I’ve been exposed to the devastation brought on by mental illness all my life. I know, first-hand, how heartbreaking it is to look into the eyes of someone suffering from it’s effects and see hollowness. I know how, if left untreated, such powerful levels of violence can occur that death is the end-result – either to the patient or someone they encounter. I know how, when under treatment, a patient is often a zonked-out shell of him- or herself.
My second oldest brother has lived with schizophrenia for as long as I can remember. I am 47 years old and I remember plainly all the incidents between him and my mother. It’s often said that a mother is only as happy as her saddest child. This is true. I saw the sadness in her eyes daily.
When he refused to take his meds, there was complete and utter chaos. As a child, I didn’t know that schizophrenia was an illness. I knew that something was wrong, I just didn’t know what. My mom had a misunderstanding of the illness, as do many people, in that she believed that if my brother would just stop doing drugs (which he started doing in his early twenties), he would be okay. That’s the way she explained it to me so that’s all I knew. It wasn’t until I was an adult and witnessed my brother panhandling on a San Francisco street corner, that I began delving into this thing so that I had a better understanding.
I grew up in a very rural area in Louisiana and in front of my house, there was a very large open field. I remember vividly that what started as an argument between my mom and brother turned into one of the most terrifying incidents of my life. My brother had a car as did every other member of the family and they were all parked outside the fence surrounding the house. Before we knew what was happening, my brother jumped into his car and peeled out across that open field. He revved that engine to the point that it should have blown up. While he was going back and forth across that field, he was also coming dangerously close back toward the cars. Frantically, we all tried to move our cars while he was at the other end of the field. Mine kept stalling. Even now, I can’t describe the fear in my heart. I just knew he was going to hit me. Eventually, I got the car through the fence. I stayed in my room for the next two days.
My mom called the police, who came and took my brother to the psychiatric ward in a Shreveport hospital that evening. That scene in which he was taken away by the police would play out all the time until one day, he decided to return to San Francisco. We didn’t hear from him for several years. I saw my mother decline every single day because she didn’t know where her child was. Out of the blue one day, he called and I could almost physically see the weight being released from her world. He returned to Louisiana in 2007, stayed with Mama for a while but ultimately went off his meds again. This was also the year that dementia began to creep up on Mama. He told her that he was leaving one day, and once again returned to San Francisco. Since that time, he has been in and out of treatment facilities and we’ve been blessed enough to see him several times.
Here are the some of the symptoms of schizophrenia according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Behavioral: hyperactivity, agitation, lack of restraint, social isolation, repetitive movements, disorganized behavior, aggression, excitability, hostility, compulsive behavior, nonsense word repetition, or self-harm
- Cognitive: mental confusion, belief that thoughts aren’t one’s own, disorientation, belief that an ordinary event has special and personal meaning, false belief of superiority, delusion, making things up, thought disorder, slowness in activity and thought, memory loss, or amnesia
- Psychological: paranoia, persecutory delusion, hallucination, religious delusion, anxiety, fear, mistrust, depression, or hearing voices
- Mood: general discontent, excitement, anger, inappropriate emotional response, elevated mood, apathy, feeling detached from self, or inability to feel pleasure
- Speech: speech impairment, rapid and frenzied speaking, incoherent speech, or circumstantial speech
- Also common: lack of emotional response, impaired motor coordination, or fatigue
What I’ve learned and vehemently stress is that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, especially on the part of family and friends of those affected. Love them and love them hard. I, better than most, know how incredibly hard it can be to see them through treatment – to even get them to go for treatment – but it has to be done. Don’t turn away from them. Don’t push them away. Love them.
T. Shine Hinton