We learned that our son had a psychiatric illness in the fall of 2004, after an intense psychotic episode. He was then 16. The first time it happened (because other hospitalizations ensued in the years following), he had called the police himself, telling them that someone was watching us and wanted to harm us. He felt he was in danger, and he was afraid for his safety (and mine, as I was at the house at the time).
The police arrived, and they called for backup as well as an ambulance. He was taken to the hospital in what I can only call a dreadful, terrifying state. Despite his psychotic state, the hospital kept him for a few hours, after which they released him with a prescription for some medication. We were to come back in two days’ time if things didn’t improve. This is what we had feared, and it’s what we should have done. At that time, unfortunately, we didn’t know what to think anymore. All summer, he had stayed home alone without seeing anyone—not his friends, and much less his parents. He lived in the basement at night, and he slept all day. We knew it wasn’t normal for him to behave this way, and we couldn’t put the blame on drugs, as he wasn’t seeing anyone. We were all walking on a tightrope. We didn’t quite understand what was going on, and, subconsciously, we weren’t really asking too many questions. Perhaps we were afraid of the answer. And so, we let time and destiny run their course.
But in that fall of 2004, after we took him back to the hospital on Sunday, they decided to admit him. A week later, we found ourselves talking to the psychiatrist just outside of the entrance to the psychiatric department. He told us that our son had experienced a toxic psychosis, and that he’d be back to his old self soon. He also recommended that our son return to the care facility after his stay in the hospital. It bears mentioning that between 15 and 16 years of age, he was in a care facility because we were just overwhelmed. He was let out in May or June, and he spent the rest of the summer with us. In September, he was admitted to the hospital. According to the staff, his symptoms had appeared when he was in the care facility and persisted while he was at home with us. In any case, we opposed the recommendations of the psychiatrist. We even had to go to court, fighting youth protection services (the DPJ) as well as the recommendation to have the decision overturned. Thankfully, we won the case, and in December, our son came back to live with us. But before all of that, the psychiatrist had had to review his diagnosis; weeks had gone by, and my son was not showing many signs of improvement—at least not enough to warrant his release from the hospital after only a couple of weeks. It wasn’t until two months later that he informed us, in an official meeting, that our son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
From that moment on, we really learned to take things one day at a time. Despite the horrible news we received, it wasn’t that much of a shock. It explained a lot of the behaviour we’d been noticing for the past months—the past years, even. But after he broke the news, once we were back at the house, we started to feel down. Sometimes, I think that if they had told me that my son had cancer, that one of his vital organs was affected, I would’ve been better able to handle what was ahead. We were very much in reaction mode, too. We were angry, fearful and filled with all kinds of questions: How did this happen? Why did we lose him? Yes, “lose,” as we had tried everything we could to save him, even setting aside our pride and following the advice of social workers who strongly recommended that we send him to a care facility.
There were financial costs, of course: we now had to think about driving him back and forth to appointments, buying medication, etc. But as I was already a stay-at-home mom (not so much by choice as by necessity, given my fragile health), we at least didn’t have to worry about losing a second income. In situations like these, you have to find that little bit of light in the darkness. The fact that I was at home was a big help for us.
Our son’s visits to the mental health clinic gave the support he needed to get his life back on track and be well equipped to handle his new reality. These visits were an enormous help to us as parents, too, as we had common goals with the clinic. Our own research into the illness helped a great deal as well, as did talking to the rest of the family. We found out, through one or two other family members, that we had an aunt (since deceased) whose son had received the same diagnosis. She had never spoken to me about it, given the taboo surrounding mental illness and her fear of being judged.
Thankfully, today we have associations such as L’Accolade. Sure, we don’t necessarily want to shout what we’ve gone through from the rooftops, but I believe that we’ve evolved thanks to L’Accolade. Ever since I decided to call them, I can definitely say that if there is any place in which we’ve felt listened to and understood, without any judgement, it’s L’Accolade. Everyone was incredibly supportive, and the counsellors gave us the courage we needed to go on despite all the grief and challenges we were going through. We had the option of attending the support group meetings as well; they helped a great deal and were a real source of comfort. It meant a lot to us to share with other people who were going through the same thing. We even made a few friends, which, to me, is extremely important when going through such an ordeal. No one should go through this alone. If you want to find balance in your personal life and your family life, it’s important to be able to talk about it and accept help from others.
Today, we live with the knowledge that our son will always be fragile and that it will take a lot of love, courage, energy, strategy and, above all, perseverance on our part. Even though we sometimes feel incredible despair, like we can’t handle it anymore and we want to give up, we’ve made it our motto to never turn our backs on him, to never abandon him. He is still very young, and he has his whole future ahead of him. Today, we can say that what we’ve achieved with our son is in some way our biggest win—both for him and for us. We’ve managed to give him an almost normal quality of life. His own determination to quit drugs has played an enormous role as well. It was a real achievement for him, and we’re extremely proud.
We’ve often thought about how we could help other parents going through the same situation. What could we do? Unfortunately, no one really has the answer, much less us. But we think there are various possibilities, various solutions and various ways to take care of them. We must first and foremost recognize that there is a problem, and pinpoint what it is. Then, we must try to understand and accept that problem, making sure that we don’t take it on alone. Don’t hesitate to get help from professionals, and make sure you also find people you can talk to and share with. “Some things will never change; stay positive; don’t give up; everything will be OK.” Words to live by.
Members of L’Accolade