As I read through Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I found myself thinking about many of the patients that I have worked with over the years in my role as a psychologist. Some of those individuals I have seen in an office setting, and others I have met in their homes. The patients have ranged in ages, shapes, and sizes – and they all presented with unique mental health concerns. I remembered many of them while reading through the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of Auri – a character that brilliantly illustrates and humanizes the qualities and struggles of those coping with anxieties, compulsions, and symptoms along the autism spectrum.
I also thought of my personal mental health challenges while reading.
If I taught a class in psychology, then I would have students read and process the material. As it stands, I encourage everyone to read the book – even if you haven’t read The Name of the Wind or The Wise Man’s Fear. Those books provide some context for Auri’s story, but they are not required reading to benefit from the content in The Slow Regard of Silent Things that struck me on such a personal level.
Mental health, and by extension mental illness, is unfortunately stigmatized. Going to a therapist is viewed by too many as a sign of weakness. I discovered at age 16 that I wanted to be a counselor, and I was fortunate enough to start down that path early in college and never really look back. I have also been in therapy as a patient at times in my life and consistently during the past two years, primarily getting assistance with symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety about life. Anxiety about death.
My Broken Pieces
The word time in the proper context can bring me to tears – either out of joy or sorrow, or a mixture of both. Because of health issues I was born with, I have too keen of a sense of my own mortality. It is easy to get lost in that awareness. For example, I organized a 10(ish)-year reunion with roommates and friends from graduate school this past weekend. We spent several days together laughing, reminiscing, and talking about our future plans. It was wonderful. Near the end of the weekend, I was giving a toast and thanking them all for attending the reunion and for sharing their lives with me during extremely formative years in my mid-20s.
I had more to say, though I stopped myself.
I wanted to add so much and take advantage of that unique moment, “I don’t know if we’ll ever be together in the same place again. Not to get all morbid, but I know my health doesn’t guarantee anything. I want you all to know how special you are to me. If I don’t get the chance to say it in the future, thank you for being in my life. Thank you for caring for me and supporting me. And keep living for yourself, each other, and me if I do happen to go sooner rather than later. Let’s keep writing our stories. To our history together and our futures!”
I could have said that and so much more, but I didn’t want to go full-on Ron Burgundy, “We are laughing! And we are very good friends. Good buddies sharing a special moment! Laughing and enjoying our friendship. And someday we’ll look back on this with much fondness!”
I could do this sort of thing every time I’m at a meaningful gathering of friends or family. I could do it at holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I could do it before my wife or I leave town without the other. I could write a preemptive article to readers of my site so they know I value their time and support since I could die one day and never have the opportunity to write a proper goodbye and thank you.
Where should I draw the line?
My mother recently shared with me that she assumed each Christmas for the first eight years or so of my life was going to be my last. After I persisted past that point, she grew out of that mindset and stopped thinking each holiday was going to be my final one. I was so thankful for her honesty! It is amazing to have adult conversations with my mother about such things. Meanwhile, as a child, my reality was all I knew. I didn’t know how not to think about and process my own mortality at such a young age. It was normal for me then, and it is normal for me now as a 40 year-old man about to welcome a son into the world.
These normal worries and fears that I experience might seem abnormal to others. So while emphasizing that my expiration could come on abruptly is both potentially accurate and realistic, it’s likely not incredibly healthy to place that much of a burden on other people during social encounters and treat myself like a ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment. For the record, I’ve had doctors refer to me as “a ticking time bomb” before; not good times!
There is the anxiety that I am willing to share with people, and the anxiety that I hold inside. I’m becoming more comfortable letting down that curtain and learning ways to effectively share with friends and family how those worries and fears affect my life. Therapy is a wonderful tool, and I realize it’s a luxury. I think it can be useful for anyone, and I’m glad I have a therapist that challenges me to do things differently.
Auri’s Broken Pieces
The thing I value most about The Slow Regard of Silent Things is how Auri is humanized. She lives and breathes, and she is never labeled. Auri has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. She seems to display symptoms along the autism spectrum including repeating behaviors, focusing on specific objects, and difficulty with social interactions. Her mood fluctuates quickly and she seems to prefer avoiding most social contact. While these thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are described, they are not stigmatized.
Nothing in the story indicates that these thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are wrong, problematic or abnormal. They are Auri’s reality and we get to spend some time with her and her reality throughout the short story. There is no judgement. I never got the sense that Mr. Rothfuss was attempting to preach about mental health issues other than to speak in a clear voice of acceptance.
I do have a suspicion that he has close contact with these types of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. He hints at this in the Author’s Note. While reading, my thought was that Mr. Rothfuss knows someone with this type of reality. And he loves that person deeply and with astonishing certainty.
Our Broken Pieces
I’m glad my friend lent me the book. I’m glad she lent it to me a second time when I didn’t read it the first! I’m glad Mr. Rothfuss wrote this story “for all the slightly broken people out there.” I’m hopeful other people read it, consider the wide variety of mental health issues that affect all of us, and learn more about each other’s reality.
We are all “slightly broken.” Meeting with a therapist to figure out the best way to configure the pieces isn’t weakness. It’s resilience and strength.
Those pieces are “full of true answers and love and hearthlight.”