Here goes. I’m going to share some of the most horrible details of mental illness (MI).
Why would I share such intimate details of my life? What would motivate me to re-live painful memories? To let other moms raising kids with MI know they’re not alone. Other families experience similar struggles.
Our trials are both alike and unique. The details of your journey with MI may be different. But many of us share the experience of an unpredictable life. We all have access to the unchanging, reliable Father. God’s faithfulness is the thread that holds us together and connects our stories.
“What’s it like to have a psychotic episode? What’s life like for a mother whose son is out of touch with reality?” people wonder.
For me, it seemed endless … all-consuming …overwhelming … daunting … surreal. I needed endurance, wisdom to manage odd behaviors, and comfort to remain calm.
The last two weeks I’ve shared details about our journey. In the first part of our story [‘When Mental Illness (MI) Hit Home’] I shared how Chris had begun to unravel in 1996. His reality had given way to unstable thoughts and fractured emotions. My heavenly Father provided guidance and started helping me through my grieving.
Last week’s entry (‘Unprepared & Sad, but Unflinching’) showed how God provided peace and protection for me and medical care for Chris. This week I’ll continue the story and explain how God provided endurance and wisdom.
For ten days, I didn’t sleep at night. I only rested. I took very brief showers in the evening when my husband was home. I hid all our knives, scissors, matches, medicine, and anything else I thought could be a weapon or harmful to Chris or us.
It was important for me to keep track of where our dog was at all times without Chris realizing it. I had to maintain a calm demeanor no matter what Chris’s emotions were. One minute, he’d hug. Minutes later, he sob and say, “Why me? I didn’t do anything wrong.” Suddenly, he’d explode. He’d shout, break walls and mirrors, and slam doors.
I recall one incident when Chris karate-kicked a mirror. As I sat on the floor cleaning up the broken glass, I sobbed. It felt like I was picking up the broken pieces of his life.
Watching my son so broken was heart wrenching. It didn’t seem real to witness his bazaar and violent behavior. His explosion of emotions seemed like years of pain were being unleashed.
Those days were difficult for Rob as well. Life was anything but normal. He had to go to school and act as if everything was fine. Robert thought the brother he knew was gone. I couldn’t guarantee Chris would return to reality, or ever be like he used to be.
There was no way for me to shield Robert from what he had to see at night. As Robert got ready for bed that night, he had to step around the broken glass and his weeping mother.
We witnessed Chris destroy other things. He’d pick up something, break it, and say, “This is evil.” He took Robert’s Casio keyboard and totally destroyed the controls.
God helped me endure the constant playing of “Jesus Christ Superstar” (the opera). Chris played it over and over and over until I thought I’d lose my mind. I couldn’t take the CD away until I felt sure Chris wouldn’t become violent looking for it.
After I hid the CD, I heard Chris playing the opera on the piano. Robert begged, “Do something to make him stop playing that music.” Hiding the piano wasn’t possible.
Chris also played “Joy to the World” in a dissonant tone. That song was always coupled with his warning, “The world is going to end.” One day, he got his trumpet and yelled, “Turn on the TV. Here it comes!!! Get ready! The world will end now!”
What does that mean? What does he intend to do?! Oh Father, please protect me.
Thankfully, nothing happened. Oddly enough, his musical abilities never left him. He played the piano and the trumpet all day. Always in a distorted, dissonant tone. Reflecting his tormented emotions. It was as if he found a creative outlet for his misery. I heard it. All. Day. Long.
Chris made the strangest comments and barraged me with questions. He constantly asked me what the Bible said about certain things. His racing thoughts caused him to demand the answers immediately. I couldn’t find the verses fast enough. Even though I was extremely frustrated, I couldn’t yell at him or give up. Either of those responses would have gotten him angry or violent. God filled me with supernatural calmness.
His distorted view of God’s Word resulted in peculiar actions. One day, he ripped the back of a white shirt and tied it around his neck to represent wings. He declared, “I’m the archangel.”
He carried his Bible everywhere and preached nonstop. We had to stop speaking about the Lord because that would just feed his twisted thinking. I never realized how much a part of my everyday conversations were about the Lord. I hid all our Bibles. We had more than I imagined!
One day, the mother of a girl from Chris’s school called to let me know he had called their home at 2:00 in the morning. To prevent future mid-night wake-up calls, we hid all our phones.
During the day, I couldn’t turn on the radio or TV. I didn’t want to risk Chris hearing something that would feed his distorted thoughts. I struggled to find something to do. Household chores lent themselves to calm and productive activities.
Chris’s blood pressure remained high as long as his mind raced. Often, his nose started bleeding. As a child, I had endured numerous nosebleeds. So, I knew what did and didn’t work to make the bleeding stop.
When Chris got his first bloody nose, I began to tell him what to do.
“Breathe out of your mouth, Chris.”
Chris perceived that as controlling and he resisted. He did the opposite of what I told him to do. In my frustration and sorrow, I cried.
Chris responded by shaking his head from side to side. The blood flew all around the bathroom, splattering it on the walls. It looked like a murder scene. I knew if I didn’t leave the bathroom, his nose would never stop bleeding. I had to walk away.
Please, Lord, stop his nose from bleeding.
Each day I kept anecdotal records and documented what was going on. This helped the professionals identify what was wrong with Chris. I administered his medication (Risperdal). It was important to follow the doctor’s specific instructions. The dosage had to be adjusted each day. We quickly spiked the dosage during the first few days, and then gradually lowered the dosage as he became more stabilized.
Twice every day, I gave Chris his medicine. It slowly restored some awareness of reality. But, Chris’s mental illness remained. His distorted thinking led him to believe the pills I gave him caused his strange thoughts. He thought I was intentionally trying to cloud his mind. So, he threatened my life.
He found a screw driver. Holding it two inches from my face he’d say, “I’ll kill you if you give me that pill.”
Each dose became a life and death experience. I’d look lovingly into his tortured eyes and calmly whisper, “Take your pill. It will help you.” Miraculously, Chris took it each time. Sometimes after first growling at me.
Thank You, Father, for protecting me every time I give Chris his meds.
One day, without my knowledge, Howie gave Chris some over-the-counter medication. The doctor said it would help calm Chris down. The problem was I had just administered an increased dosage of the Risperdal. I took Chris in the car to see some Christmas lights. Suddenly, he began to get extremely agitated. He started pounding the dashboard. Then he put his head back and said, “My tongue is swollen.” He began shouting and crying. It was extremely difficult to drive while calming Chris.
Thank You, God, for helping us return safely home.
My heavenly Father provided endurance and gave the wisdom needed to manage Chris’s bazaar and violent behaviors. He helped me face the unthinkable. He’ll do that for you.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20).”
God’s love never fails. He lifts us up when we’re weak. Join the Afters as they praise God in their song, ‘Lift Me Up.’