Thursday, March 21, 2024

Not Just Another Relapse


When the mentally ill fail to stay on their antipsychotic medication, all hell breaks loose. Their lives become unmanageable. They are left empty and broken. A sad state of affairs that I have witnessed many times with my son Michael. His severe form of bipolar disease allows for little deviation. Without his medication, he unravels only too swiftly.

           I’ve collected dozens of stories about his downfalls, but the one I found that best summarizes the predicament of a mentally disordered person who has lost his way is the following. Anyone participating in Twelve Step programs will hear this kind of story repeated over and over.

           Mike is still in Texas in 1985, having secured a sober lifestyle, but after a misplaced visit by his father, who insisted he needed a car, my son began unraveling. The boy could not cope with his co-dependent parent, who thought Mike should be looked after, but only projected his own anxiety onto his already anxiety-ridden son. After a few weeks of this unsolicited help, Mike stopped taking his medication, and after all his progress, began his rapid disintegration: sobriety, a job, friends, a place to live—all gone.

           First, the car broke down. Michael drove it into the ground and ruined the engine. Mike shared the larger story of his undoing.

           “I was irresponsible. I didn’t follow the rules of the road, so the engine broke down. The car had over 150,000 miles on it and was getting too old to take the punishment. So, I walked back to work and asked a coworker if he’d take a look at it. Not only didn’t he fix it right, but he also damaged it more. It kept backfiring out the tailpipe. So, I got Dad, who had returned home, on the phone, and he paid for Bob’s Mechanic to fix the problem.

           I had a bad attitude, so I got kicked out of the Program, which meant I didn’t have a place to live anymore. When I went back to the townhouse, I pushed my way in by verbally abusing the gatekeeper, keeping me out. After all the name-calling, he punched me in the face, broke my sunglasses, and, grabbing the broken lens, cut me on my upper nose right between my eyes. I staggered out of the house, totally disoriented, my face cut up, and a black eye. I bumped into a black lady while walking the street, and she tended to my wounds.

           I had a couple of jobs in landscaping but goofed up. I started to lose track of the time, didn’t even know what day it was. I didn’t have any money; I just lived in my car. I sold my high school graduation watch and my best LP records and stereo to a woman for some pot. I had nothing. I was totally washed up. Of course, I called my Dad, and he took another plane to Texas to take me home.”

           Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this relapse is how much progress Michael had accomplished but how swiftly he returned to ground zero: returning to his childhood home, where he viewed himself as a failure.





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