My wife (Beverly) and I are the parents of a 37-year-old man who has disorganized schizophrenia. John was always different. He was quiet and reserved. He didn’t talk much, and never seemed to be very happy.
After barely graduating from high school in 1998, John started trade school but dropped out after a few weeks. So we helped him get a job and start working. He couldn't hold a job due to his inability to focus on tasks. He was either fired or asked to resign several times.
Once John was out of school, he got into more and more bizarre behavior. He started hearing voices, would get agitated, and even a little violent. This was quite scary, as John is a big man – 220 pounds or so. Beverly got him started seeing a therapist in 2000. It was then he was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, and was put on medication. His doctors had a hard time getting him on the best medication.
He's been a patient in mental hospitals several times. Each time the doctors had to adjust his medications to get the illness under control.
John has tried living away from us several times. None of these worked out. John is a very messy person and tends to tear things up a lot. For the last eight years, John has lived with us in our home. It’s not what we would have planned for our “senior” years, but we've accepted that we have to take care of him for as long as we’re able.
All of this has been an emotional struggle for Beverly and me. For most of the time since John got out of school, we have had some resentment for him.
But then we took NAMI’s “Family to Family” training. This is a 12-session course, meeting once per week. We received education about mental illnesses from people who were parents of mentally ill people. One of our instructors had actually been shot by her mentally ill daughter! We also met and shared experiences with other people who have mentally ill loved ones. We came away with a much deeper understanding and appreciation of John’s illness. We were able to reduce our frustration with John, and the guilt that we had about feeling the way we did.
We are now able to see more clearly what a blessing it is to have John. We both have some physical challenges. Beverly's had four joint replacements. I've had neck and back surgeries. We’re limited in range of motion and what we can lift. John’s brute strength is very helpful to us around the house.
John has been an excellent caregiver for us when we were recovering from surgeries. He is as kind and good-hearted as any person I know. My last back surgery did not go as well as expected. I had difficulty walking for about six weeks. Every day while I was down, John was bringing my breakfast to my bed promptly at 7:30 AM.
John is also very good with his brother’s daughters (ages 7 and 3). He's very kind and protective of them. These little girls really love him, I think because they can sense his love and care for them.
When I think about him now, I feel great empathy. He is a really good man and a wonderful person who is just so limited by his illness.