Dutch Elm Disease For People

Lots of trees in the great Golden State seem to have Dutch Elm Disease. I said “seem” because I only see them from my automobile window as we are whizzing by on some highway. The trunks are smooth and grayish and they are not palm trees.  Maybe they are elms.  I don’t know — trees are decidedly outside of my scope of practice. When you see a smooth gray tree, a fungus carried by a “bark beetle” has killed the outer bark, which is the living part of a tree that transports nutrients and water to the places that need it: leafy twigs and fruits and such.

Since I really do believe “man is the measure of all things,”  I start thinking that people who have a mental illness are like trees with Dutch Elm disease, kind of. You cannot usually see any of their vibrant life from the outside.  When I ask, it usually seems as if their joys and anguishes and the whole movement of their lives are invisible from an outward glance.  There may be no spontaneity, they may seem joyless. If I can get the right nutrition, the right chemicals, into them, they can grow “rich leaves.”  They can “bear fruit.” I am very sensitive to a lack of spontaneity in many of my suffering patients.  With suffering, they do not watch trees by the road or see the amazing things people do on the streets of lovely California.

We have encouraged silence and lack of spontaneity in too many people. Maybe too many people believe “a child should be seen and not heard” and raise children that way, somehow breeding out spontaneity, which is a precious thing. Picasso said he could draw like Raphael when he was a child, but that he spent the rest of his life learning to draw like a child.

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