It’s needing to be tracked down at 5 a.m. and being found, more often than not, at a twenty-four-hour convenience store drinking free coffee and eating package after package of mini-doughnuts. It’s getting escorted out by security guards after hanging out at Target for nine hours. It’s standing directly in front of a childhood home and swaying until the people inside, the ones who now live in the house, call the cops.
For the people who live with crazy—who love crazy—it means answering the phone over and over to say, “Yes, I’m so sorry, where is he? Please don’t do anything yet. I’m coming.” It means never finishing a movie or a book or a television show. Never eating a meal in peace. Suggesting showers that won’t be taken and changing shit-stained sheets and throwing away clothes that have become too soiled to wash clean. And it means going to bed each night with a queasy feeling that something is looming over you, left undone.
It’s paying over and over: for the library books that were lost, the iPod that was worn in the shower, the high-priced vitamins and health foods, the therapies and lessons and groups that are supposed to help but never do. It’s including crazy on every family outing even though you know how it’s going to end because it’s the least wrong thing to do in an equation that contains no right.
It’s also watching people you once loved fade away. Answering their periodic phone calls, full of concern, all their questions about what you’ve done already and what you’re planning to do now, which medications you’ve tried, why you haven’t called the doctor they recommended, whether you’ve read “Dear Abby” today where a letter about something remotely similar appeared.
But it’s knowing, too, that after the phone call, they’ll be gone. You won’t be asked to the next neighborhood get-together or family event. They’re worried, yes, but they can’t let their lives be interrupted by crazy. They have to maintain their own sanity and keep the chaos from mucking up their lives, even if that means letting you go, too.
And you understand, only you don’t. Because you’d like to be done with crazy yourself. In fact, you hunger for it. A full night’s sleep, a meal by candlelight, a midnight drive across town that doesn’t include peering out windows, scanning the dark streets for a mammoth, curly-haired young man in a green sweat shirt carrying a Styrofoam cup of coffee who sways back and forth as he mutters strings of remembered conversations under his breath.
Sometimes you wish for these things so hard that you ask yourself, “How badly do you want this to be over? And what, exactly, are you willing to do to end it?” You hate crazy with all your heart. But the person underneath, you love. You still remember him as a tiny, big-eyed baby who liked to be wrapped tightly in a blanket, a cheerful toddler sitting high in the seat of a grocery cart chanting the word “asparagus.” And you’ll stop at nothing to find him and bring him back.
The thing is: You have no idea how.
We lived like this for as long as we could, then went back to the team of specialists with our story. Our son wasn’t schizophrenic, we insisted. The medication they’d prescribed seemed to be harming him and our son was getting worse. But they told us we were wrong.
A second psychiatrist was called in. “Your son is definitely psychotic,” she said, using the violence as evidence that we were wrong to have stopped giving him the drug. It was possible, however, that he needed something stronger. So this time, she prescribed Abilify’s big, hulking chemical cousin: a pill with a no-nonsense name that makes it sound like a building material of some kind. Geodon.
“I’m sure you thought you were doing the right thing,” the psychiatrist said in a stern voice. “But your son is very sick, he needs treatment. You absolutely must give him this medication. It would be cruel not to.” And then she left.
That’s the day I decided I was a terrible mother who deserved to be beaten. Out of fear and shame and denial, I’d withheld a medication my child needed as he would have needed penicillin were he suffering from an infection. “Go ahead,” I told my ex-husband, “give him the drug. Let’s hope this one works.”
That’s when things got really bad.
Our son went from unpredictable to entirely random. He would arise to brew and drink an entire pot of coffee at 3 a.m. He would call us, but be able to say nothing for fifteen minutes except, “Uh, please…” He began stalking the girl from the dance, going to her workplace, standing in one place for hours, and staring at her. Ultimately, every officer in our town’s small police department learned his name.
After two weeks, psychiatrist be damned, we discontinued the Geodon, too. Things couldn’t get worse, we told ourselves. But we were wrong.
Our son, the former chess champion and 1980s music buff, stopped responding to language altogether. He could not follow directions such as: “Put on some pants” or “Get in the car.” And he began walking away from everywhere. From home, from work. Often in the middle of the night.
My ex-husband—newly married to a very understanding woman and blissful for all of about seven minutes—never slept because he was working day and night to keep track of our son. I didn’t sleep out of solidarity. Also due to worry and grief.
This turned out to be a good thing, however, because I was up all night, for many nights in a row, with nothing better to do than search online.
The first thing I found was a list of “infrequent” side effects of the very first drug, the antidepressant he’d been given nearly two years before. Among these: auditory hallucinations, narcolepsy, and obesity.
The second was an obscure article about a boy who sounded exactly like my son: a high-functioning young man with Asperger’s syndrome who’d suddenly become nonfunctional at the age of seventeen and was diagnosed with something called autistic catatonia.