We finally fell off the tightrope.
Well, my son did. And we were helpless to stop his fall, as we stood there, witness to another mental health victim of Covid-19.
Nine years of being the poster boy for a stable and meaningful life while in treatment for severe schizophrenia, gone in 48 hours. 48 hours. Nine years of careful steps taken toward full-time unemployment, car ownership (of sorts), his own bank account, social activities with friends and family. Nine years of a half-life that we constantly reminded ourselves “was good enough, compared to the alternatives.”
Schizophrenia had stolen Ben’s life, thrown him into deep muddy waters of chaos and limitations, but he had risen to the surface and we were keeping him afloat by supervising his treatment. Every. Single. Day. He did the rest – earning college credits, working as a restaurant server (a good one, Yelp-worthy), helping out friends – because he had the 4 pillars of stability: treatment, love, purpose, structure.
Gone, all gone. My son is back in the same hospital where he was first treated, 17 years ago, and just as symptomatic. He talks to himself all day. He refuses treatment. He won’t talk to us, this child who just one week ago hugged me good morning every day and played on the floor with this little nephew and nieces, who adore him.
His preschool-age nieces and nephew cannot see him like this. They wouldn’t recognize their uncle. Sadly, though. it’s all too familiar to me, as the pain and grief come rushing back.
No, Ben doesn’t have Covid-19 – yet. But the illness caused the economic crisis that cost Ben his job, his purpose, his structure, his livelihood, his sense of self-esteem, his reason to agree to take the meds he thinks he doesn’t need.
Unemployment benefits helped – money to at least pay his bills (leased car, credit card, car insurance) and allow some pleasures (take-out food, a new sweatshirt). He was so brave, like a kid consoling himself and saying it doesn’t matter when not invited to a birthday party.
But then the benefits were reduced – that $600 per week that has kept most of the unemployed alive since covid pulled the rug out. And Ben’s stress escalated – as well as his evident need to control the only thing he still could – refusing to take his medication.
This has happened to many of us, but we can somehow find a way. We dry our tears and turn to logical thought – where can I go? Who can help me? – for at least some answers. But when you have schizophrenia, you don’t have the frontal-lobe logic to pull yourself out of a funk. You don’t ask for help (because you don’t need anyone, or any stupid meds).
My heart hurts. We are in grief. Back to square one, and I am terrified and heartbroken for Ben – and for us.
Getting him out of our home and to the hospital wasn’t pretty. The police and EMTs were amazing. And part of me is glad for this “vacation” from his messy room, the greasy stove after he cooks, the cigarette smell that always accompanies him, the daily standoff to get the meds into him.
Yes, I will clean his room, throw out the old empty bottles, the 2 of the 3 ragged couches, the piles of unwearable clothing. I have some control over that, at least. I will do that between my voiceover work, the virtual play I am casting, radio shifts, and helping my daughter with those 3 babies.
But what then? We have 15 days.
15 days. A gift. A burden. A heartbreaking reminder that meds work, but not to cure. Only to stabilize. And my son – all who are like my son – deserve better.
I have no idea what lays ahead. We will move forward, blindly and with love. But the love will lay there, unreturned, while my son lives in his inner world of chaos, back in the place where he was first treated, and a newly-leased car (his pride and joy) sits in our driveway, a reminder of who he used to be – 48 hours ago.