‘Gabriel’ faces less than angelic future

Tue, 02/27/2007 - 5:49pm
By: Ben Nelms

The potential closure in July of Fayette Counseling Center due to funding issues might not pose much of a problem for most of Fayette County’s residents. But it looms large for the 239 individuals currently receiving a range of services at the Fayetteville office and for the families who love them.

One of those families, north Fayette residents Dale and Judy Polzin, have a relative who has lived with them for years and receives essential services from Fayette Counseling Center. His diagnosis is schizo-affected disorder.

“Fayette Counseling is the only service available. There is nowhere else for him to go,” Judy explained. “If it closes, what will we do? I want to know the answer to that question and I want somebody to give me the answer.”

Standing in the back yard Monday afternoon, Dale agreed.

“We require nothing from the county,” he said emphatically. “We pay our bills and we pay our taxes, lots of taxes.”

Dale and Judy spoke openly about their relative, noting both his intellectual capacity, his mental illness and his significant needs. In his 60s, he lives in his own cabin on the family property. Entering that cabin moments later, the 6-foot-7-inch-tall man weighing nearly 300 pounds was all smiles and eager to have visitors. And he is much more than he might seem to those unfamiliar with the world of serious mental illness.

“I’m the archangel Gabriel,” he said immediately, quickly embarking on a confident explanation of his statement. “I go to a planet to change that civilization for the better. Once people begin to get better I go on to another. I’ve been to 4,000 other planets.”

Gabriel, the name used here as a means of confidentiality, is amiable, extremely articulate and far-reaching in his interests. The range of topics he can discuss in detail is impressive, especially given the inaccurate yet pervasive societal notion that those with significant mental illness are somehow less capable of understanding, much less articulating, moderately complex concepts.

A conversation lasting only a few minutes easily spanned the topics of current events, national politics, government funding, the space program and his artwork.

He noted the medications he receives through Fayette Counseling Center, complete with potential adverse reactions, and the therapeutic counseling he receives at the facility.

“I used to run away in the spring and fall,” Gabriel said. “Since I’ve been taking my meds I don’t have those feelings anymore.”

Gabriel is also aware that others may see him in a less than favorable light, due both to his diagnosis and his specific view of his place in the world. But all that was taken in stride without missing a beat.

“If somebody told me they were the archangel Gabriel I’d think they were crazy,” he said with a smile.

Undaunted by views that conflict with his own, Gabriel and Judy began a conversation about some of the aspects that occurred earlier in his life. He completed high school and drafting school, working for years as a draftsman. He was married and has two daughters.

Judy and Dale spoke honestly and without hesitation, both about Gabriel’s capabilities and his challenges. Gabriel has lived with them for 20 years. Some of those years have been much more difficult than what the family experiences today.

There was a time many years ago, while living in Gwinnett County, that Gabriel lived on the streets for a time, a sleeping bag for a bed and eating out of garbage cans.

Though those times have long changed, Judy and Dale still worry about the future. They are concerned about what will happen when they are no longer around to make sure Gabriel has a place to live. They are concerned about Gabriel not being able to be in public today due to behavioral issues. And they are concerned about the immediate future if Fayette Counseling closes its doors.

“There is nowhere else for us to turn for counseling and medications,” Judy said, her tone leaving no room for doubt about the seriousness of the concern. “(Gabriel) looks forward to going there. It gives him the opportunity to talk about what’s on his mind. His attitude has improved so much. What would we do if there was no center?”

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