He Changed His Shirt: When That’s the Big Relapse News

Schizophrenia Steals Lives

My son, Ben, is back where he began his diagnosed-schizophrenia journey 17 years ago: in West Hills Behavioral Health Institute, though its real name (not West Hills) has been changed. 

He is the worst I have ever seen him: unresponsive, refusing ADLs (Activities of Daily Living, such as showers), wandering all day talking and gesturing to his voices. The best the nurse can say is that he “isn’t causing trouble”, and that “today at least he changed his shirt.”

This , the best news about a young man who, before Covid-19, was working full-time and training new  servers at his restaurant job.

No, his life wasn’t perfect, or even perfectly “normal.” but it was a life. And if he didn’t always make the best decisions, if lately he seemed lost and distracted, if lately he seemed to find new ways to spit his meds back into the sink…well, he was managing.

It was a life.

But now it’s like the past 9 years of stability never happened. So what do I do? 

I clean his room, of course. Since Ben is hospitalized until we can have a hearing to get right to commit and medicate, I have a rare opportunity to snoop, and to clean.

I call junkluggers and pay to have 3 ragged couches and a broken arcade game taken away. I clean out his drawers and closets. I hunt for hints, for information to all the secrets he has been keeping. I find evidence of shopping addiction, more drug use than expected, and all the paperwork that explains his poor financial choices including leasing 2 cars at once. He is deep in debt, all the time saying “Mom, I have it under control.”

No big surprise. But informative. As is the mounting evidence that his marijuana use had gone way, way beyond the occasional joint. I have 2 huge plastic bins full of water pipes, bongs, more.

I sort and toss and organize and scrub, preparing my son’s room for the life he may never get back. I clean with hope. I clean because it’s control. It’s the only control I have. It’s the only thing I can do for my son now.

But it’s the evidence of his hopes and dreams that really get to me. 

From Ben’s essay on Shakespeare’s Henry IV: Parts I and II, written about seven years ago, a year or so after his 8th hospitalization and release – this time, to our home, where until recently he was thriving. Well, thriving for someone with a severe case of schizophrenia.

In the essay, Ben compares himself to Prince Hal (Henry V), portrayed at first, according to Wikipedia, as ” a wayward youth who enjoys the society of petty criminals and wastrels” until he wises up (or grows up, I guess).

Ben says:

Through King Henry’s words…I received a deeper understanding of how both my mother and Henry felt as they saw their sons dwindle. When Hal reforms his ways with the promise of honoring his father….he reminds me of how I decided to change my lifestyle upon gaining some insight into my mother’s perspective.  

Again and again, I see reminders of the big plans he had for himself…until the world (and especially Covid-19, with its isolation and impact on the restaurant business. pulled the rug out from under his already shaky stance. 

Every time, every night, when we got him to take his meds, I thought to myself: well, we just bought him another 24 hours.  But now that’s all gone. I have spent hours on the phone with financial companies, trying to keep his future possible. I defer payments, I cover overdrafts ..and add it to the mounting list of what he “owes” us. 

His room is all ready for him – but he may never come back. Not without a lot of conditions. But I prepare for the best outcome (returned stability), even though I know he might not some back to life this time. Because…motherhood.

And right now, we just have to get him to swallow his medication. 

And change his shirt.


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