New schizophrenia memoir chapter

I’ve decided to post random chapters from my book into this blog. I’ve noticed that seeing the chapter “live”  sharpens my eye to make further editorial changes. So, what I will do is introduce some of the chapters that have already undergone extensive editorial work with a brief word of explanation. In this chapter, Chris has been admitted to hospital for the first time (during the first semester of his second year at university). He is living far away from home.

Further editorial suggestions are always appreciated.

Chapter 5 My Name is Legion On Sunday evening, the dean sent me an e-mail. He had received an encouraging verbal report on Chris from Jessica, the residence assistant at Chris’s dorm. She had visited with Chris for close to twenty minutes earlier that day and had delivered his guitar to him, which he was delighted to receive. She reported that he was about to be moved to the Early Psychosis unit of the hospital and that he already seemed to be much more aware of his surroundings than she had observed during the fall term — he was now making eye contact and his speech was clearer. They joked about hospital food compared to Trinity food. Chris told Jennifer that he wanted his family to know he was eating okay, doing fine, feeling healthy, and, as the doctors thought he might be released as an outpatient the next week, so he did not want his plane ticket cancelled.

Based on Jessica’s report, and comparing his own observations of Chris during the fall semester, the dean wrote that the news sounded encouraging. He added that during the fall, he had noticed that Chris was tired, spending long periods in the dorm hallways at night, simply staring, or sitting in the computer room for lengthy periods with no lights on. Whenever the dean spoke with him, Chris seemed surprised but answered briefly. At times, the dean continued, Chris would sit by himself in the dining hall, seemingly content to be alone; other times he’d seek out company but tended to watch from the periphery. Chris’s friends told the Dean that Chris often followed them to a pub but declined to go inside.

I heard later from the chaplain that Chris sometimes stood for long periods in the college courtyard, like a statue. Once he stood in the rain for hours, the rain thoroughly soaking his new tweed jacket. These revelations were painful, but perhaps none as painful as learning much later from Jane that when she and Jessica went to clean out Chris’s room, it was littered with plastic bags of excrement and bottles of urine. The turd in the planter had indeed been a harbinger of things to come. My sister noticed that Chris also kept a copy on his bookshelf of Karl Menninger’s classic, Whatever Became of Sin? When I probed Chris months later about his lack of eye contact, he said he couldn’t make eye contact with people because he felt his eyes would do them harm, but also that their eyes would do him harm.  He was becoming acutely aware of good and evil. This explained in part his reading preferences and why he spent every day that term on his knees praying.

For a few confusing days following Chris’s admission to CAMH, I didn’t have the contact details of the treatment team and I relied on reports from the dean, the chaplain and my sister. Three days after Chris was admitted, I got a name and a phone number from the chaplain of one of the doctors familiar with Chris’s condition. When I got through to her, I soon realized that Jessica’s optimistic assessment of the speed of Chris’s turn-around was bit premature. Chris’s belief that he was going to be allowed to come home turned out to be wishful thinking on his part.

“Well, he’s not one of our sickest patients,” the doctor said, but apparently neither was he one of their better patients. Her tone implied sick, very sick. “Our team here doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Chris to leave the hospital. He’s a voluntary patient, but if he pushes to leave the hospital to get on a plane,” the doctor warned, “we’ll change his status to certifiable.” 

“This is not our preferred option, ” she continued. “We’d prefer to keep the goodwill and trust. As a voluntary patient Chris will be given a day pass and allowed out today to go back to his dorm room and gather a few things.”

Before we finished our conversation, I had promised the doctor that our family would visit Chris as soon as we could arrange the plane tickets.  This year we would move Christmas to Toronto.

Peter Strand offered us the use of his house over Christmas while he and his family were visiting relatives in the United States. We were overwhelmed by his generosity.

The plane reservations took about a week to arrange. During this period, I began looking at everyday things differently. Faces on crowded sidewalks that I had given no thought to before, suddenly became wolf-like with golden eyes that were staring directly at me. Images began to ooze off advertising billboards like a Salvador Dali painting and the bright colors bled into each other. I felt I was losing my mind. My adrenaline was surging; my heart was continuously pounding. I was experiencing a primal understanding of the prolonged effect of anxiety on the nervous system.

Just before leaving for Toronto I made an appointment with the medical service at work and obtained a supply of Xanax to keep me on an even keel. I had never taken an anxiety blocker before, but I felt I needed one now because life was beginning to take on a grotesque quality.

This was, by far, the biggest crisis that Ian and I had encountered in our twenty years of marriage. It was the biggest crisis I had encountered in any aspect of my life. Thankfully, Ian and I had always relied on our church, both in Ottawa and Geneva. We needed it now more than ever. The problem was, I didn’t know how to pray. The idea of becoming emotionally invested in prayer was still a foreign concept to me; I just didn’t get it. Father Nicholas was accustomed to this kind of Christian and more than willing to share his expertise with me. Through a series of conversations and e-mails, he gave me a beginner’s introduction to prayer, which I found comforting.

I dug out my Good News Bible for the first time in years. I randomly opened the book and my finger fell on the verses where Jesus cures the man possessed by demons. What a coincidence. I was struck by the realization that mental illness has been for around a long time. Jesus asks the man’s name and he answers, “My name is Legion, for there are many of me.” What stirred my interest was that Jesus cured the man. This really was good news! I was elated until another thought dampened my fledgling hope: Since Jesus cured the demon possessed, why today are there so many men and women live on the edge of society, in our streets and homeless shelters? Why do we in the church speak of so often of faith, but are reluctant to believe in miracles?

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