On
Fred Frese
"Recovery: Myths, Mountains, and Miracles"
VCU Alumni Honorarium
March 8, 2002

written by Betsy Brown


I had been looking forward to seeing and hearing Dr. Fred Frese in a speech for the VCU Alumni Honorarium for weeks.  I had a memory of him from a video I had seen years ago.  I remembered laughing.  So I described Dr. Frese to people as "a funny man" and "a stand up comedian".  Maybe some wondered what would be funny about schizophrenia?  "Guess you had to be there" and, "Better to laugh than cry" are some responses I can think of to that question.  Laughter is healing and unites people.  Not to mention that it just plain feels good.  But I found out that Dr. Frese knows how to use humor in a powerful way, to teach truth, and to make a lasting impression.  For those whose hearts were open, it was a good one.

He is a modest looking man with facial ticks because of tartive diskensia.  Sometimes his speech is muffled and sometimes loud but always, there is emphasis on those things that need to stand out.  I find myself working to hear all that he says. 

He takes an appreciable amount of time with our large audience of rehabilitation professionals emphasizing his credibility.  But he speaks only briefly about his many degrees in Business and Psychology.  He says he has no need to prove he has these.  He explains that he must work harder to define his credibility as a man who has schizophrenia.  Naming himself "the psychotic psychologist" he then pokes fun at someone who may think, "how did we let this one get through?"   Although he has the sheet of paper that says he has earned his degrees, he has nothing to show his audience that says that he really has schizophrenia.

But look at him.  He has a funny way of speaking and his face twists and turns.  Sometimes his voice gets very loud and sometimes it is barely audible.  Sometimes he even bursts out and yells at the audience.  He seems to delight in catching the audience off guard.  At one point two men beside me get up and leave.  Are they uncomfortable?

I wonder why he is trying to prove to the audience that he really has schizophrenia?  Why does he feel the need to convince people of this?  But by the end of his speech I know why.  He brings us into his experience, into his thoughts.  I am opening myself to hear "the meat" of what he is saying.  The "schizophrenic mind" expands beyond the limits of the "chronically normal" he says.  I understand the expansive mind he speaks of.

He uses an overhead projector that shows some editorial cartoons from the Richmond Times Dispatch.  People are displayed with mental illness as monsters and "crazies".  What happens next amazes me.  The audience is caught up with this man, they love him already because he has made us laugh and now what does he do?  He raises his voice and expresses anger.  It moves over us in a very powerful way to make the point that there are still many myths perpetuated in the media about persons with mental illness.  Is this when the men beside me decide to get up and leave?  I can't say.  I am truly caught up with this man.


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