Today I wanted to share a chapter from my memoir. Its basis is an interview feature I did on my mom (which I changed her name in the book to Angela to protect her identity) which tells her side of the experience of my issues with mental illness. It is unique perspective because she was there for me during the worst parts– the parts I’d rather forget, but she lived through. We often forget the impact of our mental illness on the ones that love us. This blog post is a bit longer than my usual posts.
How Suicide Effects Families
It had been a tough year for Angela and her family, she could only watch as her son James wilted away, lost in his endless depression. This was the second time in a month that her son had made the decision to take all of his medication forcing Angela to once again to rush to the hospital. “The whole time he was very belligerent,” says Angela, remembering. “I was scared, he kept trying to open the door to our minivan while it was moving saying he wanted to die.”
His dad was furious, “—just let him die.” It wouldn’t be the last time that James would put Angela through something like this.
The memories are vivid in Angela’s eyes as she remembers the pain that James caused her in the months before his diagnosis. “I didn’t have any idea that it was coming. James was always the person that I saw, confident in who he was and who he was becoming.
“My son up until the day he crashed was an excellent student, and a bright star in his Explorers post achieving rank quickly. James was admired by his peers as a leader because he was always there for them. In the months leading up to the start of all the bad in his life he was an Advisor for the Explorers post he had been a part of since he was fourteen,” Angela remembers. “Looking back, I want to kick myself for not seeing the signs.”
The first event happened on Halloween night in 2007. What would become a theme in James’ life, he decided to say goodbye to the world for the first time. It was Angela’s youngest son that alerted her that James had disappeared. “I don’t remember what time it was, but my youngest son bursts into my room asking where James was at. I looked up from my laptop,” she recalls answering, “I have no idea why?”
James had said his goodbyes on social media. Angela, her husband, and her son began to search the house to no avail. “I got really scared when we didn’t get an answer when we called. By this time many of the Explorer kids started arriving at my house. They had all seen what James had posted.”
Some of the explorers that showed up at Angela’s house were children of Sheriff deputies, and all were surprised by what James had posted on social media. As people showed up panic continued to overcome Angela.
It was late at night, but after some searching, they finally found James all alone in the big oak tree next to Angela’s house. “The light had gone out in his eyes,” Angela remembers about that moment. “The James that I had known his whole life was no longer looking back at me. I realized at that moment that my son was gone. I was looking at a stranger.”
Only a few weeks later around Thanksgiving that James decided to make his first attempt to rid his life from the world. What became his method of choice because of ease of access, James made the decision to overdose on his sleeping medication and try to end his life—once and for all. This would be the start of a long and tiring journey for Angela.
James would spend close to a week in the psych ward of the local hospital where he would first be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder which was later changed to Bipolar One with psychosis. At the time Angela has mixed feelings and beliefs that James was genuinely Bipolar.
Angela remembers her first reaction to this news, “I thought that it was an identity crisis that would eventually go away. I couldn’t reconcile with the fact that James really wanted to commit suicide.”
One thing was clear— James had checked out of the real world. The only person who really wanted to help him was Angela, and that was apparent from the lack of help she received in the first month of his diagnosis. Angela was determined to fight hard to save him.
James was twenty-two at the time and an adult without insurance, and his work history made him ineligible to get on disability. There wasn’t enough history of his diagnosis, and what made it seem impossible was that the lack of insurance meant there was a limited help if any.
Angela used a combination of research and some luck to get James into the adult system of care in her local behavior health department. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I had somehow gotten around the system.
When James first saw his psychiatrist, he couldn’t figure out how I had gotten him into the system without insurance,” she says smiling. “But once he was in they knew his case was so bad that they couldn’t release him without being liable if he tried to commit suicide again.”
The next few years Angela would have to be on constantly focused on her son as the days, weeks, and months passed by. Angela didn’t have to wait long for James to take another attempt on his life. With many new medications at her son’s disposal, he tried once again to overdose, this time on his lithium and sleeping medication in December of 2007 just weeks after his release. Angela was at her wit’s end because she was so worried about her son. What would she do if he succeeded?
After his second release from the psych ward Angela tried her best to make 2008 a better year for her son, but as most things are in life, James was not interested in fixing his issues. All Angela could do for the next two years is live on edge fearing that when she got home from work that night her son would be dead. “My family and I were on a rollercoaster ride. If James had issues, which was almost daily, we would get a call from his brothers,” Angela recalls. “When that happened either my husband or me, sometimes both would have to rush home. My husband would have to shut down his shop or I would have to make excuses at work.”
There weren’t enough people to watch James every second of the day. Life at times seemed reasonable, but he rarely left the confines of his room spending most of his time in bed. It was a chore to get James to do the most basic of things like eating or to take a shower, “I would try to make sure he ate because if I did not make him food, he would not eat.”
Angela remembers all the scary things that became a part of James’ personality. “He always wore a black zip-up hoodie with the hood on. He always had his head down and never looked anyone in the eye when we spoke to him. He seemed not interested in life.”
What would be the last time that her son decided to take his life, in 2010 James was once again suicidal. Angela would find out weeks after his hospital stay that he had been hoarding his Seroquel medicine for weeks. It was the closest he had ever come to really reaching his goal of dying, and he spent three days in a drug-induced coma in the intensive care unit.
Every moment was torture for Angela, “There were people on that hospital floor that were fighting, really fighting, for their lives because they wanted to live,” she recalls. “Anyone of those patients would have gladly taken over his life. I made the decision when he woke I would tell him what I thought—no more of this bullshit.”
James was released after a week in the hospital, and his doctors had made the decision to not admit him to the psych ward this time. A few days later James had a seizure while watching a movie on Angela’s dining room table. Angela thought he had tried again, but she would learn in the hospital that it was probably a side effect of the overdose. Angela could only watch as her son had more seizures in the hospital. I was well over a week before he would be rereleased.
The days stretched into months following his two hospital stays, but Angela would see a major overhaul of her son’s attitude. The changes were slow and gradual. There were moments where Angela could see the depression taking over her son, but James was finding ways to live with his diagnosis. It was the first time since his diagnosis that he believed there was something seriously wrong with him. This was music to Angela’s ears. Things were changing in her son.
Two years after James’ last suicide Angela got the biggest surprise in her son’s diagnosis, “He told me that he was going back to school,” she smiles at this, “It was scary. I didn’t know how the stress would affect her son, but it was good to see James interested in something again.”
Angela sees a bright future for her son. In this future, James finishes his degree, completes one of his novels—maybe his memoir, and starts the mental health blog that he talks about all the time where he helps others like him by telling his story. The best part is that for the first time in years there is a future in her son’s life.
When asked if she still sees the struggle in her son’s eyes she responds, “Every day. But he is taking it one day at a time.”
Please Help me Publish my Memoir
I am almost done editing my memoir “The Bipolar Writer,” and I have decided to go down the self-publishing route. If you can donate anything towards my goal, it would mean the world to me. I am still working towards enough to pay an artist for a good cover. Those that donate will get a special mention in my memoir on a page dedicated to those that made my memoir possible. Thank you in advance!