I never really thought this was my story. I felt it was my son’s story to tell. But actually, when one looks at the struggles of family members who interact with a mentally ill loved one, it does become their story, too.
My son was diagnosed with a severe mental illness about five years ago. That was the best thing that could have happened. The years before the diagnosis were filled with many emotions: heartache, confusion, anger, helplessness, despair, guilt, shame, just to name a few. I am not referring to his emotional state, but mine–his mother’s. I never knew when the latest episode would calm down, or if this time of peace would last a while, or would if the bomb drop again sooner than it had the last time.
I coped, the family coped, but eventually hope replaced the despair and guilt. Like most people who are faced with this “up and down” behaviors in a loved one, we didn’t have a clue how to begin. We didn’t know who to talk to, or where to begin.
Of course we went to the God of all hope because of our faith in Jesus Christ. When I read how Jesus walked this earth and healed the sick, lame and mentally ill, I was always encouraged. The Bible doesn’t give you steps, but it does teach about having faith and trust in the Father who loves us and sent His son to die for us.
So I started there and trusted–and began the journey to accept my son for who he is. I started to accept his behavior as what it was–an illness–and I started to love him in a way that would help him to trust me in the decisions I would have to eventually make towards his recovery.
I eventually made the decision to involuntarily commit him, become his guardian, and never give up on him. I learned all that I could about his illness; I learned about and attended NAMI support groups; I got involved in BEP; and I even received funds to attend the SD State Convention of NAMI. Along this journey, I met wonderful people and learned I was not in this alone.
My son, for a time, was eating out of trash cans in Oregon, walking the streets and sleeping under trees, and believing that all material possessions were not necessary. He gave away his beloved guitar, his clothes (except for those on his back), abandoned his car, phone, etc. . . and walked away from his life and his loved ones. Today, he takes his medication regularly, is saving his money to get his own apartment, has a car he takes care of, and is beginning to play his music and enjoy life again. He is applying for jobs, and is open to getting therapy.
God used NAMI, BEP, some very good doctors and the love of a mother who refused to give up and who learned all that was available to begin helping someone who couldn’t help himself. My son is thriving–not just surviving. He is learning how to accept his illness and wants to make good decisions for himself and his future. He has a way to go, but he is on the right path and he knows there is a future and a hope for him.
My story is not finished. I pray for my son and for his future. I hope someday he will be in recovery. I hope, too, he will desire to help others who struggle with mental illness and be willing to tell his story.