When Schizophrenia Leaves
I was in a Subway having a turkey and provolone sandwich when the EMT technician called on a number that was my granddaughter’s cell phone. I repeated into my iPhone to be sure I’d heard correctly since there was a man’s voice and my granddaughter’s wailing in the background, “you’re telling me my son is dead?”. Everyone stopped making or eating sandwiches.
My granddaughter was 19 at the time — older than my son was when she was born. She had come home on Monday from her classes at the local community college and decided to check on her dad who she had not seen the previous day or that morning. He was dead and had been dead for a while, flecks of white on his mouth from the beginning of deterioration. She called 911 and they had her try CPR which simply spewed some liquid into the edges of her father’s lips cold from being dead for at least 36 hours.
9 years. That’s how long the struggle had been. 9 years of sitting with Jack on the couch and telling him I didn’t understand but I cared that he was terrified of the people “in the attic”. You see it doesn’t help to show a schizophrenic that there are no people in the attic — it only adds to confusion and agitation. Reason is no answer. Love is the only thing that can penetrate and help — and even that most powerful of forces seems at times limited in the face of mental illness. I remember when we were at the red traffic light and Jack began to scream and beat the dash saying to run the light because the car pulling up beside us was a gang and they were going to kill us. You know what? I checked the rearview mirror to see evidence of what I had just heard. A moment passed while I processed, a moment that seemed to last a long time. When the cute old man in a Ford Escort station wagon pulled up beside us I asked Jack if that looked like the murderous gang he had just warned me about? He was silent and looked confused — unable to decide if what was happening now was real or if what had seemed real a few seconds before had really happened.
Jack was brilliant, perfect SAT score without practice or even making a big effort. What was more prominent was how loving he was and had been since being a baby. Easy to hold, quick to hug, quick to forgive, affectionate. Funny with a wit that was quick and wholly inventive. He was a giver — volunteering at the homeless shelter and being a shoulder for any friend or family member. Insightful — no argument or debate could be without some aspect that he could not find to argue his point. And, like a high percentage of people with his mental illness he loved to smoke cigarettes. He told me that before he ever smoked he knew he would love the feel of a cigarette and inhalation of nicotine. He was a good athlete, listed during high school in a major newspaper for being the leader in pass receptions. He was lazy about physical work. And, he tried to self medicate rather than take the meds prescribed for his illness.
Ah, schizophrenics and medication. Oxymoronic comes to mind, do the two ever successfully occur in combination? He hated the things that created more stability — they dulled him and I could tell so I’m sure he felt it much more strongly from the inside. Bright fellow, he decided to explore hallucination drugs of all types. After all, if he knew the voices were real and others didn’t he could either find a new world that revealed the voices. Or alcohol or opiates just to make the voices a little less vicious, a little less verbose.
Looking back I remember the times he told me he would die young. He did — in his 30s. I wish every time he told me that I would have held him and told him I loved him. For those of us who have trudged a journey with severe mental illness we know one of the options for resolution and walking through it is painful. The whole epic tragic poem, my son’s life, feels like futility, feels like a longing unfulfilled, feels like the beep of the microwave interrupting at a regular interval to remind that the timer has completed. Beep — remember? Oh, yea, the hole that is there in my very being.