What do you do when your smart, loving son is suddenly cowering in the corner of his bedroom?
At 6.30am one morning in 2009 I walked into my 17 year old son’s bedroom and cheerily called out, “Morning honey – how did you sleep?”, as I did each and every morning to encourage the little treasure to drag himself out of bed and head off to school. He was sitting his HSC that year, was a little quieter than his usual fairly quiet self, and hadn’t been doing much socialising. Good for him! I thought.
My very sensible son wasn’t out partying, chasing girls and getting wasted, he was at home with his family, locked away in his bedroom, studying.
He looked at me that morning – his skin pale, eyes furtive, and shakily said: “Actually mum, I haven’t slept all night. I’ve been lying here absolutely terrified – I’m scared shitless.”
Not the answer I was hoping for.
That morning, a number of things clicked into place. His social withdrawal suddenly stopped looking so sensible. His desire to be alone in his room wasn’t about being studious after all. In fact my very bright academic son hadn’t been studying at all.
He’d been cowering.
What followed was lots and lots of appointments and referrals – to GP’s, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, alternative health practitioners, an Asperger’s/Autism specialist – he participated in clinical studies at various institutes and universities… you get the picture. Even though it was my son who was ill it took over my entire life as well, and although I tried really hard to act like it was “business as usual”, it’s had a huge effect on our family life as a whole.
At no time over those next couple of years was the “S” word mentioned to me. Seasoned professionals – doctors, psychologists, social workers etc. – all skirted around it. It took a psychiatrist to casually mention as an aside – “Oh, well that’s typical of schizophrenia, of course…”
It was the first I’d heard of it, in relation to my son, and even after all the hundreds – probably thousands – of hours of research I’d spent – I really didn’t believe that Schizophrenia could be what my beautiful son was suffering from.
Schizophrenia is a terrifying diagnosis. Apart from the boundless suffering that people with schizophrenia go through because of the illness, their suffering is made even worse by the terrible stigma associated with this illness.
One only has to look at how the media portrays schizophrenia – you don’t need me to tell you – we all know.
And it’s simply not true.
My son is the gentlest person I know. He adores his three younger siblings and is particularly close to his youngest sister – probably because she simply sees him without all the labels and she gives him absolutely unconditional love.
He’s responsible, highly intelligent (devastatingly handsome – just sayin!) and has a wonderful, black sense of humour. That he suffers from depression and schizophrenia is most certainly not the most interesting thing about him.
My hope for him is that he will continue to feel better, and to be more able to cope with the world in which we live (and, let’s face it – that can be pretty tough for all of us). I hope he will find a path that inspires him and brings him some joy. But for people who have schizophrenia that path is often blocked by systems that don’t work, and judgement by those who are frightened by something they haven’t taken the time to understand.
I’ll find a path for him even if I have to lay every bloody paving brick down myself.
The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous.
Originally appeared at Mamamia.com.au