I get asked a lot what it’s like to raise a child that has a severe mental illness. My son Tim has childhood onset schizophrenia, a rare disorder in that this mental illness usually manifests itself in late adolescence or early adulthood, and it is extremely hard to diagnose in children because the visual and auditory hallucinations that come as part of the illness is often mistaken as creativity or imaginary friends in children. We knew something was going on with Tim by his second birthday, but it was his first suicide attempt at age eleven that gave a name to what he was trying to live through. Since that day, every waking moment of my life has been devoted to trying to keep Tim alive.
It hasn’t always been easy. After his first suicide attempt came his first inpatient hospitalization, the first of twelve he’d have before he turned 15. There were doctors and therapists and 27 different medication combinations before we were told he would need residential treatment. There was fighting with the school district to educate him as the psychosis continually ate IQ points and figuring out how to pay for everything insurance just wouldn’t cover. What’s it like raising Tim? It’s like going into battle, armed with only a butter knife, knowing the war will likely never end.
But it’s also coming out the other side. It’s –knock wood – seeing him stable and happy for the past 14 months. He is creative and artistic, drawing and painting amazing images both from his memory and from real life. He is a savant in his ability to connect with animals and get our dogs to obey his every command and learn dozens of tricks. He is loyal to his friends and family, and will remain so, unwavering, forever. He is, at 21, living with the mental illness that has been part of his life likely since birth, but defined as schizophrenia for a decade. He is not standing on a street corner, dirty hair matted, smelling to high heaven, raving at the wind in loud, complex, nonsensical language. He is not crippled with depression so severe that he is standing on a ledge with thoughts of suicide if for no other reason but to end the incessant voices in his head that tell him he is both in danger with no escape, and not worthy of the live he was given. He is not lying on a hospital gurney, restrained against his will, eyes hollow, doped up on thorazine, confined to a padded room.
He is not the stereotype most people visualize when they think of someone with schizophrenia.
He is my son.
Chrisa Hickey is an eCommerce marketing professional, blogger and mental health advocate specializing in providing education and support for parents of children diagnosed with serious mental health conditions.
Chrisa began her journey into the world of childhood onset mental illness when her middle child, Timothy, was diagnosed with Emotional Disorder Not Otherwise Specified at age 8 and schizophrenia at the age of 11.
In addition to writing her blog, Chrisa has guest blogged for BringChange2Mind, The Balanced Mind Foundation, PeteEarley.com, PsychCentral, and has appeared on CNN, The Ricki Lake Show, NYC Doctors Radio, and NPR.
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