Voices for Recovery
At age 17, my son Alex lost his ability to finish a whole sentence, get a night’s sleep, or face the other kids at school. The doctors who examined him at UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute told me he should stay for a month so they could make a proper diagnosis and stabilize what they called his “psychotic symptoms.”
Having raised two athletic sons, I’d been in an emergency room with each of them more than once, but I can’t imagine any two words coming from the mouth of a doctor putting more terror into the heart of a mother than “psychotic symptoms.” But what I was about to learn would open my eyes to much more.
From a simple family mental health history interview, I learned a lot. For the first time, I considered that a grandfather I’d never met, whose early death on a railroad track had always been called an accident, could have taken his own life. Or that the heavy drinking of several family members was probably an attempt to self-medicate severe depression, perhaps even bipolar disorder in the cases of my grandfather and sister. Within six months of that interview, I also began treatment for my own life-long depression.
After nearly losing my son to an illness, I’ve come to believe that those of us who survive such a family history have a special responsibility to break this wall of silence. After three years spent in psychotherapy and taking a brief course of antipsychotic medication, Alex was able to return to school and complete his education at a prestigious art college. Today he’s working and living a full life – as is his mother.