient).Fruit trees, shaped and sculpted during the winter,  bud,  flower and bring forth fruit of all varieties, followed by the winter of the bare tree; Yearly, the cycle repeats itself. Several crops are sown and planted each year; the harvest is nearly continuous, though the going gets tough in the rainy winter and the foggy, windy summer.

It is the same with the Intensive Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia and Delusional States. It takes time and diligence and work and sitting and musing. Sometimes things work quickly; other times the work is glacial with nary a sign of change until, bit by bit, delusions lessen and hallucinations, thought disorder and underlying premises are understood and gradually altered. Sometimes, seemingly hopeless patients are permanently cured and remain off antipsychotic medication..

Let me belabor my metaphor. Going Bananas means going crazy; Growing Bananas means healing and curing the impossible schizophrenic and delusional patients through an Intensive Psychotherapy. And it also means impossibly Growing Bananas in this often cold and windy garden.

Here’s my case example, an N of 1.

Perhaps 20 years ago I was referred a man who had been hospitalized after a severe suicide attempt. He had ingested 4 times the lethal amount of cyanide. For a reason unknown to the hospital psychiatrists and pathologists, he survived. I came to the hospital, saw him until he cleared and then began to see him in a several times a week intensive psychotherapy, trying to help him understand the origins of his suicidality. This man was not psychotic; he had just wanted to die to give his family his insurance money.

We worked in therapy for several years as he gradually improved and returned to a happier non-suicidal life.

As a parting gift, he gave me a Peruvian Andes Banana Tree. He lived in a far warmer climate than I, quite some distance away from San Francisco. He had never gotten any fruit from his tree, but thought, since I had done such a good job with him, perhaps I would have better luck with a tree like his. After the usual discussion, I accepted the little banana tree.

I didn’t have much hope of it fruiting, but would fertilize it with compost and water it. The local nurseries said a banana tree would never bear fruit in our area; they said they couldn’t even order any more for me, since no one would ship one up here. Yet it just seemed like the right thing to do, to attempt to nurture this plant that would never fruit.

From time to time, I would move it around the garden, trying to find the warmest spot for it, a place out of the wind that would constantly fray the leaves. The leaves were often luxuriant and deep green, occasionally growing to ten feet tall before the winds would hammer them apart. But I persisted, as all gardeners and intensive psychotherapists do.

Suddenly, more than fifteen years after I was given this seeming albatross of a plant, I noticed a little protrusion where the leaves came out of the stalk. In a few days, a pod as large as my fist had formed, followed by an arm holding the pod. Over the course of several weeks, the arm grew to three feet and on it there were teeny little bananas. During the last two months, nine or ten hands of finger length bananas have formed and grown and are starting to ripen.

The seemingly impossible had happened. I was Growing Bananas.

Similar stories of the kind of gardening we dynamically minded psychotherapists do, tales of recovery, healing and sometimes cure through an Intensive Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia and Delusional States, are found in TREATING the ‘UNTREATABLE’: Healing in the Realms of Madness.