Living with someone who suffers from a mental illness is like being stuck in a roller coaster ride for life. At first it’s scary but you can ride it out knowing–or hoping–the dips will eventually end but after a while, the non-stop changes in direction, rises and falls begin messing with your sense of equilibrium.
My youngest son was always an active, bright, and adventurous kid. There was never a boring moment with him. He could be just as sweet as he was horrible and he came to earn the nickname of Houdini because there was no restraints that he couldn’t break from. By the time he was three or four he had figured out how to unlock all the children’s safety locks in the house. Car seats were no challenge for him, and when I bought a four-point harness to keep him in child seats at restaurants and coffee shops, his future career as an escape artist was looking very bright indeed.
Art was strong in this one. He loved dancing, singing, and playing instruments. He was playing the guitar in fourth grade and joined the strings orchestra in fifth. By the time he was in high school he was playing with local orchestras and being spotlighted as a soloist. In his senior year we had the opportunity to visit New York city with his orchestra and he decided then that’s where he was going to study music.
All his dreams (and mine) came crushing down one evening when he walked into our living room and declared to my husband and I that he was Jesus and like Jesus he must die in order to save his friends. At first we thought he was high on something but this went on for days afterwards with Facebook posts and strange and scary behavior from him. He began going to bed with whatever “weapon” he could find (gardening tools, kitchen knives) because they were after him. Who they were was never established.
He would get in his car and drive for hours sometimes in the middle of snow storms or tornado watches and often would stay in the car all night because “the house was not safe”. It became quite apparent to us that something had shifted in his mind. His behavior became more erratic and risky to himself and us at the house.
Since then he has been hospitalized five times before we finally managed to find the right cocktail of meds that made him stable. He was stable for a few years until recently when he lost his balance again. The roller coaster began again…
Living with a mental health patient is difficult enough, but the system makes it even more difficult. As parents of an adult we have no rights whatsoever. Patient’s rights to confidentiality–which I totally believe in most cases–dictates that someone who is going through a psychotic episode and thinks everyone is literally watching and out to get him has to be the one deciding about his treatment options.
This roller coaster ride means sleepless nights followed by days when your body is at work but your mind is at home wondering what he’s up to. It is long days at work followed by hours of mind-exhausting nonsensical rants, followed by more sleepless nights. It means not having a single knife or headache medicine readily available because they have all been hidden somewhere safe, just in case.
I never liked roller coasters, not even as a child. I don’t like anything that keeps me off balance. I don’t even like rocking chairs because of that. The universe sure has a warped sense of humor to put me in this ride and keep me in constant chaotic shifting and turning. I want out but know I am stuck on this ride for life. He’s my son and I love him. Seeing him unstable and suffering kills me one cell at a time. And there is nothing I can do to help him.
NOTE: This last return to our roller coaster ride was due in great measure to unwise choices my son made. It is totally possible to control most mental illnesses these days as long as you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices; such as taking your meds regularly, getting enough sleep, keeping partying to a minimum, and staying away from any substance that will make your condition spin out of control. At some point my son became very comfortable in the knowledge he was stable and decided he didn’t have to be cautious anymore. Thus the sudden “dip” again. He is now on the right track and staying away from everything that may cause him trouble. Of course, there is no guarantee he will stick to it forever. I’m cautiously hopeful…