I used to be afraid of those with mental illness. I didn't understand it. It was spooky. Unknown. People with mental illness didn't act within the norm.
I glided through most of my life without giving it much thought until my adult son was diagnosed with Schizoeffective disorder, PTSD, anxiety disorder, and paranoid His life living skills, along with much of his personality, changed.
Neuron's in the brain can cause a lot of damage to one's perspective, and how one chooses to live life from that moment forward. It involves ongoing care with close psychiatric monitoring, an ever changing cocktail of medications, constant monitoring, and being there for someone 100% 24/7. I never knew what that really was like until my son's illness bloomed.
A new normal means setting aside your entire life, forever, to be at the whim of someones brain function. It's not only my new normal, but his new normal as well.
Many have suggested I put Matthew into a mental health community. First of all, there aren't any, unless you have millions to spend.
I want Matthew to relearn what its like to live a life as fully and as normally as possible. Part of that is education. Not just education for my son, but educating others, who like I once was, are afraid.
I will not isolate my son. If someone has cancer, we do not even consider putting the cancer patients into a community, hiding them away. We envelope them with our love, acceptance, and make life for them as normal as we can.
I want to give you a peek into our typical Saturday.
"Matthew, I have errands to run. Want to come along?" I ask.
"Yes, let me get dressed."
Translation: I need to put on my clothes, take a handfull of pills, and sit on the backporch to gather my thoughts.
Thirty minutes later, we are in the car.
"Where are we going Mom?"
"I need to stop at Lowes. Will you be able to come inside with me today?"
"I will try."
Translation: I am really afraid of the unknown. I have to wait to see how many people are there before I decide.
We arrive at Lowes. My son swallows hard and looks around. "I will try."
He follows me inside and gets a cart. As we walk through the household plant section, he becomes mesmirized and wants to look at each plant. I, on the other hand, am in a hurry. "Why don't I leave you here with the cart? Stay right here. I need to pick up a paint brush. Give me 5 minutes. Stay here, okay? Matthew, do you hear me? Wait here?"
But, it takes me 10 minues, not 5. I return to the succulents, exactly where I left him. Matthew and the cart are gone. My heart beats hard. Where is he?
I walk back into the main part of the store and search. Finally I see him running toward me pushing the cart in front, screaming, "Mom! Mom!"
We leave the cart and return to the car. He works at getting himself together--measuring his breaths, trying to calm his heart rate. He heard voices taunting him from the vents. He tells me that I am his anchor and I was gone.
We go home. I finish the errands alone. Later he says he would like to try going out again.
"How about if we go for dinner somewhere?"
He picks a place he went a lot before the illness overtook him. He feels safe there. We sit in a booth. He puts on his headphones to block out voices that arent there; they are there for him. We make it through a meal. He is fine. We return to the car triumphant.
I remember I forgot something at the grocery store. Matthew decides to wait for me in the car. He refuses to go inside. Thats okay. I never push. I get the item and a few more. We go home.
He sits on the backporch.
The sky is dark now.
He feels safe.
Do NOT feel sorry for me. Do NOT feel sorry for my son. Instead, seek to understand the mentally ill. Understanding is the perfect gift.
I am far from the only one who goes through this with my son. My son is far from the only one who is cursed with this. You will make us both feel less alone by understanding and acceptance.
PS Today is Sunday. We went to the grocery store again. This time Matthew ventured inside with me. He clung onto the cart as though it was his life preserver. His hoody was draped over his head in a hiding manner. An elderly lady stopped him and sweetly commented, "I love your beard young man! Its a wonderful beard!"
Matthew lit up. He smiled, and pulled off his hood so she could get a better look at his face and the foot long red beard. "Thank you very much!"
We both were ecstatically happy.