Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Son

Being mentally ill took an enormous toll on my family. For my wife, there had been no indication that anything was wrong until an unexpected call from the hospital changed everything.

One of the hardest things for me to picture is my seven year old son wondering why Dad didn’t come home. When he was finally able to come to the hospital for a visit, his eyes were big and he was scared. But he gave me a huge hug, and each time after I would give him a dessert I had saved from my food tray.

My wife expressed dismay.

“Why are you doing this? I feel like you’ve left me.”

When you aren’t used to being around someone who is mentally ill, it feels like they are pretending. We take for granted that people can control their thoughts and actions. When one cannot, it always appears like acting.

Our marriage did not last much longer after I was discharged from hospital. It is hard to live with someone who is as sick as I was.

 For the first couple of months of separation, I stayed with my brother and his wife. My son came to visit on weekends.

Then I found a place of my own – a small basement suite with two mattresses on the floor, and my son’s mother and I split custody - so one week my son would stay with me, the other with his mom.

It is so hard to cope after being released back into the world. I was adjusting to medications that made me fuzzy and tired, returning to work, and seeing a psychiatrist, doctor and therapist. There is only so much you can handle.

I had to put my son in childcare. I would drop him off early in the morning before school, and pick him up just before dinner time. This gave me enough time to work a full day and get to my appointments.

But by dinner I was exhausted. The medications were hard on my body. I didn’t have much money or energy to cook, so often we would eat at McDonald’s (it was the suburbs - it was nearby). When the money ran out we had pancakes for dinner. I would be in bed by eight – same time as my kid. I needed ten or eleven hours of sleep to recover for the next morning.

Things slowly got better, but it took a while. We traveled from basement suite to basement suite. Eventually we moved into a housing co-op in the city that was close to my job, and my son began living with me full-time.

Shortly after, I met a beautiful woman with two amazing preschoolers. We got married six years ago – my son was my best man.

He moved out last week. He is an adult, now. I am so proud of who he has become. He will always be my best man.

Funny thing, though – he hates McDonald’s, hospitals and pancakes. I don’t blame him.

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