I used to work at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School – a residential treatment center for severely emotionally disturbed children and adolescents; a home away from home for many, including myself at the time. The Orthogenic School is well known in the psychoanalytic circles, even abroad. The School has helped many raise out of the depths of despair and mental illness, and I was proud to have been one of the people, who made that happen.
Art, poetry and music were essential tools in our gallery of interventions, especially for those kids, who were failed by the language and culture of their families. I am not talking about coping skills here. Art, poetry and music are more than simply coping skills from a psychoanalytic point of view. There is something that gets communicated through the arts that words cannot always capture. The expression of the subject of the unconscious.
As much as I work with people to find their “thing” that helps them express something that is inexpressible through language, I do that for myself too. It can be really difficult working with mentally ill children (people) and writing has been a way for me to articulate through an esthetic what could otherwise create chaos, acting out and even physical illness.
Here is a poem and a piece of art that I made to express the impact my work has on my own unconscious. One is a poem from the past and the other a collage from the present. I think they can easily go together. Needless to say, I am going to let them speak for themselves.
“What cannot be known or spoken
is being staged in action or inaction.
Students, too eager to speak and be
Yet saying nothing;
Others – withdrawn, isolative, depressed
or just bored, maybe?
Bored of trying to be heard;
bored of trying to live with strangers,
trying to befriend them,
Feeling betrayed by their own family,
Deserted into a world of madness that
knows no boundaries.
What about hope? What about all those students,
whose ghosts inhabit the cracks on the walls,
Unable to recognize anyone, not even themselves?
Empty spaces… I can hear their voices in
the silence of the air.
I hear laughter, screams, cries for help
and anguish, long forgotten.
I see families, marked by the hand of a yellow door,
Tattooed on bodies, leaving a much
visible scar of invisible times of struggle
I see the children of former students,
Unknown faces, live marked by the walls
of a building,
Remarkable or unremarkable,
soon to be torn to pieces.
It’s the people, people who are no longer here,
That will disappear from the walls,
leaving nothing behind… maybe? !
Music, words, images… Students and
staff sitting in hallways –
Discontent, somber, unspoken of,
unthought of, dead!
Dreaming or being dreamt of ?
Speechless or oblivious?
Neglected, unloved, lonely…
Counselors acting as parent-substitutes,
Kids acting as children-substitutes… !
Sets become houses, rocks become gem stones.
Fantasies and wishes materialize in an
exchange of words and imaginary heroes.
Mysterious paths, negotiations,
dangerous bridges –
They all shape the hearts, only to be left
but never forgotten.
Roars in the silence, punches of defense,
grunts and kisses –
Perception alone defeats the senses,
The mind controls the body yet the body
holds the mind.
The imaginary reigns,
The real roars,
The symbolic – buried, underground.
Therapy – an exchange of madness.
Dreams, inhabited by ghosts, spiders,
murder and suicide.
Nightmares – long dreamt of.
One sick mind trying to repair another,
A game of chess on white and green
Who’s going to win?
Or are we all losers in the end?”
M.Bernard, O’School Diaries, 2012