Editor's note: hold on tight for this one. A really powerful story from a courageous mom.
Hello Mark, I just wanted to say your article about your wife has helped me more than anything else. Thank you. My son is 27, unmarried and has had a psychotic break... just a week ago, to my knowledge. It could have been going on longer, but he had decided to live in GA with his grandmother & she only argued & fought with him, assuming he was just being immature & idk for lack of a better word, strange?! I am estranged from my mother, because of her interference between me and my son. I'd parent & she would undo it. It was a never ending cycle of her bailing him out.. Looking back, that was probably this.
He called me, a week ago Sunday, and I knew he was dealing with something else. Something out of his control. Something terrifying. He wasn't making sense, and he was insisting the FBI was tracking him through bar codes on his clothes. He swore his grandparents were poisoning his food, he kept begging for the milkshake that would reverse those effects. This call went on for four hours, and my husband was listening in upstairs and would fill in, when he could hear me break down into sobs in the kitchen. He was a 911 dispatcher years ago & this day he saved my sons life. We later learned what Zac was doing had a name "talk salad".
We flew him home to us in Texas, and I called every agency in the book. I googled drug induced psychosis, as I knew it had to be this. Zac had a past of drug use, surely this was a temporary state. If I could just get him here I could get him into rehab.. That was the thought I kept repeating. After hours of dead ends I reached a caring women with the state that offered phone council. I got maybe five minutes into repeating what Zac had told me on the phone & she asked me to sit down. She then began to tell me my son was a schizophrenic. That it would be life-long & I needed to prepare myself. I was dumbfounded. I argued.. She stayed convinced. She set up an appointment for Zac to be seen. She said two trained therapists would come to my home and explain to Zac how the first out-patient appointment would go, she insisted this was best. I thought it was over-kill & that surely once the "drugs" were out of his system and he was back home, I could manage this.
He missed three flights out of the Atlanta airport, until I got a Delta attendant to collect him - saying he was disabled. He arrived around midnight, and when he turned the corner, and I took a first look at him... I stood there in shock. It took every strength to compose myself, as he walked towards me looking homeless. He held me so tight and for so long the reality that he was in far deeper than I had let myself realize, frightened me. He was showered, but his clothes and shoes were rags. His backpack was covered in mold. Every item he brought with him I knew had to be thrown away, but he held onto each thing and wouldn't unpack. He was pacing the floor and looking out the windows to see who could be watching him. We got him into bed, and the ache I felt as I walked back downstairs and into my bedroom, as his mother, was a deep pit of a pain that I didn't know existed.
He was here one evening, but the next night he ran away. We searched. We reluctantly called the police to tell them he had mental issues. (The woman I had called that arranged his doctor appointment kept stressing to me that should anything happen I should call the police and tell them he was mentally ill, but I remembered I had never acknowledged her) it was all pouring back. I was now afraid for his life. He was found and taken to the emergent mental facility here, Green Oaks of Dallas. The cop that found him, came back to our home afterwards and said he knew Zac was suffering with mental illness, he had seen it many times before. He told us he would open a file and keep it on record, so that the next time Zac was arrested he would be taken straight to the emergency mental hospital and not to jail. My mind reeled with his words "next time".
He stayed 7 nights, he called me non-stop begging for me to come and sign him out. His step-dad went every day during the visiting hour, as they would only allow one person, and he knew I wouldn't be able to cope seeing him there. He took Zac his hoodie, but, I had to cut the draw string out as this could be used to end my child's life, this single red draw string.. He took him coins for the vending machine and the telephone and assured Zac we would figure this thing out together. When my husband arrived home he was broken, when he got to the part that he had held my son & apologized to Zac for being so tough on him over the years, I broke too. "Is this our fault?"
Zac is home, but it's not much better, and it's causing such stress here. I'm lost as to what to do next. He argues he's "not a minor". He's right, he's not.. and him being 27 is very hard as a mom, I feel treating him like a child with forced medication & not allowing him to drive, and the daily fears of what he will do next, the now locked doors and disrespect & arguments is just too overwhelming. I don't know if I can do this.
Reading what you wrote has given me some much needed peace & resolve. And had you not titled it the way you did, with a nudge towards humor, I may have skipped it. I just hope I can continue to care for him here, hospitalization or a group home scares me. But do I risk my relationship with my 17 and 5 year old? No... it's such a difficult place to be. - thanks for writing this.. You described my feelings 100% and I feel better after reading your words, it made it real, I felt comfort knowing I wasn't alone.
Lori, the mom of four boys...
Zac 27, Jake 21, Ben 17 & Owen 5
Since I wrote to you, a year has passed, and we've come out on the other side. Zac had two additional hospitalizations since then, the last at the state mental hospital, and that was especially heart wrenching for all of us. We were told in the beginning only the truly sick patients were admitted to "state" so when he was admitted, I felt all hope was gone. But, he was released, he was med-compliant and feeling some better. The voices had calmed down in his mind, and if they did speak, at least it made our Zac laugh. It was better than the alternative. He seems child-like again, sweet hearted and affectionate. We started with love for this child, and it would seem we were ending up with love as well, and for that I'm forever grateful.
We, as the caregivers, love and adore our child with schizophrenia with everything that we are. This child was my first born, he has been loveingly raised by me.. as mostly a single mother. I had him as a teen and we had grown up together.. But this darkness he was experiencing, I just couldn't see it, maybe I was even blind to it. Nonetheless, he was doing his best to hide it from me - the only person in this world that could reach him, and turn this around for him. With one call in June of 2015, I heard his cry for help. I can't imagine had I not.
Today, almost a year later. He is enjoying his brothers and his life again. He's stopped shaving off all his hair (to include his eyebrows and eyelashes). The meds helped him gain some much needed weight. His self esteem has gone up, and he's now even particular about his hairstyle. It's a 360 degree difference. He has a fabulous mental professional team of four that come to our home and talk to him, asses him, and bring him his meds, and are here for us at a drop of a hat. I feel like the luckiest mother in Texas to have found such a group.
But, even with all of that, I can honestly say we have given up pieces of ourselves forever to him, we've all sacrificed our simple way of life, for one that knows at any given minute we may be back in crisis mode again. We are all on guard, all of the time. It takes something from you, the word carefree has lost all meaning under our roof. Something has died. We are all still grieving, which I don't hear much about. There's no grief counseling for the living.
My younger sons, especially grieve the brother they knew before his mental breakdown. As medicated, he's completely different. He's no longer their "big" brother, they have had to help with his care, and learn what to watch for. They say "we can remember Zac carrying us home when we'd skinned our knees, and lifting us into his shoulders to see the fireworks.. we remember the snacks he snuck for us, he was a good big brother, and now it's our turn to carry him".
All my boys have moved home again, and I can't help but believe this was the reason. This is our new normal, and we have to be okay with it, we don't get a choice, and I swear, we are all trying every day to settle there with Zac.
Lori, the mom of four boys...
Zac now 28, Jake now 22, Ben now 18 & Owen now 6
If you are interested in sharing your own story of mental illness, check out the submit page to learn how.