Having a child with serious mental illness is an exercise in loss and grief with no equal. It holds a particular irony…they are here but they are gone at the same time. We do not have the closure of mourning as with a death. They are lost to us and at the same time right in front of our eyes. Having a child with serious mental illness is like standing at the shore of a vast ocean you will never be able to enter.
But it is other things as well. It’s profound. It’s shockingly beautiful, sometimes. And I know this isn’t politically correct, but once in a while it is really funny. We have to search meticulously for the joy, but it can be found.
Fifteen years into my son’s schizophrenia, I still stand at the place where sand meets the water, my bare feet planted firmly. Although I can’t dive in, I won’t budge. I still cannot retrieve him; he hears me now. We play a kind of call-and-response game with him, he and I, like Marco Polo. He will never lose me; I won’t allow it. The doctors and scientists haven’t found a way in yet, to his head. They do not even know what causes this. We tinker around with medications, locations, strategies…but the only surefire way in is the heart. Without love we are lost.
This is most certainly not the path I would have chosen for myself, and more tragically, my son. But this is where we find ourselves. I am presented with a choice, as a mother. We are presented with a choice, as a culture. Do we rear back in horror, in ignorance, at those who are wired differently than us? Or shall we embrace, allow, and create the space in our society for people with mental illnesses?
Of course, it is not a choice for me. I am his mother. I claim no special valor in doing what my DNA dictates. But in addition to that, I see that it is my obligation to speak. To shed light. To dispel fear. That is my clarion call to you: join me in pursuit of a better world for those of us who are different. We have been woefully remiss. We are responsible. They are ours. All of them. All of us.
Right now, we all find ourselves at the shore of an unknowable ocean. The virus sweeping our planet threatens to change everything we once held as true. But this truth doesn’t change: without love we are lost.
Let us move forward from here.