Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Defining mental illness...

Okay, revelation of the week: we don't all agree on the label "mentally ill" in regards to Andrew. "We" meaning Bill and I. Dear God! Here I have been writing about his mental state and all the events that led up to his suicide...now I feel like I have been betraying my ex-husband. After listening to some sharing during our family counseling session, here is all I know: Andrew was scared. He definately had some paranoia. Was is schizophrenia? Was he bi-polar? Chemically imbalanced? Is a label for it all that important? It's an unresolved issue, because we never had a diagnosis. It wasn't something that could be tested for by taking a blood sample or a biopsy. He needed to be evaluated over time, and that didn't get to happen.

There is a stigma about mental illness. I think people confuse it with mental retardation. It's definately not the same thing. Back when Andrew first began to show signs of trouble, I did a lot of research. I have lost the terminology, but this is a synopsis of what I learned. People with mental retardation have a limited mental capacity; Andrew was really intelligent. Many people who are diagnosed with a mental disease, such as schitzophrenia, are super intelligent. Treatment should include therapy and medication. I gathered that it was something that could not be entirely conquered. The battles would rage over a lifetime, with insurrections and mutiny threatening constantly. Whatever was going on with Andrew, I had to view it as an illness, something he had no control over happening to him--a disease (just like cancer or a heart condition).

I think part of our problem in seeking treatment was that when he went to that hospital back in 2003 or 2004, many of the other patients had some sort of physical affliction that made them look weird to us and it was off-putting, to say the least. They scared the hell out of Andrew, actually. That hospital was not a comforting place.

It was hard to accept mental illness as a diagnosis. What do we know about it, anyway? If you run into a street person and see them acting strangely, you could assume they are mentally ill. When people exhibit very bizarre behavior, one tends to label it as mental illness. So how can a person, like my son, who looks perfectly fine, in fact, more than fine: a specimen of physical fitness, have a mental illness?

The other hard thing was that Andrew could control himself. After the stint in the hospital, he seemed to get better. He still worked, drove his trucks, did physical activities like jet skiing and snowboarding, mountain climbing and running, handled his finances and was courteous to everyone. When he did have a bad episode, Bill or one of us could usually talk to him and work through it with him. Bill was more effective at it than I was: Andrew would get upset with me and just leave. Many times Andrew would call me and tell me things that were upsetting him. I would chose my words very, very carefully in responding to him, but sometimes it would just fall apart. I wanted to keep him close and help him, but he just wouldn't let me most of the time.

In 2006, he moved out of our family home where he'd been living with Bill and his aunt and three cousins and rented a place with his sisters. They lived together for a year in Los Osos. That was a wonderful time for them. It was almost like being a complete family again: they had each other. They cooked together and did projects and just enjoyed being in each other's company. The girls were going to college and Andrew was helping them in every way he could. He stablized their lives for that year.

Andrew didn't socialize outside of the family, but he functioned just fine. Or so we thought, anyway. Hoped...