“Our son’s childhood was normal, happy, and active. He had such a lovely personality and always saw the funny side of things. But later, when the symptoms appeared, there was such a change. He began hearing voices telling him to do things, seeing faces that weren’t there, thinking people were watching him. He knew he shouldn’t be feeling these things, but he couldn’t control it, so he was angry and frustrated. He put his fist through a wall once. Medicine was prescribed, but it took days of my crying and begging before he agreed to take it. I told him it would make him feel better, and it did help to control the symptoms, but it also made him so tired that he had to force himself to get up in the mornings. This was one of the older medications, and it worked for the fourteen years that he took it, but then he stopped. He was hospitalized on and off until he finally got back on medicine, a newer kind this time. He’s done well on it and says he will continue to take it --- and I hope he does --- but they all say that. When people start feeling better, they often think they can go off the meds, and then it’s a downward spiral all over again. He’s 37 now. He’s smart, he has advanced degrees, he’s employed, and he’s a productive member of society. He’s still kind and caring, like when he was very young, but he sees the world in black and white now, which he never did before the illness began. He’s very concrete, very literal in his thinking, very detail-oriented and thorough about what he does, and extremely rigid about following rules. He has a hard time reading social cues and will sometimes do inappropriate things because of it. The mental illness took away his original personality. Medication helps with the symptoms, but it doesn’t bring back the first personality. The first personality is no longer there. My little boy is gone, never to come back.
“I don’t want sympathy, that’s not why I’m telling this story. I just want people to know more about mental illness. Parents, if you see signs in your children that concern you, get help --- the earlier the better. With some illnesses, symptoms may not appear until the teen years or early twenties, but there is help out there. Don’t shove the issue under the rug. Medicines are better now than they used to be, but it can still take a really long time to find the right medication and the right dosage. You have to support the person while they’re getting regulated.
“Even though my son and I talk every few days now, our relationship is not an easy one. Conversation is difficult. Everything about the relationship is difficult. So many times over the years I’ve thought, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this’, but then I tell myself, ‘You have to do this.’ My marriage survived, but my husband and I went through a lot of counseling over the years. That’s the only way we made it.
“I’ve put a lot of it out of my mind because it was so painful, and I’m trying to leave it there and live my life going forward. He’s still my son, but it’s like the child that I knew traveled far away somewhere and there’s another person here in his place. I don’t mean to say he’s entirely different, but he is. He’s entirely different.”