That’s something you’d associate more with the CIA or FBI, and less with the life of a 10th grade boy living in the suburbs.
But that’s where it started for me.
Mental health is a funny thing, due to its characteristic of intangibility. You can’t ever be sure and the line is so thin between “Oh, what a weird person!” and “Oh, this is a serious mental health issue and this person requires treatment.” Diagnosis is another issue in itself.
To be honest, we’re still not completely sure what happened. It all started unfolding mid-October 2008, when we began noticing my mother’s erratic behavior. The high-energy, eagle-eyed mother we grew up with began becoming passive towards all surroundings and acting curiously.
My mother’s mind had somehow gone in reverse. She did not eat, did not sleep, she did not shower, she did not talk to me or my father.
I spotted a box lying under a bush in the backyard, and opened it to find the house phone, which had been disconnected and placed there. When inquired about it, she said she was cleaning.
Her cell phone went missing. As I went to pull the trash can out on to the curb a few days later, I noticed her cell phone sticking out of the pile. When I asked her why she threw it in the garbage, she adamantly denied putting it there. The next day, it was right back in the trash can.
If my father or I asked her not to do something, she would react flagrantly, with sometimes animalistic violence. She began to see things differently; conspiracy theories crept into her vulnerable mind. She would to peer out the window late at night, looking at the cul-de-sac in front of the house, claiming someone was out to get her. She yelled that they had a gun and they were going to shoot us. I looked out the window to see what could have made her think such a thing, but there was nothing when I peered into the darkness. It really demonstrated to me, how dangerous and deceiving the mind can be.
After, the initial stage of denial, my father and I recognized this was a special kind of issue. My father implored me to keep a low profile of this issue. Anyone who couldn’t directly help, didn’t need to know. There was no need for the struggles and issues of my mother’s mind to be out in the open. The problems my mother and family were dealing with weren’t going to become a replacement for this week’s soap opera for some random people.
“Why isn’t your wife here?”
“She’s in New Jersey visiting a friend, she’ll be back in a month or so.”
It’s not easy to lie, when you’re terrible at it the way my father is. But that’s where I saw his deep patience and love for my mother surface in a way I had never seen it before.
It’s not easy being a husband who is forced to face the situation is so out of control, he has to admit his wife to a mental hospital without the detailed knowledge of what entails a quality mental health facility.
It’s not easy being a 16 year-old, and visiting your amazing mother in the “mental hospital”, seeing her side by side with inmates with violent problems.
It’s not easy knowing that the only kind of attention and treatment she’s receiving is less based on empathy and science, and more on pumping her with sedatives until she barely has the energy to hug her own son, or smile when she sees him.
It’s not easy keeping up with your schoolwork and teenage problems, when you’re sitting on the bottom step of the stairs to make sure your mother doesn’t run out the front door with a plastic bag of clothes in her hand – ready to run away from the imaginary people who are “coming after her to shoot her.”
But it’s worth it all, for a loved one.
“Pressure Makes Diamonds”
While my mother’s health and stability has improved drastically in the ensuing years, I’ve been fortunate to realize what this extremely testing time revealed to me.
Trust people around you to be resources. We couldn’t have made it out of this trying time if it weren’t for some amazing family friends and knowledgeable resources.
Respect people’s lives and don’t gossip. One day you’re making fun of someone’s problems – the next day those problems could be yours.
Patience is a virtue that can’t be understated. If my father didn’t have the patience he did, I don’t know if our family would exist the way it does now.
Be kind. You don’t know what any person has gone through or is currently going through. There are quite a few people who helped knowingly, but an even larger group of people who didn’t realize the small things they did meant so much to us.