Nathaniel's gradual return to society has begun and both what is happening to him and to Ernest Adams and to dozens of others each week is that there comes a time when people living on the streets are ready to come in off the streets.
But no one can make them them do this, only they can make that decision themselves.
Sometimes, though, it takes a little help.
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I asked if maybe Nathaniel was one of the lucky ones who seem to rebound from schizophrenia in middle age. He might be in the long run, Ragins said, but that type of recovery occurs over a much longer stretch.
Instead, he said, he thought Nathaniel's new friendships — with me, Stuart Robinson at Lamp and others — have driven his recovery."Relationship is primary," Ragins said. It doesn't have to be more than once a week, and it doesn't have to be someone with an advanced degree in therapy.
"It is possible to cause seemingly biochemical changes through human emotional involvement. You literally have changed his chemicals by being his friend."I wasn't alone on this, but his point is an important one. Mentally ill people often wear out the patience of friends and family. Unless someone else comes along to take up the slack, they can become completely untethered.
Nathaniel has a long way to go, Ragins reminded me. Acknowledging your mental illness is frightening, he said, and so is coming to grips with the lost years. It takes tremendous courage to get through the day, let alone design a new world for yourself — a world of new possibilities also presents new risks.
Don't push him into therapy right away, Ragins suggested. He advised me to remind Nathaniel of the discrepancy between the life he envisions and the hurdles that stand in the way, and gently guide him toward therapy or whatever else might help.
Just before we left his apartment, Nathaniel said it was many months ago that he first considered coming in off the streets. "When you gave me the Beethoven sonatas," he said, "it gave me the idea of living in a house for the sole purpose of having a piano and learning something from the Beethoven statue" in Pershing Square. "The Beethoven statue encourages me to carry on with the most difficult challenges of my life.
"Professionalism, courtesy and respect. I read that on a police car door."
He never disappoints.As I began to leave, Nathaniel called me back and gave me a long, firm handshake. He held me in his glance and sealed something there, too.
My smile followed his, and neither of us needed to say a thing.