Its 6:00 o’clock Wednesday morning and I haven’t had my cup of coffee to wash away a fitful night of sleeplessness. Tightrope walking in the midst of torrential winds, earthquakes and hurricanes has been my normal for the past 11 years. Maybe I am overstating my athletic abilities to make a point. But what I do know to be true awaits me downstairs once again. I will walk into a messy kitchen of plates, bowls, glasses, and used coffee filters lining the sink even though I cleaned the kitchen the night before. The disruptive guests who have turned my home upside down is my son Dave along with his cyclical psychosis. Both have come for a visit. The heavy thud of his feet moving about the rooms downstairs, wood floors squeaking and groaning measuring time with his patterns of anxious pacing are all part of his schizoaffective disorder. Up and down the stairs, doors opening and closing, in and out of the house smoking countless cigarettes and drinking endless cups of coffee keep him busy while negotiating with the relentless cacophony of voices in his head. So too, Dave’s cyclical psychosis and manic behaviors are impatiently demanding me to wake up. I’m Dave’s Mom, and for me, it’s just another day at the O.K. Corral.
Its been over 11 years and one would think, I have all his scenarios down pat. You’d think I am a pro at this adventure faraway from normal expectations of a son’s future into the outliers of unanticipated motherhood. The unspoken promise of raising a healthy son to realize his dreams and ambitions we dream for them during childhood into adulthood have been altered by a flip of a switch in the brain. His life ambitions have been rearranged, recalculated, and refitted with one dream, to find moments of calmness, free from the pain of negative feelings, thoughts and voices about himself.
Dave’s ambitions are no longer about becoming an electrical engineer, girlfriends, a family of his own, a home to call his own, a full-time job and all that comes with it. No, the dream he seeks today is a quiet mind. This is his daily goal. His idea of happiness is experiencing momentary peace with no thoughts or voices judging him.
My life ambitions have been altered too. Not because I feel responsible, guilt or any of those self-inflicted, sacrificial, poor me, undeserving woes of bitterness. No, I choose this adventure because it is the right thing to do. Hard is never easy. I tell myself, the rewards are in the lessons learned during my lifetime. For now, I am Dave’s guide, teacher and student as he is mine. Barbara De Angelis says life, here on our planet Earth, is a classroom, and we signed up as students to learn about ourselves. Maybe I’m fishing for answers, but I’m sure she’s right, this is not Club Med. Today, like so many days in the past 11 years, I am learning about my self-imposed limitations. Where I am weak, what areas I need to grow emotional muscle, spiritual grace, endurance and strength of the body mind and divine soul. I ask myself, who will I become? Barbara defines this transformative path of authentic awakening as Soul Shifts.
Slowly walking downstairs, I remind myself he’s been fighting alone throughout the night. Fighting for his sanity while his brain’s dysfunctional neuropathways and chemistry play relentless games of self-inflicted negative voices and thoughts of unworthiness. Calming myself, I remember to stop holding my breath, to breath slowly and deeply, seeking images of calmness, love and strength. I am hopeful for a good outcome. Simply, he’s happy I’m here with him. Incorporating mindfulness and yoga techniques, I tell myself to not engage in his high anxiety or allow him to compromise my emotional well-being. I tell myself I will not to be dragged into his emotional maelstrom and manipulations knowing Dave’s all too familiar patterns of calculated maneuverings that have evolved over time. His goal at times- seems to be finding a chink in my resolve to evaluate, listen and calm him. Unfortunately, there are times he finds solace in piercing my therapeutic intentions. Today, I will try my best in helping him navigate his illness without him dragging me going down his rabbit hole.
“Who will save your soul, if you won’t save your own?,” Jewel’s voice sings in my head as I walk downstairs to witness Dave’s other self.
Dave has his own place but comes home often, especially when he needs a safe place. I’m his safe place. I am the Go-to-Mom. This is who I am and why I’m not easy. I don’t have that luxury. I wish I did. I wish for many things but I don’t get that choice. Instead, I care and try to figure out how to calm him, redirect his thinking, and try to stay positive. Hoping he won’t flip and injure himself or that I’m the target. Believe me, I’m no saint. There are many a time of wanting to runaway with a back pack- anywhere but here. To be selfish and do what’s best for me. But I don’t run because I know he’s in pain trying to cope. I monitor where his head’s at and if I need backup. I call it survival mode, and why I overthink. I’ve been doing this off and on since he was 19. At the very least, he’s compliant about his meds and that’s a giant step in the maintenance of his emotional and physical health. I usually don’t share these intimate details about my life, about Dave, with anyone other than my family and closest friends.
Dave has three siblings. They are busy with their lives, working and creating their own families. Its hard for them. Its hard witnessing their brother’s daily fight with the unseen voices and thoughts. Outwardly, Dave looks healthy, strong and capable. The disconnect between the mind, emotional center, spirit and physical body is difficult to understand for most people who haven’t personally lived or known someone close to them.
Due to misunderstood fears about brain chemistry and neuropathways dysfunction often negatively labelled as ‘mental illness,’ I have lost friends, family who’s grown distant, and relationships which have slowly melted away over the years. Its not easy having me as a friend. I know there are days I’m all used up, exhausted from being the understanding one, the calm in the eye of the storm. The supportive friend who’s there for those who’ve moored in my safe harbor sharing their personal stories about depression and psychosis. Often they are ashamed and afraid of being judged by family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances who prefer to be that superficial good times buddy. And when the going gets rough, they jump ship.
There are days, like today, as I look around, asking who is there to catch me if I fall? Who will be my safe harbor? “Who will save your soul, if you won’t save your own?” I am here for me.
I am grateful for my family and friends who stand strong by me on those blow-me-down hurricane days offering me shelter with words of kindness and strength to help me persevere and make it out of the storm. A supportive phone call often renews me, giving me strength and courage in my journey with Dave. My sister Cate is my support on those real bad days at Black Rock. There are good days, and then again, there are these days. I am thankful for my weird sense of humor, that is my saving grace. I am grateful for my loyalty and even more so, for my stubbornness. I’m not a quitter. I’m not a saviour. I’m a seeker, mastering daily living with grace and love. I live in the present moving forward trying my best to practice forgiveness and embracing love, especially when I see my son in emotional pain during these hard days at the OK Corral. I believe every day is a gift, a chance for me to grow and become more than I am.
My point is that my life is not simple. I’m not simple. Dave is my son and a life long commitment. He drives me nuts at times with his over neediness and manipulative ways. But his humor and intelligence are his winning qualities I cling to during his manic episodes.
There are days- like today, where I look toward the wilderness of Montana skies and dream of running. Something about the idea of mountains and glaciers stirs my heart and imagination. But then again, I know this journey right here, right now is the real deal. Today, is one of my most difficult climbs toward the summit. I’m okay with that because I know who I am. I am a seasoned climber learning about myself and watchful of the pitfalls in my path. This is one more adventure to add to Dave’s and my enduring journey into the wilderness.
Names have been changed to protect their privacy.