The Cast: My Nephew (in need of help), Myself (with some thoughts).
I don’t have schizophrenia. But I do.
I recall several lectures on how schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder are not the same things. I studied them in elementary, middle, and high schools. The distinction still seemed very vague to me. I get it now.
I really don’t have schizophrenia, but my nephew does.
- a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.
- (in general use) a mentality or approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements.
Not that long ago I found out that my sister’s oldest son had been living in a nearby town. To make that more clear: My sister, who has been in another state for many years, has a son (the oldest) who had been moved out of state—by his father—to the state where I and my family live, and was nearby me. Wait, I’m not sure that is any better… You know what? Just try to stay with me on this.
So, I find out my nephew had been only 45 minutes away, living with an uncle and aunt, for a few years. Well, being out of touch with the nephew—for a multitude of reasons—I became elated at the prospect of possibly getting to see him. There were lots of details that came forth, some of which were not the reasons he had been sent away from home. Or why he was where he was. Also, his mother was finding it difficult to find out about her son. My nephew’s parents are divorced, and things are challenging (to say the least).
Finally, there came a point where my wife and I got more information. My nephew was experiencing some mental health problems. Due to some poor teenage choices and problems at home, my nephew had developed schizophrenia and was struggling with life as a young adult. You know that fun pivotal age where you’re legally an adult, but still young enough to do dumb things and enjoy them? He’s at that age.
The family where he was staying is family to his father. They were doing what they could. Problems were at the breaking point. My nephew had been in and out of the hospital multiple times. He was still making poor choices.
By the time my wife and I met with him, my nephew was in a great place. He was happy, had been holding down a job (one he liked), had moved out of his uncle and aunt’s place, had made some good friends, and was doing well for himself. We couldn’t have been happier. Things were looking up.
Then something happened. It’s unclear what. And he lost it all. We had invited him up to our home for Thanksgiving in an effort to continue to help rebuild that lost relationship. And, to be fair, it was really more just a weakened relationship, not really lost. The families used to get together more when we were all in one state, and before my sister’s divorce. It’s not like we—or they—didn’t care, it’s just that we’re doing our best to keep our own families afloat. Life can be brutal.
My now single-mom-sister was trying to work and be a mom and battle for her children. And because she was out of state, she was kind of on her own. There wasn’t much we could do for her. My wife and I were having our own family turmoil with our sons (more one than the other). And my sister understood that.
Yeah, so back to this Thanksgiving and inviting my nephew over… So, we reach out to him, and no response. We contact his mom and she lets us know that he lost his job, and all sorts of other things that she had recently found out—like the big one of him being back in the hospital. No judgment here, no blame, just concern now. Was he alright? Could we help? She had been in contact with the family where my nephew had been staying and they were also unsure of all the details.
Finally, we made contact and were able to pick him up, bring him to our home, and have Thanksgiving with him. It was good. My wife and I spent some time with him at his place trying to figure some things out, trying to understand other things—like eviction on December 1st (it was the 25th of November). And due to events of his making, my nephew could not go back to his uncle’s, and as much as we wanted to bring my nephew to our home, it didn’t look good to do that either.
Over the next few days, there were lots of calls, texts, messagings, Facebookings, and other communiques. Lots has been done, and we are still doing, trying to help my nephew. We have barely entered the woods of this scenario, let alone pretending that we are somehow near an edge to be out of them.
See, schizophrenia often manifests itself in the late teens and/or early twenties. Usually, traumatic events (along with genetics and environment) will assist in the triggering. Some believe it is the mind’s way of coping with the trauma. It would be like you being given a pickax to help dig up hard dirt and rocks. The pickax is useful right then. But later, when you’re in new trauma, and you using the pickax to fix the situation may not be the best. Because now, now, you’re in a rubber raft in the middle of the ocean and using the pickax is going to pop the raft, and then you’re shark-bait. But you can’t chuck the pickax because it was useful once—and it might be again. The mind of someone with schizophrenia is kinda like that. When the person hits a traumatic event, the mind can fragment and ‘create’ a survival ‘tool’ to help. Well, when that happens over and over, the person can be left with too many tools and no idea how to use any of them. And some of them aren’t even tools.
Now, I say all this because of the previous Saturday.
Last Saturday I picked up my nephew from his release from his latest admittance into the hospital. We got his meds, my wife worked out his rent situation, follow-up appointments were verified, and I dropped him off at his place with some very specific instructions. Sadly, there is only so much that can be done. My nephew is a legal adult, and if he doesn’t want help, or to take his meds, there is not much that we can do. That’s reality.
My wife works with adults that have challenges like schizophrenia. One of her clients actually talked to her about how he was in and out of the hospital for years before he finally committed to taking his meds so that he could be a regular person who can have a family and employment. She knows this side of things inside and out. It’s what she does.
I’m off course. I’m sorry. After dropping off my nephew at his apartment where he only has a few weeks left, with his oil leaking car that may or may not have a dead battery, an appointment looming, a mental disorder, and his distorted sense of reality, I drove home. As I left the apartment complex, I called my wife and told her about how sick to my stomach I was about the limitations we had in helping him. I actually thought I was going to have to pull over so I could puke on the side of the road. I didn’t, and drove on.
My mp3 player has some unique musical selections on it. If it helps, my top three bands are R.E.M., They Might Be Giants, and Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. Anyway, at some point in the drive, a song I hadn’t heard in a while came on, Some Kids by Loch Lomond (from the 2014 movie The Boxtrolls). The lyrics became especially poignant. It begins with:
Some kids have
A mother and a father
Some kids have
A sister and a brother
Some kids are glad
Because they have
Dozens of cousins
And a family that loves them
Some kids have
No one at all
And that’s when you know
You really need to try a little
It continues to talk about different family structures. But then, at the end, I heard lyrics I hadn’t really heard before.
But some kids have
No one at all
And that’s when you know
You really need to try a little
And we should be glad
For the families we have
And reach out to those
Who are on their own
And honestly, I got a little weepy. Here was my nephew, through a series of circumstances, who might very well have to be on his own. Hearing his mother’s heartache, listening to her mourn what her son is going through. Seeing that unless he makes choices to help himself, he might lose what little he has. How much hurt his family is going through, and how much they have tried. And this time of year…
I am a firm believer in God. I believe there is a plan for us. How it works exactly, and what happens in it are at times… foggy (for me). I know God loves me, knows me, knows my pain and sorrow. I know He is there. And part of the reason I was crying, was because I was grateful for my family, and that my children had a home. I work with many children who barely have one parent (if any) or a home. I know that there are children who don’t have anything, or anyone. I know that there are people out there struggling with mental disorders and need help, but may refuse it, or can’t get the help they need—for whatever reason.
I don’t know what the future holds for my nephew. It could be success and happiness. It could also be suffering and misery. Many of the choices are his. But, at this time of year, the time that we celebrate the birth of our Savior, let Him know that you remember Him. Let Him into your life and pray for those in need of His help. So many of us have so much, and so many have almost nothing. As the song says, “And we should be glad for the families we have.” They may not always be the best, at times. But, at least we have them.
May God bless you and yours, and know you are not alone.
For more information about schizophrenia, you can visit The Mayo Clinic’s website here. Or for a candid take, from a personal viewpoint (not mine), visit The New York Times at Successful and Schizophrenic.