I went out shopping with my son today, and we had a good time.
Nothing unusual about that I guess, but it’s been a long time since we have been able to function at, what society would consider ‘normal’ capacity. My son suffers from schizophrenia, and has slight autism. He is a loving and gentle person, with a high IQ – he did well in school academically, but not as well socially. This inability to interact well with others has caused a lot of pain and confusion in his young life, and as I ache inside for him, I try to understand what makes him tick so that I can offer him the type of support that would be of the most benefit for him, but it’s not easy at times.
Before he was diagnosed at seventeen, he went through his own private hell for more than three years before he could admit that he might have a problem. He experimented with different drugs, self-medicating to try and make some sense of what he was happening to him, and make the noise in his head go away. Throughout is all, I had my suspicions, but was reluctant to admit that my bright and beautiful boy may have a ‘mental impediment’ that might have made him less than perfect.
After his diagnosis, rather than get better, his situation deteriorated when he decided that he wanted to move out of home rather than take medication, and take his own drugs instead. I tried to keep a close eye on his movements, and would ‘call in’ on him to take him out to dinner, take him shopping for groceries, or make sure he had enough money for his needs. A lot of the money went missing or on drugs, so I resorted to food vouchers that he had to use and couldn’t cash in. There were many times when we had to go into the places he was living and physically carry him out and take him to a hospital. I wasn’t sure if I was going to see him for another day or not. I would ask myself constantly if I was doing enough, and if I could do more. I was told that as long as he was over the age of eighteen, it didn’t matter what he did or didn’t do, I had no say and no right to his private information until he gave his consent. We would argue a lot, he and I, until one day an exasperated health worker at the local hospital, who’d seen him one too many times, told him that if he didn’t start to look after himself, he would probably die.
Maybe it frightened him. I don’t know. But it was the beginning of his slow climb out of the dark and towards some semblance of sanity.
I got involved in his personal affairs even more, with his consent, and worked to get him the right specialist care and more involvement from the local health authorities. I helped him through his medical assessments, went with him to meeting with welfare agencies and housing departments. I spoke on his behalf when he was not able to. In the end we were able to accomplish what would have seemed impossible to him two years ago. He now lives drug and alcohol free, and has been for the last twelve months. He is on the medication that is right for him, after various unsuccessful attempts with others. He has his own unit, and a disability income. He has not only our support, but the support of local agencies that teach him life skills and work to help him remain independent. He shops, he sticks to his budgets and he has joined local voluntary groups in an effort to improve his confidence and become more socially active.
I have stepped away a little, but I’m never too far away if he needs me. I am amazed at his resilience at times, and although I am sad for what might have been, I am grateful that he is here, and he has the chance and the fortitude to move ahead at his own pace and be whatever he wants to be – not what I may have wanted him to be. He is my boy, and I love him to bits. I can’t change what has happened, but I can focus on what he is now and help him to work with what he has.
Schizophrenia is the most debilitating of mental illnesses. It’s cruel, it generally doesn’t discriminate, and it’s life-changing. Schizophrenia is only one of many mental illnesses and disorders that are suffered by members of our society. It is probably more likely that someone will suffer from a mental illness, than it is not.