It had almost been 30 hours since Dr Mark Goulston had last seen sleep.
Before being a UCLA professor of psychiatry, an FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, and a jury consultant on the OJ Simpson’s trial, Michelangelo Mindset co-founder and Just Listen author, Mark Goulston was a trainee himself under American Association of Suicidology founder, Dr Ed Shneidman.
A turning point in Mark’s life was the patient, assigned to him by Shneidman, whom he called Nancy. She had made three suicide attempts in the past three months and had been hospitalized on several occasions. Upon her discharge, Mark would need to check on her as an outpatient.
“Every time [Dr. Shneidman] did a consultation, it was always the same,” Mark narrated, “he would page or call me and say that there is this lovely young woman, ‘She’s in a lot of pain. You can help her, Mark. See her.”
“I went to see her for about six months, and I didn’t think I was helping her, but that was the longest she’d gone without a hospitalization or a suicide attempt.”
On top of this responsibility, Mark also covered for other doctors and checked on their patients once a month on Saturdays and Sundays. In one Monday session with Nancy, Mark was sleep-deprived and exhausted. He felt chills down his spine, and the room seemed colourless.
“I’m a psychiatrist, not a psychologist so I did a neurologic exam on myself…,” he continued, “And I had this realization, [that may be] I’m not having a stroke or a seizure. I had this crazy idea that I was looking at the world through her eyes and feeling her feelings. So, because I was sleep-deprived, I blurted something out that normally I wouldn’t say.”
“Nancy, I didn’t know it was so bad, and I can’t help you kill yourself,” he stated, “but if you do, I will still think well of you. I’ll miss you. And maybe I’ll understand why you had to, to get out of the pain.
Remembering his training, Mark gasped, thinking he messed up because he had just given a suicidal patient permission. However, Mark was astonished to see that he and Nancy finally made eye contact.
“Thank you for understanding I’m overdue,” Nancy said. “If you can really understand why I might have to kill myself to get out of my pain then maybe I won’t need to.
Following this story, Mark shared with us a story from an even younger period in his life, when he had dropped out of medical school for the second time. In his conversation with the Dean of Students, William McNary, McNary said”
“Mark, you didn’t mess up, because you’re passing everything. But you are messed up.” The dean continued, “if you get un-messed up, I think the school will be glad they gave you a second chance. Mark, even if you don’t become a doctor. Even if you don’t do anything, for the rest of your life, I’d be proud to know you, because you have a streak of goodness in you that we don’t grade in medical school. You don’t know how much the world needs that goodness.”
In founding the Michelangelo Mindset, Mark shares that they got the name from a quote by the Italian sculptor where Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
For Mark, that mindset meant looking into your future and clearly seeing happiness and fulfilment. This was the concept that has guided many defining moments of his life.
In his career as a suicide specializing psychiatrist, Mark saw hope inside his suicidal patients that they couldn’t see or feel. He saw hope in Nancy just as the dean saw hope in him.
“I was the David in the marble of my future that I couldn’t see but Dean McNary could see.”
Mark shares with us that we can also be Michelangelo for the marble of the people we love.
He teaches us the HUVA Method where we conduct an analysis of the conversations we’ve had recently. Mark says that once a day, we should look back at a conversation and ask ourselves if we made that person feel Heard, Understood, Valued and if we Added value to that conversation.
To Mark, conversations are more than just tools of information, it can also save a life and contribute to the making of a kinder world.
Podcast: My Wakeup Call
LinkedIn: Dr Mark Goulston
For one lucky listener, Mark is offering his time to listen and have a conversation with you.