in 1991, i worked at The Royal Ottawa as a psych nurse and i admitted a middle-aged man, whose name i cannot recall (not that i can say because i cannot break client confidence) for the weekend. he was a paranoid schizophrenic and for his entire psych life, he’d suffered persistent delusions that the Russians were after him, and, in particular, the KGB.

his psychiatrist admitted him for the weekend, just for monitoring, because the last section of the Berlin wall was coming down and, technically, the Russians could be coming, but not for him.

“the wall is down,” he’d say, a question in his voice.


“and the Russians are coming.”

“technically, yes, but they’re not coming for you.”

“why are they coming?”

“to be free, i guess.”

“and what about the KGB?”

“i think they’re being dismantled.”


this conversation repeated itself, over and over again, all weekend long. we’d sit in the TV room and watch CNN dispatches together.

by Sunday morning, he was looking refreshed and surprisingly well. younger. the anxiety he had exhibited on admission day had dissipated, destroyed by the reality of a crumbling wall, itself covered with layer upon layer of lonely graffiti. what he feared had become reality and he survived.

what are you afraid of?