Let’s Get This Into Perspective!

I was thinking recently of the reasons why Schizophrenia is so difficult to accept as a diagnosis.  

A local family had suffered much greater trauma than ours, when their son had a terrible motorcycle accident in a foreign country,  which left him in a coma.  The family had to sell their house to pay thousands of pounds for his medical treatment abroad and his flight back home because he had no accident insurance, and their son, although conscious, now suffers severe brain damage.  

The mother of the young man made an appeal for help via radio and television and received both financial and moral support from the public, and he is now in an environment which supports his needs.  His situation is not ideal but, in comparison to this, I feel that our family’s problems are, of course, minor.

However, with mental health issues,  going public is not really an option.  Imagine at a party, slipping the following into the conversation,

“My son’s  just developed Schizophrenia, but we’re a bit confused because the psychiatrist said it could be Bipolar Syndrome instead.  What do you think?”  

Unless you know someone else with such problems you just have to keep your anxieties to yourself.  There is still a stigma concerning mental health.  

My son, Bob, duly started his college course, but his fellow students were curious and asking questions about his previous school and his qualifications, which were quite different from theirs.  He had, of course,  gone to a special school in the psychiatric unit of a hospital.  We advised him,therefore, not to tell other students his whole story as it was nobody else’s business.  Above all, he should keep his diagnosis under wraps too!   We had to work quite hard to persuade him not to tell all.

Luckily, he graduated from this course with only a couple of minor incidents of bullying and actual physical assault from local youths, and he was then accepted onto a pre-degree course at the local university.

Throughout these couple of years, his doodles became more comic and light-hearted, worlds away from the horrible doodles of previous dark times.  

The medication was still being given, sometimes the prescriptions changed.  The more medication he received, the more drowsy he became, but, on the whole, he was doing well, apart from being unwilling to take his pills most of the time.  He was not self-medicating, he had to be given the tablets and watched carefully to make sure that he didn’t spit them out again.

One day, I was in his bedroom and looked out onto the small balcony at his window and saw it was littered with small, white pills.  This was a massive warning sign!

By this time, Bob had passed the pre-degree or foundation course, and was now on his first year at university, still studying art.  He managed to get to the end of the academic year before becoming ill again.  

The trigger for this new onset seemed to be garlic bread, for some reason.  I remember it made him feel very ill.  

We happened to have a table tennis game set up in our front room, so we all took it in turns to play table tennis with him, as this was the only thing we could do to keep him occupied. It was exhausting, but Bob was relentless, and annoyingly, he won every game! Eventually a psychiatric nurse arrived and she took him to be admitted to the local psychiatric unit for adults, once again. This time, being eighteen, he was old enough to stay in the unit for however long it took!

 

 

 

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New Day!

From a single bedroom in the adult psychiatric unit to a shared space in a bedroom for four troubled teenagers, my son, Bob, found it hard to adjust at first.   My husband and I were given a lightning tour of the  Adolescent Unit, which is part of a larger psychiatric department of another local hospital.  The Adolescent Unit was home to approximately twenty boys and girls.  It housed a school offering lessons in computer studies, first aid, general science, home economics, and basically, whatever a person might need to be able to live safely and independently.  There were no academic subjects available, apart from basic English and maths.

The teenagers were in various stages of recovery, some, like my son, had just been admitted and were either extremely withdrawn or loud and occasionally aggressive.  A few would try to escape at first, but most of them used to chill out by listening to music and chatting about pop stars, and other teen subjects.  

There were opportunities for day trips, visits to the theatre, and to the cinema, for instance.  Our family was not involved in any of these, as we were only allowed one visit per week, on a Wednesday evening, from 18.00 hrs. until bedtime.  This was so difficult for us to accept at first, but we were advised that the teenagers would respond better to treatment if parents’ visits were limited in this way.  As there was nothing further to do, we took advantage of the situation and rested, which, on reflection, was essential.

Meanwhile, our eldest son was at the local college and one of his friends was trying to re-home his dog and mentioned this to us, so we said we would give the dog a home.  When the dog arrived, everything was fine, the dog was friendly and happy, until his owner took his leave and then pandemonium broke out!  Eventually the dog accepted that his owner was not coming back and became an important part of the family.

As a treat, on our weekly visits, we would take Bob and one of his companions to the local TGIF’s for a meal.  We found out very little about what went on in the Unit through Bob, as he was withdrawn most of the time.  He would not look people in the eyes and he had very little to say.  We did find out that there had been a number of incidents in which he was involved, though, as the staff made us very much aware of them.  

On one occasion, another boy told my son to punch in a window, which he did, and cut his hand, not surprisingly.  This same boy used to take him shoplifting in the local store, something that my son would never normally have done.  Then there was an incident in the foyer of a theatre, when local youths threatened two of the boys with a knife, and Bob, being a witness, later gave evidence in court.  These were just some of his  “adventures”.  

We began taking our new dog to visit Bob, but we realized that their relationship was not working out.  He thought, understandably, that we had taken on the dog as a replacement for him.  Over time the situation did not improve much, but they tolerated each other. Bob objected to the dog’s big brown, staring eyes!

Gradually my son recovered, although, still on medication, and, after completing, a year at the Adolescent Unit, he returned home with a number of certificates. He had succeeded in passing three levels of first aid and had done well in computer studies, basic maths, English and also science.  He expressed an interest in studying art, so we helped him apply for a course in basic art and design at the local college and he was accepted!

