From my experience of living with schizophrenia as well as lots more gained from attending support groups for parents who have children suffering from a mental illness, I know that it does not only affect the person with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Mental illness not only affects the whole family. It makes life as we knew it before the diagnosis virtually impossible for everybody. Siblings have a very hard time, especially if they are unable to speak out about it to friends due to the stigma.
When David was released from the military, he was healthy physically, but mentally, the only way I can describe him was missing in action.
When an orderly in the psychiatric hospital asked our son, my late husband and I to follow him, we did. And how did I feel? Like a lamb being led to the slaughter when we were about to check our son into the closed ward. When we reached a solid door, the orderly pressed a buzzer and the door swung open. I whispered; Open Sesame. The beautiful summer’s day split into two. Outside it was bright and sunny, inside, another world. David looked around and said; “My only real friend is my dog Blackie. I am going to miss her.”
The orderly took us to a ward and handed David a pair of pajamas even though they were far too short. It appears that pajamas are either too long or too short but nothing fitted our 6 foot tall son. When it was time to leave him there and return home, his absence gnawed at me like a mouse working its way through a length of flex, yet at the same time, I was relieved that he was no longer at home, even if only for a while. He needed all the help he could get. The rest of us needed some peace.
My husband visited David every evening and I went mornings. On one occasion my son walked with me to the kitchen near to his ward and asked me to prepare a cup of mint tea for him. Then he said; “Please bring some mint for me from the garden when you next visit.”
“Of course I will, David.” Then he surprised me with: “Do you love me, Mom?”
“Of course I do darling. I love you very much”, I said hugging him.”I’ll always love you. But I thought you knew that. We’ve had great times together, haven’t we?” I asked, fighting for control, wanting to freeze that moment, to stuff it into a bottle and screw the lid tight to keep it for a future moment. Had something as mundane as a cup of mint tea brought that on?
“I love you too, Mom,” he said and I smiled through my tears. Oh how I wanted my healthy son back. How I wanted someone, somewhere to find a cure for schizophrenia; I dreamed that it would happen one day. I wrote emails to presidents and prime ministers wondering whether they would ever get to read them – or if their secretaries would dismiss and throw out my heart-rending pleas to allocate funds for yet more research into this subject…I am still waiting for a miracle to occur.