I found him in bed many mornings of his young life soaked in urine. Countless times I questioned why he had just not gotten up to use the bathroom and one day I finally got my answer.
"Mom," he said, "I don't get up because the Grim Reaper is waiting in the hallway to kill me." This single statement from my terrified child knocked me back on my heels and left me reeling with yet another unanswered question. His little self couldn't explain the larger questions that I had: "When did this start?" "Why is 'he' there?". To him, the Grim Reaper really was outside his room waiting to kill him. I tried to chalk it up to childhood imagination but couldn't shake the serious and violent and deadly theme of what his "imagination" was dreaming up.
In his young life between the ages of 4 and 10 these themes had popped up time and again. When we lived in the condos in California there was a scary clown in his room making it so he couldn't leave his room. Everywhere we moved (because I was married to the military at the time) there would be something there waiting for him, trying to kill him, paralyzing him, terrifying him.
When I remarried and moved into our current house and after the Grim Reaper seemed to have disappeared, Thomas became silent about his fears. He was growing up after all and I think he felt he should act as such and not speak of what he saw or heard again. The minute he got quiet (just like the moment he was born) I was asking questions yet again. My intuition told me that something still wasn't right with my young son so where had the monsters gone? Had anything taken their place? Had it really just been a kid's imagination? Was he ok? Was he still afraid? How come he's not crying out?
Then it began again. It was subtle at first and I might have missed it and really in a way I did for a while because it was easy to do, easy to brush off. I had changed the curtains in his room from drapes to the kind that roll down from the top and then retract when pulled from the bottom. I put these up in an effort to keep his room darker in the morning so that he would sleep longer. I began to notice though that he was pushing the edges of the curtains into the recessed window frame, I thought to keep more light out. When I asked him about it finally, he told me that he felt like people could see in and since the house next door is just 8 feet from his window, I thought that was a fair thing to feel and I left it alone. The problem was that this continued well into his teen years and there were more things indicating a deathly fear smoldering inside of him.
It soon became nearly impossible for him to come up from the basement at night without turning on a trail of lights from the room downstairs to his room upstairs. He still wasn't leaving his room at night, even at 14 or 15 years old, and those curtains stayed firmly tucked into the recessed window frame. His grades began to drop, his anxiety level in the daytime went up and one day I found, in a pile on his bedroom floor, a large chunk of his beautiful, soft brown hair just laying there in the middle of the room. I picked it up and started crying. It was as if someone had cut a lock of hair except that it was rooted in a tiny bit of flesh. It was the most beautiful hair I'd ever seen but it was so very very wrong to be found laying there on the floor like that.
I asked him if he had been pulling his hair out and he lowered his head looked up at me with embarrassed eyes and told me that yes, in fact he had done just that. I asked him why and he told me it was because he was frustrated and anxious. I tried to give him alternatives to doing that, I tried to help him cope with his anxieties, I did everything I could do but over the next couple weeks I would again find hair in his room or in the rec room downstairs. I didn't hesitate after that with questioning things and trying to come up with coping skills and I began my search for a therapist to help him deal with this.
We found a good one quickly and I was thankful in a way to be able to turn him over to the doctor for an hour once a week in the hope that this professional could find a solution for his anxieties and for what I learned was trichotillomania (his hair pulling).
What I thought was going to be something that could be fixed with some learned coping skills courtesy of the good doctor and my hugs and love and support, turned out to be just another chapter in the life of my terrified young man.
(My Facebook Page About Schizophrenia)
(My Facebook Page About Schizophrenia)