Same wood work, different meaning this time

This post is really not such much about changing my mind on how I felt about something at the time, but seeing the wisdom of doing something meaningful at the right time.

Chris recently started volunteering any spare time he has on the week-ends to help the amateur operatic group he sings with construct sets and props. The idea to volunteer for behind the scenes work was suggested by his occupational therapist. Under guidance from two older men in the group, Chris is swinging a hammer and sawing wood and doing whatever one must do to set the stage for April. He’s enjoying himself and he gets to hear all kinds of interesting stories from the men with whom he works.

The kind of work he is doing now is the kind of work that failed miserably —oh so many years ago after he had finished his two year day program. The day program hadn’t “fixed” him, and, as kind of a last resort, the psychiatrist at the program arranged for Chris to “apprentice” with a cabinet maker. The apprenticeship or sheltered workshop or whatever it was considered, was covered through our health insurance policy. Chris didn’t succeed as an apprentice cabinet maker or sheltered workshop worker, because, well, frankly, he didn’t do any work. He didn’t do any work not because he wasn’t encouraged to, but because he couldn’t. According to Chris, he just drank cups of coffee, spoke very little, and watched the cabinet maker hard at work sanding and buffing. Ian and I had to drive Chris to the door of the shop, otherwise he wouldn’t go in.

I believe that institutionalizing mental illness through day programs and sheltered workshops hinders recovery because it makes the person feel and act like a patient. The word “disabled” comes to mind.

Perhaps what the doctors in the program should have thought about, but probably didn’t, was that parents are still dealing with grief mixed with expectations about their relative. I felt the doctors were trying to turn my academically promising son into a disabled worker. They were lowering his expectations (and mine!) by having him sand wood in a gloomy workshop. Only two years earlier he was at university. Chris’s psychiatrist told me point blank that Chris would never again be the promising student that he once was. So, I feel I correctly interpreted what the wood studio meant for Chris’s future. Chances are Chris came to the same conclusions as I did.

Today, I can’t say I’m thrilled that Chris sees an occupational therapist, because I don’t see him as “handicapped” (and this, to me, is what having an occupational therapist implies) but at some point, I just stopped trying to run interference with his recovery and leave it to the wisdom of others. I never thought I had all the answers, but I also don’t believe they have all the answers either. I’m very pleased that Chris is happy hacking and sawing away to his heart’s content in a woodworking shop. The difference is that this time his being there is a natural outgrowth of his love of the musical theater work that he is doing.

Here’s an interesting perspective from Raymond’s Room on what’s happening vis a vis sheltered workshops in Oregon State.

1 thought on “Same wood work, different meaning this time”

  1. I agree there has to be stimulation to be successful. To many times the mental health indsutry has took the meaning out of work. It is also has to be a passion. They have instutionlized everything. I also agree what ever it takes to be successful even if people in the industry generally don’t have our best interest. Their are the few that do and think out of the box.

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