Ben has been spending a lot of time with us lately; in fact, this is the closest we’ve had to daily contact since he lived with us prior to his first hospitalizations in 2003. It’s different now; he has grown. Eight years in a group home have taught him independence, respect and self-esteem that he’d have never gotten under our roof, safe within our wings and safety nets.
But there is a limit.
Since his episode this summer (right after the too-swift move to unsupported housing), we have had to step in and help guide Ben back to the self-sufficiency he’d earned before. Now, though, I don’t trust the services he is receiving – and, I think, he doesn’t like living alone as much as everyone said he would. So, much more often than before, he spends the night with his family. We drive him to school, to work, to meetings – feels like high school years all over again, pre-drivers’ license. It’s fine for now, because it’s what Ben needs. But we encourage as much independence as we can, to boost him back up to the mental illness version of young adulthood.
Two nights a week, therefore, he stays at his apartment after school and then takes the bus to the “anonymous” meeting he has attended for six years. Last week, to our horror, this solo journey into a questionable area of town resulted in near-disaster. Ben was mugged. His cash, his beloved backpack (containing precious cargo: textbooks, school papers, handheld video games, poetry, the ipod he had saved for for over a year), his keys – all stolen. Psychically, it could have been so much worse – he was thrown to the ground and threatened with what they said was a knife , but he got away with a wrenched shoulder, a red mark on his neck, and some scrapes. Whew. But now he is, understandably, skittish. He won’t go into that neighborhood again, and he is easily spooked now. Anyone would react that way – but with mental illness complications there is addition worry: will the stress trigger symptoms? will he backtrack in his progress? will pain relievers interfere with his meds?
We count ourselves lucky, of course. He is alive, and somehow we will replace the physical things he has lost. He reacted very sanely to the threats – “take anything you want, just don’t hurt me.” Thank God. But he feels violated, spooked, and afraid in ways of the independence he has worked so hard to regain.
One day at a time. I think we’ll drive him to meetings in safer places for awhile. I’d rather he be safe than independent right now. And the delicate balance continues.