Max Beauvoir, Who Gave Up Science to Be High Priest of Voodoo, Dies at 79
Max Beauvoir, a former City College of New York chemistry major who gave up hard science for magic spirits, spell-casting and ritual animal sacrifices vital to becoming Haiti’s high priest of voodoo, died on Saturday in Port-au-Prince, the capital. He was 79.
His death was announced by the president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, who described it as a “great loss for the country.”
Mr. Beauvoir was in his mid-30s and planning a career in biochemistry when his grandfather, on his deathbed,
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Perhaps you’ve heard about Dr. Norman Doidge’s latest book, The Brain’s Way of Healing. Dr. Doidge (pronounced ‘Dodge,’ I believe) is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist who has turned himself into Dr. Oliver Sacks, meaning he likes to write about interesting patient stories from the frontiers of neurology. His first book was titled The Brain That Changes Itself.
The concept of brain plasticity (the discovery that the brain is able to form new neural pathways), Doidge informs us, has been been around since the 1970s but only began to enter the public consciousness in 2006. That appears about right to me, as in early 2004 Chris’s psychiatrist told my husband and me that his brain was sort of like rapidly solidifying concrete that needed to be ‘protected’ from further rigidity and loss of neurons through the administration of neuroleptic drugs. That theory had already bit the dust but somehow the psychiatrists at the Centre for Addition and Mental Health didn’t receive this message. I won’t go into how pessimistic the concrete brain concept was in comparison to plastic brain concept, but it still grates how much damage was done by their telling us that Chris’s brain was damaged. That and the schizophrenia diagnosis. Horrible. I’m still not convinced “schizophrenia” is a brain problem, in any case.
I’m not sure what Dr. Doidge’s position is on schizophrenia. It’s interesting that a person who is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst by training doesn’t address schizophrenia as a topic in either of his two books. That’s like a priest who writes about religion failing to mention God. Is it because he doesn’t think schizophrenia is a problem with one’s brain and he is aware that lots of people recover from this condition so there is nothing neuronally (is this a word?) intriguing about it? If so, he would do us all a favor by saying so! I’m in the process of putting my question to him in a letter. (Of course, it’s also possible he prefers writing about neuroplasticity rather than dealing with patients. He wouldn’t be the first doctor to reposition himself as far away from his patients as possible,)
One of the chapters in the book is on how a blind man got his sight back relying on the Feldenkrais method. I’ve made a few efforts in the past to get my sight back to 20/20, but didn’t see a lot of progress so I stopped doing the exercies. I’ve bathed my eyes by staring at the sun with my eyes closed, I’ve rotated them clockwise and counterclockwise, but the Feldenkrais contribution I read about added something new that I think is key. Doing this exercise for a couple of days noticeably strengthened my peripheral vision. Having better peripheral vision is a huge confidence booster. I even did the grocery shopping without once putting on my specs!
Listening to helpers and healers has helped Chris and me enormously in navigating a path out of madness. We’ve been fortunate to find these people all around us.
Post recovery, is all that is left anxiety? Based on observations of a sample of two (Chris being one), I see that he’s taken on a purposeful life, but he occasionally gets sideswiped by anxiety. I’d never known him to be anxious before he began to develop symptoms that earned him a schizophrenia diagnosis when he was twenty. I wonder if he’s always had an underlying anxiety or if he became anxious for the first time in his late adolescence. Had he been treated for anxiety rather than “schizophrenia” it seems to me that his recovery would have been a lot quicker than it actually was.
Now that Chris is up to speed and getting on with his life, I’ve got a confession to make. My life is nowhere near as interesting as during the ten years of struggle to find a way through madness. Several years have passed since my last heart in my throat incident. I sleep well at night. Chris is going about the usual things that normally someone in his early twenties would be doing, except that he’s in his early thirties. Girlfriend, technical training course, friends. Pardon me while I yawn. No more days for me spent reading shrink lit or finding novel approaches to healing. In a funny way, I miss those days.
That’s all to say, I think that it’s really important to become interested in whatever curve ball life tosses you. Adversity can be a memorable friend.