health

"It feels like a death sentence." Today my 17 year old son was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

This post deals with mental illness and may be triggering for some readers. 

Today I found out my 17-year-old son has schizophrenia. It feels like we’ve both been handed a death sentence.

As I try to process the news, a series of headlines and news stories flash through my mind. Cases where loving family members and support workers, sometimes even complete strangers had been violently killed because the voices in another person’s head told them to do it.

I can’t believe I’ve immediately gone to such a dark place. Is it because I used to work in news? Or is it because I’ve seen a couple of violent outbursts I never thought my gorgeous boy would ever be capable of?

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I hang up the phone and immediately start to google. I need answers. I need consoling; I need to see anything but the horrific kaleidoscope of news images circulating in my head.

Google is not my friend.

This is permanent. This is not just a Year 12, hormonal, stress-related, teenage meltdown. 

This is my youngest child in such a serious state of cognitive impairment, he might never emerge from his cocoon of confusion, paranoia and catatonia.

I grieve for the things he has already lost and find it hard to find light in his future.

He was diagnosed with psychosis halfway through his final year of school. It came after months of increasingly erratic behaviour. Anger, lashing out, obsessiveness, aggressively argumentative and then withdrawn, crying, vulnerable and then silent - just stuck, staring in to space.

I honestly thought he was just an arsehole

He’d always been a bit quirky and prone to obsessive behaviours - for years he refused to wear anything but Coles brand grey socks- or if anyone touched anything he was eating or drinking, he would push it away, like it was poison.

But he was also incredibly sociable, and sporty and smart and an endless source of entertainment for us all.

It was only when he hit puberty he started to develop more antisocial behaviours and insecurities. He also, like many teens, started smoking pot.

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My daughter and I would try to understand his personality shift by researching his traits.

Dr Google told us he was a classic narcissist, and we agreed. He was a narcissist. And an arsehole.

But he was an arsehole whose behaviour tipped from annoying, to straight up frightening after he went through a messy breakup with his first love. 

I pleaded with my ex-husband for help. He had not played a big role in my son’s life and although he was late to the party, we are so very grateful he did turn up.

Because it was he, and his partner - a nurse - who first flagged that our boy was going through something much more serious than the Year 12 blues.

The violent lash-outs, the hysterical outbursts, the hours of staring in to space, unresponsive. It was psychosis and catatonia.

I was so close and so deep in it, I could not see how bad it had become. 

The psychiatrist's words still cut deep. “He’s one of the sickest kids I’ve ever seen walk through these doors.”

What caused it? 

Well, they’re still not sure. 

It could be genetic. My ex and I certainly have enough mental illness in our family for it to have come from either of us. It could have been triggered by his drug use, or his first love and heartbreak. Or it may have been caused by a brain injury resulting from a near drowning incident as a toddler.

I still don’t know. 

I do know that he is on medication that now renders him sleepy and lifeless. He has missed his final year of school, his ball, the graduation, schoolies, his friendships and social life – all the milestones that are rewards for 12 years of study.

I grieve for all that he has already lost. I worry desperately for his future. Will he be able to drive? Get a job? Have a relationship?

I hang on to these words from my counsellor: "All your hopes and dreams for him are not lost. They are just different now."

So, here we are. 

Day one.

With an official diagnosis. 

Schizophrenia.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. A stock image has been used. 

Claims and observations made in this article are reflective of the author's experience and may not be representative of all experiences.

If you think you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

Image: Getty.

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