This is an essay I wrote for the M.O.M.S Movement, a MindFreedom.org sponsor.
My son’s story is not nearly as dramatic as some of the other mother’s stories here on this website. He has not been incarcerated in prison due to his behavior, nor has he spent years on a cocktail of powerful antipsychotic medication prescribed in too high doses. My son’s story is typical of what often happens to sensitive, intelligent young men who leave the family nest for the first time and are not prepared to do so. This leaving home period often occurs around the age of 18 when the individual attends university or enters the military.
My son left home at 18 to begin university. His increasingly odd behaviour began to raise concerns for his father and me during his last year of high school. Like many other parents, we were worried and perplexed, but hoped for the best — that he would find his footing at university and return to being the sensitive, intelligent son we thought we knew. But, of course, life doesn’t work that way. My son ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Toronto during the first term of his second year at university. He had barely managed to survive the first year, and was put on academic probation. The psychiatrists at the hospital said he had “schizophrenia” and my husband and I took them at their word. The diagnosis was devastating, and negatively informed the way we interacted with my son for the next few years. After all, he had a damaged brain, according to the doctors, he was most likely a chronic case, and the drugs were the best way to manage this “disease.” For the record, my son did not smoke pot or indulge in other recreational drugs. His was a classic case of young man’s schizophrenia that is not drug related.
Back home in Europe, we enrolled my son in a two year psychiatric day program that he reluctantly attended every day from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. At first, my husband and I thought a medically-supervised program was a great idea, but then the cracks began to show when I decided to learn more about the “disease” of schizophrenia.
Here’s what I learned from the author Hermann Hesse, for example:
The mistaken and unhappy notion that a man is an enduring unity is known to you. It is also known to you that a man consists of a multitude of souls, of numerous selves. The separation of the unity of the personality into these numerous pieces passes for madness. Science has invented the name schizomania for it.
Rather than treating my son as encompassing a multitude of souls, or numerous selves that needed to come together into some sort of coherent whole, the program attacked him with the zeal of all that the Western medical/pharmaceutical industrial complex could offer. This superficial treatment included cooking classes, movement classes, acting classes, group therapy, and of course, medications. There was a large staff of social workers, psychiatrists, nurses and occupational therapists to oversee the activities. The program’s approach sounds very good (money is being spent on the problem!), but I began to feel that my son as an individual was being sacrificed to the goals of program overseeing his treatment. My son surely must have had good reasons for going “mad” and the staff at the day program didn’t seem very interested in finding out why his personality had come unravelled in the first place. After all, there is no reason to investigate individual cases if “schizophrenia” is a known biochemical imbalance and your salary is dependent on promoting the disease model, is there? He left the day program after twenty-two months, as much of a mystery to the psychiatrists when he left as when he entered. Though he was marginally better he was still not able to interact socially and was grossly overweight due to the medications.
The rest is history. My research told me that my son could be put back together again with time, with empathy, and by finding therapies for him that helped his body reconnect with his mind. I learned to focus on the person, not the disease. Remember — the original diagnosis stops many people in their tracks and they don’t look further for help because they have “bought” the invalid disease model. I started a blog, Holistic Recovery from Schizophrenia: A Mother and Son Journey and am hoping to publish a mother’s memoir where I discuss the many unusual and highly interesting alternative therapies that my son and I embarked on.
My son is now 27 and is not the person my husband and I hoped we would get back when he was 18 and this ordeal was just beginning. That person wasn’t a real person. My son is becoming an authentic personality. He started out in university thinking (but without passion) that he was headed for a career in science, and in the intervening years he has rediscovered a talent that he was ignoring in himself and that is music. I’ll end this discourse with the remainder of the above quote from Hermann Hesse that explains the error of the scientific model of this so-called disease.
This error of science has many unpleasant consequences, and the single advantage of simplifying the work of the state-appointed pastors and masters and saving them the labors of original thought. In consequence of this error many persons pass for normal, and indeed for highly valuable members of society, who are incurably mad; and many, on the other hand, are looked upon as mad who are geniuses…This is the art of life. You may yourself as an artist develop the game of your life and lend it animation. You may complicate and enrich it as you please. It lies in your hands. Just as madness, in a higher sense, is the beginning of all wisdom, so is schizomania the beginning of all art and all fantasy.
― Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf