This blog is my effort to tell some of the stories of people who are living with mental illness. My own intimate connection to this subject came through my son Aaron, who lived for eight years with schizophrenia. For several difficult years his illness crept up on him, until at twenty-three he was plainly psychotic.
For me the pain of losing my son to schizophrenia was made even greater by Aaron’s conviction that we were cooperating with those who followed and mocked and insulted him, who beamed the words of television announcers directly to him, and hurt him in many other ways. His saddest delusion was his conviction that we were not his parents, but imposters who had been paid all his life to pretend to be his parents.
He often refused to accept help, either from us or from doctors. Instead he isolated himself. He had been independent even as a young child and was able to manage on his own with some financial help from us. While his attitudes made it hard for us to help him, our own vast ignorance got in our way even more.
Yes, we read books about schizophrenia, by people who had experienced it and also by psychiatrists. We consulted regularly with a wonderful psychiatrist and had the benefit of his kind and sensible advice. But we had grown up in a world where stigma made mental illness deeply frightening and alien. Many people, including some of our own relatives, kept their illnesses secret for fear they would lose their friends or face discrimination. Reading a few books and meeting now and then with other people in my situation were not enough.
As I’ve thought back over the years of Aaron’s illness I’ve tried not to get caught up in wishing I had acted differently, tried to respect that there were reasons for my actions. But it’s painful to see how little I could understand of how he felt. When he took his own life at the age of thirty-one, I promised myself I would do what I could to counter the stigma that had blinded me for so many years. The stories I’m sharing here are my way of joining the many who are now speaking out about their experiences.