 

 

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Diagnosis Disaster!

What a parent really wants from a consultant psychiatrist is reassurance, something like, “Oh, your child is not ill at all.  He just needs rest and he will be right as rain.”   What you actually get is a diagnosis.  Your child has Bipolar …” something or other. You don’t know what any of this means, you can’t remember what the doctors have said, something about mood swings …  My teenager has always had mood swings, generally when he couldn’t find a subject to draw or paint.  They didn’t bother us much then, so what has gone wrong now?  

Medication was prescribed for Bipolar Syndrome and my son became calmer, but very sleepy most of the time.  But, at some point, he happened to mention Jesus Christ at a meeting.  Whether he thought he had heard him speaking to him, or whether he thought he was actually Jesus, I am not altogether clear, but the diagnosis was suddenly changed to Schizophrenia!  I will always have trouble spelling that word, but, as it is part of the family,  I should be used to it by now.

Schizophrenia, as a diagnosis, didn’t go down at all well with any of us.  My son was even more distraught than he was when he thought he had Bipolar!  I spent many long hours explaining to him that he was on the very edge of it, and for all practical purposes, he hardly had any of the symptoms.  Sometimes this calmed him, but he still worried more about the diagnosis than about the illness.  I found that playing down the diagnosis helped finally and now we hardly ever talk about it.  I wish it had another name, ‘though, because it has such a stigma and causes so much added distress.

Meanwhile, the days went by and we could visit our child in the unit for adults as often as we wished.  We weren’t allowed to take him out, but sat with him in the communal lounge or in his bedroom.  There was never much to do in the unit, so we brought in little gifts and a diary, in which he drew doodles of horrific characters.  

We had great admiration for the staff, who were able to cope with most situations, but it was generally quite peaceful in the unit when we visited.  There were a few characters with quirky mannerisms, which may have been caused by so-called “dirty”medication, which refers to the old-style drugs.  The newer medication has fewer such side-effects.  

I became quite at home in the unit, and when it came time for my son to move on to a place in a special school, I was sorry to leave the older, long-term residents behind.

 

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Unit of Hope

The next days after my son was taken to hospital were a blur.  I can’t now remember much of what happened next.  I believe he was admitted to a ward in the psychiatric unit of the hospital and kept on special 24 hour watch until the medication, which they gave him, began to work and he had calmed down.  When my husband returned home from Somerset, we began our visits to the psychiatric ward, which was in the adult unit.  My son, at that time, was only 14, so even though it was the wrong place for his age-range, it turned out to be a good short-term solution.  Gradually he began to function reasonably well, but the medication was making him “groggy”.  He was eating very little and smoking with the elderly people in the smoking room.  I was irritated that they were encouraging him to smoke, but the habit may have helped him at the time.

There was a library and a pool table in the unit, so this went some small way to alleviate the boredom of the place.  There was very little structure to the day, apart from mealtimes, so a game of pool was quite welcome.

One day, classmates from school came to the unit to visit my son and promptly set off the smoke alarm in his room, so that was the end of their visit.  After that time he had no further contact with any of his former school friends, however hard he tried to make contact with them.

One afternoon, I was at home and received a ‘phone call from the unit to the effect that my son had gone missing.  The hospital is situated close to a motorway, and the occasional patient has fallen from the motorway bridge onto the busy road.  Naturally, I was worried, and the nurse who called suggested that I ‘phone the headmaster of my son’s school in case he had gone there, for some reason.  The headmaster decided to stop what he was doing at the school and drove around the local streets, looking for my son, which was very kind of him.  Eventually, my son turned up, having taken a shower in a bathroom in a different wing of the unit.  Panic stations over!

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The worst week of my life …

When I look at my grown up son today,  I can barely recollect that black week when he first became stressed and then seriously ill.  

My husband had been complaining of pains in his chest, which was diagnosed as indigestion apparently, and my mother-in-law had telephoned to say that she was feeling unwell, and that she wanted to speak to my husband.  I passed on the message to him, but he felt unable to take the call.   The next morning, we had a call to say that she was now in hospital, having taken several painkillers.  My husband left home early the next morning to drive 200 miles to visit her, and then my sons went off to school.  

Another phone call, “Your son is unwell, please come and take him home!” 

I arrived at school to find my younger son in a distressed state, so I brought him home immediately.  Not knowing what to do,  and having no friends close by,  I just watched his gradual decline mentally,  from teenager to toddler in five days.  

If I had known then, what I know now,  I should have called a doctor, or done something constructive.   I  just could not believe what I was seeing.  

He wanted to run away, to bathe with his bedclothes, to smash his way through the back of the wardrobe, as in the story of Narnia,  and much more.   I took him out once and he had no inhibitions at all, having been quite shy previously.  In the department store, he seemed fascinated by toys meant for very young children.  I was at my wit’s end.

On the fifth day, and after very little sleep, as I was constantly watching and waiting for the next disaster to occur,  I eventually ‘phoned a friend and asked for advice, which was to get him to Accident and Emergency, as it was called at the time.

In the waiting room, he was on his knees, examining the electric sockets.  Eventually, the hospital staff agreed to a consultation with a psychiatrist, who recommended that he be taken into hospital for the night.  Apparently, taking him to Accident and Emergency was not the recommended solution, according to hospital staff, but I am glad my friend thought of it.  This was the start our long and eventful journey through the mental health system.

 

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