Broken Strings

As we ate sticky rice and seaweed fish soup, Aida told me the good news: in Singapore there’s another name for schizophrenia. The name is not easily translated into English, but it means “violin with a broken string.”

My new friend Aida is one of the first women to be ordained as an Anglican priest in Korea. She pastors a small rural congregation and studied social work.

When I asked her about mental health issues in her culture, her eyes smiled. And then she told me this story about the violin.

The violin is another way of thinking about mental illness. When a person’s mind sounds a little funky, what happens is like what happens when one of the strings on a violin breaks.

When our minds aren’t working right, there’s discord. Songs played on the violin don’t sound the same when there’s a string or two missing.

But the violin isn’t broken for good. We don’t put it inside a case and lock it away for good. Violins can be fixed.

Is this also true of the mind?

When mental illness breaks the mind, can it be fixed?

When Aida first mentioned this alternative word for schizophrenia, my heart opened a little more. Opened because suddenly something that has been so negatively labeled and stigmatized now sounded much more manageable.

And I wanted to know what a violin with broken strings sounded like and I wanted to stick around long enough to hear the violin with new strings played again.

Aida’s younger sister died as a college student in the hospital…she died with broken strings.

She was a violin.

Some of us have broken strings.

Perhaps the mind is our finest instrument in the orchestra of life. And people who have broken strings don’t need to be silenced because the sound they make isn’t pretty.

People with broken strings need our attention, understanding, support and resources.

People with broken strings need us to believe in them, to trust in them, and to hope with them until they get new strings.

Let’s free our violins with broken strings from the closet.

There’s a song of life to play.

6 thoughts on “Broken Strings

  1. My daughters are bipolar and this made me tear up, They are beautiful, loving girls who just needed that correct attention and medication to be all they can be. Their youngest sister has Type 1 Diabetes so we always likened it to that, a medical condition that you needed to take care of all your life to stay healthy.

  2. Absolutely magic writing to turn around the way people can think about mental health. I have bipolar disorder and after 26 years some nasty people at work used it to be bully me and then push me out the door. I have been feeling very sorry for myself. And looking for light in the clouds. And this metaphor hits the spot. Yes I need the help of those around me when I sound like a violin with broken strings. But violins can also be kind to themselves and sometimes can fix strings themselves. Bless you from Ireland

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