In 2010, my son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was diagnosed after his first psychotic episode which was triggered by the death of a former classmate named Jay who was just 15 years old. Jay had lost hope and hung himself in the family home. Many students were devastated. Many adults were unable to comprehend. And when I asked my son if he had contemplated suicide, he responded “yes.” When I asked him if he knew how he would commit suicide, he once again responded “yes.” My son explained to me that he was aware of where my ex-husband kept his gun and the bullets. I promptly contacted a family friend who was a psychiatrist. When she agreed to facilitate a soft assessment, my son was immediately hospitalized for three weeks. Upon discharge, he was very adamant that nothing was wrong and refused to comply with the prescribed treatment plan.
For nearly 18 months, my son struggled to cope with the substantial responsibility of managing a serious mental illness when he should have been enjoying life as a college student. In 2012, my son relapsed and returned to a psychiatric hospitalization. Upon discharge, I had a heartfelt discussion with him and held his gentle face adamantly explaining to him that we will not continue with this course of noncompliance and that he has little or no room to negotiate the medication that helps keep him stable. I am ultra happy to report that my son is celebrating four years of active responsibility for his healthcare. Although the medication does not eliminate all of his symptoms, it makes it possible for him to resume school, work and leisure activity. Despite his tremendous progress, he has been rejected and dejected by the trauma of stigma and stereotype. We regularly discuss coping with triggers and emotional wounds so he can bravely go out into this world and carve a path where he can hold his head high. He embraces and finds great peace in Buddhism as his confidence empowers him to choose where and when he will share his story. He understands that stigma is real, but he also understands that his identity is much greater than the set of symptoms that define his diagnosis. When he looks at me and tells me that he wants to give me a hug because he knows I need one, I am comforted by knowing that his heart and awareness are resilient, too.