This night, I will not forget. My husband called me with urgency to come home quickly. Our adult son was recently diagnosed with Schizophrenia. He struggled with non adherence of medicine, quite common in people with brain disorders, like an injury, not because they are defiant, but a manifestation of the illness called anosognosia. Mental illness came on suddenly, two years of behaviors we did not understand, which escalated. It is a thief that stole the very person we knew. We are still grieving.
The unpredictable is becoming predictable. Adults with mental illness, left untreated, are a challenge for family life. It is no crime to be homeless, to be out of your mind, and wander aimlessly unstable. Mental illness steals intimacy from family relationships. As parents, we are often left alone to get him to the hospital, because he cannot be forced. He has rights. Police intervention is frightening for families and often the police are unprepared to deal with psychological crisis. Our family will never give up on our son.
When I arrived, my son was frightened, afraid that people were going to harm him and harm our family. Anxious and agitated, he believes he has to leave. He called a taxi to take him to the airport so he can fly to New Mexico and his bag is packed, though he knows nobody in New Mexico. We are concerned because he left for two months once.
Tonight, I’m quiet, stalling, offering him tea. While my husband talked with him, I ran outside to dial 911, without our son’s knowledge. Dispatch informed me that they couldn’t force him to go to the ER. In frustration, I said goodbye. Meanwhile my son ran out back with a rope, with my husband following him closely. I was unaware of this. Dispatch called again, confirming an officer visited the previous night at my request and all had been well. I assured him that all was not well now.
Convinced his food was contaminated with feces, he was hallucinating. Last week, I woke to find the doors locked and dead bolted. A week ago there were high frequencies in his room, and he was going outside to sleep under the porch in 30 degree weather. I told him I only heard his clock radio. Later he returned to his room. Tonight, we all ended up on the front porch, my son smoking and scared. He agreed reluctantly to go to the ER with me. After I left, an officer arrived, annoyed that we had concerned him with this matter. Next time we needed to call a crisis hotline. He told my husband to look it up online while he observed over his shoulder.
The journey was slow motion. Focused on driving, I listened, no advice, no agenda, just de-escalation. My son is kind, smart, an athlete, and achieved so much before his diagnosis. He became involved with religion, became rigid, lost jobs, lost friends, isolated from family, until his first suicide attempt which was shocking for us. Our son is forever changed. The loss has been painful, but we are slowly learning to accept our new norm.
A 45 minute drive with the gas gauge empty, I panicked. If I stopped for gas, he may jump from the car. If I locked the doors, he would hear that and may be more afraid. No radio, no distractions. He was unstable, but deep in thought, fidgeting. He has cigarettes. My car is smoke free but tonight I asked him if he wants to smoke. “Can I?” he asked. “Yes, Light up.” I encouraged him to smoke often to ease the drive.
The FBI and tiny cameras watching our every move was a topic he discussed. How does he know this? He has seen them he said. They look like little whistles and flutes with wings. The world was a bad place and we were all going to Hell. How can God be the Devil? How can that be true? He confessed he did not believe in God any more. I asked him why. He told me he was unsure of everything, what was real and what was not. I was so afraid for him and tormented that my son was tormented. How did all this happen?
Oh no, a red light. “Let’s do something quirky, and meditate sitting Indian style and touch foreheads together in that parking lot?” he asked. I was anxious but I explained I was afraid because it appeared closed and dark. Good, green light.
If I could only get to the ER before I ran out of gas. We pulled into the parking garage. Please wait for me son. Getting out, he asked if we could meditate in the parking lot. I humored him and agreed as we sat between parked cars. He wondered if I was his soul mate, and said something inappropriate. I said we needed to go. Walking towards the elevator, we put our arms around each other. He replied he was unsure of the whole hospital thing and didn’t think he wanted to do it. I replied he needed someone to at least take a look at him and if OK, we can leave. I sensed this may become a challenge.
Exiting the elevator, he froze. He told me he couldn’t go in there. He was fearful of being locked up. He needed to leave and find a safe place. We were alone and I could see the ER. “Please son, you need to come with me.” Just then a female employee walked past us. She was my last resort. I spoke loudly so she heard me. “You need to speak with someone because you tried to hurt yourself.” She stopped to assess the situation. I told her I could use some help. Slowly she moved closer, keeping a respectable distance and asked my son what was happening. He replied he was afraid to go to the ER because they might lock him up. I told her I was worried because he tried to hurt himself. She kept talking and looking back trying to lead him towards the ER as I followed behind my son. She assured my son that he would not be locked up and that security was there for everyone, not him. All he had to do was register and he could sit in the waiting room and he could get fresh air if needed.
My son signed into the ER, writing that he was “tired”. The first crisis, two years ago, he scribbled “suicide”. It was handled swiftly. This time, was different. He waited for a nurse to call him into the room. She asked if I wanted to join them. My son nodded yes. A short interview with vitals and he was transferred to a secure area. He was terrified that he would be skinned alive. I assured him I would stay with him the whole time. He told me that I could be skinned alive and also locked away. I repeated that I would stay with him. I would not leave him at all, unless he wanted me to leave. This was his third involuntary commitment within eighteen months. This journey has no compass but we strive for recovery. Thank you to the angel in the ER who helped more than she will ever know.