Have you ever heard the joke: how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is: it depends. How badly does the light bulb want to change?
Patients often look to psychiatrists to be change-agents after realizing their lives have become untenable. This revelation doesn’t come easily and the path to treatment is often long, painful, and destructive, in part, because of stigma.
Sometimes, however, it’s patients who generate revelations for their physicians. The endless complexity of the human brain presents us with a seemingly infinite variety of problems. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, a patient or our own emotional response will surprise us. We are reminded of the limits of medicine and our resilience. It’s humbling.
A revelation is a surprising realization or a divine or supernatural message. This is where we operate in psychiatry, at the edge of human experience. Some patients claim to get special messages from divine and evil forces or to be tasked with special missions to save or kill others or themselves. We observe as they shift their attention and as they hear voices and see visions we can’t access.
What in another era might have been considered prophecy, we usually call psychosis. But sometimes we can’t give satisfactory explanations for what is going on in front of or within us. It’s beyond the scope of our knowledge and experience. This is where psychiatry gets really interesting and, sometimes, scary.
Penndulum’s reception was a revelation for us. We learned how rarely the darkness of medical training is brought to light and about the systematic resistance to doing so. Our joyful revelation was that Penndulum speaks to many people. An outpouring of support came from an audience that was larger and more diverse than we ever imagined. Despite being dark, honest, and sad, Penndulum is something people find meaningful, relatable, and important.
In this issue, you’ll read stories and see original artwork and photographs from patients, medical students, residents, fellows, and attending physicians about their revelations. We hope you find them surprising or maybe even divine.
Lisa Jacobs, Danielle Couture, and Behdad Bozorgnia