If you could escape, where would you go? My perfect escape would be back to the Land of Normal Livng. Wouldn’t you love to be treated to a trip to Normalcy? A place where you could spend carefree days soaking in relaxation. A place with no violence. No unexpected outbursts. No mental healthcare visits.
Thankfully God led us to a temporary oasis in our desert of mental illness (MI). This next chapter of our story demonstrates how God provided a season of rest and restoration. He revealed Chris’s resilience. Life seemed to be getting back to normal.
In order to get released from the hospital, Chris did what he had to. During group sessions all the patients had to state how they wound up in the hospital. So Chris regularly told the staff he had assaulted his parents.
His three-week stay ended. It was time for Chris to go home. I wanted his bedroom and home to look warm and inviting. Our house had never been cleaned so thoroughly! We were thankful to have our son home again.
The summer after Chris’s junior year we traveled to Colorado. We had a wonderfully relaxing time. It was as if nothing had ever gone wrong. As if Chris hadn’t been sick at all. We went horseback riding, hiking, panning for gold, and mountain biking. Everything was perfect. Except when Robert was missing for a brief time. He had taken a wrong turn biking down a mountain in Vail.
“Where’s Robert?” I asked, bracing myself for the worst.
“Oh, he fell off the side of the mountain,” Howie explained casually.
Before my panic turned into hyperventilation, Robert appeared. Slightly scratched, but fine.
Shortly after our Colorado trip, both boys attended a music conference. They stayed overnight at a local college with 500 band leaders. Many of those attending the conference were drum majors. Chris had attended the training the year before. But this year would be different. This time he’d have to take his medication on his own.
I knew it would be a temptation for Chris not to take his medication. But he understood how important it was for him to take it. We trusted him to be responsible. And he was. Thankfully, Chris handled another major step in his recovery.
Chris had hoped one day he’d be the drum major of his marching band. He had a good chance to accomplish that goal …until he got sick. Even with his MI he still demonstrated all the necessary qualities of a drum major: excellent musical talent, remarkable marching skills, and strong leadership abilities.
But Chris’s breakdown didn’t just disrupt his life. It also shattered his dream of becoming a drum major. Yet, he still wanted to attend the conference. It made me so proud to see his resilience.
One of the events at the conference was a march off. That’s kind of like “Simon Says” only with someone calling out marching commands. If someone carries out a command incorrectly, he is eliminated. The competition continues until there is one winner left standing. Out of 500 drum majors Chris lasted until the last six. Only five others remained longer. God blessed him by letting him see he still had superior marching abilities.
After the boys returned from the music conference Chris had to fulfill his duties as a squad leader. I marveled at how clear thinking he was. He thought of every detail for the meetings. That involved offering rides to our house, planning refreshments, and preparing the agenda. Chris even organized a pizza party at a local restaurant for the freshman members. Senior band members were also invited to help the lower classmen get acclimated.
Chris’s senior year was fast approaching. We spent several days during the summer visiting colleges. Sometimes I wanted to continue on with our plans as though nothing had happened. But then I’d force myself to remember that something significant did happen.
We prayed for wisdom to know which colleges to investigate. Chris was very clear in what he wanted. His decisions made perfect sense. He wanted to go to a college with a fairly small campus that was about an hour and a half from home—far enough to live away from home, but still close enough to visit home frequently. He also wanted to attend a state university because that would be more affordable. He was especially interested in Penn State because of their famous Marching Blue Band. He hoped to join it during his junior year of college. Penn State also interested him because of their excellent business program. Chris planned on becoming an actuary.
Chris also applied to Kutztown State University. By October of his senior year he’d been accepted to both colleges.
What an awesome God we serve!!
During three weeks in the fall we hosted a German exchange student. Each weekend we took him to visit local tourist sites. It was a wonderful experience for all of us. We learned a lot and had a good time. The best part: life seemed so normal.
In the fall Chris got his driver’s license. He feared getting into a car accident. I worried that if he got into an accident he might not be able to handle it emotionally. Being in a car accident is upsetting enough for anyone, let alone someone who’s experienced MI.
If I were God, I’d make sure Chris would never have an accident.
Thankfully I’m not God. He chose to allow Chris to have a minor accident. He forced Chris to face his fears. There were no injuries. Chris hadn’t broken any laws. So Chris didn’t get a ticket. The car had plenty of damage, but Chris was fine emotionally. God reassured us Chris had become stronger emotionally.
Thank You, God, for protecting Chris and for helping us see his resilience.
During this time when Chris was feeling better he was able to articulate his experiences with MI. He could explain what it’s like to be paranoid and to be on Haldol.
“What’s it like to feel paranoid, Chris?”
“When I felt paranoid I hung onto one particular part of what someone was saying and focused on just that.”
“What’s it like to be on Haldol?” I wondered.
“It’s like having my body frozen or moving in slow motion while my brain was moving at a much faster pace.”
When it came time for County and District Band auditions Chris wanted to try out again. The year before was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” The level of stress proved too much for him.
How can I tell him he shouldn’t audition? He’s a gifted musician. If I tell him he shouldn’t try out, he’ll think I’m trying to control him or treat him like a child. Or he might think I doubt his ability to handle it. He’d feel flawed emotionally. What if he tried out and lost it again?
We decided to let him try out. Soon our oasis would be gone. But God would see us through the next trial. Just as he does for all of us.