The following is from a magazine article I wrote in 2001. Mental health care is no better now than in 1993.
Some days impact our lives more than others. On March 16, 1993, at 9:15 in the morning, I was rummaging through a kitchen cupboard looking for St. Patrick's Day decorations. In the back of the cupboard, I found a statue of Merlin the Magician. With four children in the household, I discovered things all the time with no clue as to their origin. So too with Merlin.
As I studied this funny little man, my 25-year-old son, who'd graduated from college the previous year and was living at home, walked into the kitchen. I turned to him and asked him if he would like to have the statue.
"It's Merlin the Magician," I said.
He answered "Yes" and as the statue slipped from my hand to his, the last conversation I ever had with my son, as I had known him, ended.
With his next breath, he said, "Mom, I smell gas."
By midnight, my son had lost his ability to abstract meanings from fairy tales and parables and saw FBI men lurking in the shadows. He bolted out the front door and ran up the freeway toward Berkeley because "the revolution is starting." In the early hours of the morning, the California Highway patrol picked him up and 5150d him to a psych ward. He was experiencing an acute, psychotic, bipolar episode.
Since then, our family history has come to include hundreds of dramatic stories in our efforts to cope with mental illness. For the focus of this article, I'll refer to illness as "fragmentation" and wellness as "integration" or "wholeness." Not only were we dealing with the fragmentation of my son's health -- the mental and physical aspects of his well-being were not aligned; we were also dealing with the fragmentation of our family system as my husband and I and our other children struggled to deal with mental illness as it affected each of us as family members.
For us, support systems failed. Health insurance remained unavailable. Professional guidance proved to be non-existent to ineffective to incorrect. Medication was, and still is, a guessing game. Social Security created a bureaucratic nightmare that only made things worse. Disagreements about proper courses of action arose between husband and wife, parents and offspring, and between siblings. Ultimately, each member of our household experienced disequilibrium at some point.
Over the years, I turned into a mother bear fighting for her cub. I read everything I could get my hands on about bipolar disorder. I wrote letters to legislators and others asking for assistance. I trekked to Washington, D. C. and handed my son's file to President Clinton. I left no stone unturned.
In the process, I learned about the frustration and suffering (fragmentation) that so many families endure in their efforts to find help for their loved ones who are living with mental disorders. I decided I had two choices. I could either curl up in a fetal ball and die (as I sometimes wished to do) or I could try to effect some change about a terrible problem that affects so many people.
To be continued.