Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Anonymity

I know that you are going to find this hard to believe given the fact that I write this blog but I want to tell you something so that if you're feeling isolated, you won't feel like you're the only one.

I was out walking yesterday through my neighborhood and I passed by the houses of my neighbors, 4 of which have children Thomas' age that went to school with him. There is one man in particular that I have always felt close to but I often have a hard time talking to him. The reason being that a couple of years ago he lost his beautiful boy, Thomas' age, in a horrific boating accident and I have just never been able to find the right words for him. For a long time I wept for him because I couldn't imagine what it would be like to lose Thomas. With the boys being so close in age and with them being my nearby neighbor I felt his loss a great deal.

Fast forward to less than a year ago when in a whirlwind 2 weeks time, Thomas was hospitalized twice and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. As most of you know, there is a loss in that. I don't pretend to think that actually losing a boy to death is the same as what I am going through with Thomas but I think the grief process has been very similar. When I see this man I want so badly to go up to him and tell him that I have lost my son to a terrible fate too and that I can understand some of what he's going through.

Herein lies the difference for me though. I think so often of telling our story to him but there is always something that stops me. Here we are in a tight-knit community and I am scared to death to tell him that Thomas has schizophrenia. It's not like it's some great big secret that Thomas struggles with something since Thomas' absence from school a lot of last year and the fact that he threatened suicide on Facebook was pretty well known in his circle of friends but there is something so much different about telling somebody your loved one has schizophrenia, especially in a small town. I imagine that man telling the story of his lost son is met with the usual responses and his death, as horrible as it was, has a strange sort of meaning in it. Everyone understands death. Not everyone, in fact very few, understand schizophrenia.

It's never been easy to tell people that Thomas is sick because people just don't know how to act, they don't know what to say, they don't know what to ask and I imagine that a large majority understand schizophrenia as the media portrays it and that is as--for example--a man who shoots up the Washington D.C. Naval Yard or the "famous hiccup girl from the Today show" who murders her acquaintance. People want to think the worst or in their very best moments know no different than what they have heard and are silently afraid of the very word "schizophrenia" and just don't know what to say.

So yesterday as I walked past that man and smiled and said hello, I ended up, once again, staying silent about the truth of my life for fear of the judgment that could rain down on Thomas once the rumor mills of my little neighborhood kick into high gear. I sit here in anonymity, writing mine and Thomas' story to all of you because you are here by choice, either because you know someone who has schizophrenia or you are seeking to understand it. I'm not afraid to speak out here. It is here that I am home. What's sad to me, is that my physical home is a quiet island in my neighborhood where everything looks normal on the outside but inside a storm rages. It is my hope that there will come a day where the proverbial sun will rise, people will be enlightened about schizophrenia, and my home will become just another house in the neighborhood where two neighbors who have lost their sons in different ways can find comfort from each other, no matter the nature of the loss.

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