I can remember a period before I went to the hospital when I was so scared that people were out to get me that I was afraid to leave my house.
I told my mom about my paranoia and she thought it was the marijuana. Shortly thereafter I went on my trip to the United Nations thinking I was saving the world. When I got home and started talking about my mission my parents were horrified.
The truth is, schizophrenia has been something of a schism for my family, something they never gave a second thought to before it happened to one of their own. It’s been an adjustment that has gotten gradually easier to deal with the past 10 years.
After I got home from the hospital and I was a mess, I was riddled with restlessness from the side-effects of my medications and I was still dangerously delusional to the point of thinking my parents were abusing me, and even going as far as going into the attic thinking there was treasure left to me by the government because I was, after all, a king and a prophet.
There was a tenseness in the air and there were stacks of new books on dealing with mental illness that gave a stilted primer to my parents on what to expect.
Over the next few months I eased into the illness and all it’s manifestations, including the notion that there were cameras and microphones in all the household appliances and that my dad had cut the brake line in my van in an attempt to kill me.
Slowly the meds eased the voices and the connections though and I turned from a prophet facing incredible odds to simply a broken shell.
The illness manifested itself in conversations at the dinner table where a phrase one of my parents said would have immense implications; it would be a message to me that I would have to leave again or that I would have to fight. It manifested itself in worries that I did something that made my parents think I was gay or that I was still crazy.
Over the months though, my parents enrolled in NAMI’s family to family class and learned the most important lesson in dealing with mental illness: that it takes time to recover and a lot of time at that. Those months also taught me the lesson that my parents were with me through the bitter cold though, they were the constant and the one thing I could rely on because I surely couldn’t rely on my own mind.
It became apparent to me that there was such a thing as unconditional love in between the paranoia and delusions that the world was out to get me. My parents always had a kind word and a hug despite the horror I’m sure they must have felt in the beginning when I was so dangerously ill that I thought they were trying to kill me.
Fast forward 10 years and here we are, I’m writing professionally and making a living, I’ve written for The New York Times, and my parents are still there to give me a kind word and a hug.
There are times even now when things get stressful and I’ll make some weird connection at dinner that their words meant something different or I’ll get bogged down by paranoia about other people in the world, at coffee shops or restaurants, and my parents will give me the space and the time I need to get a grip on the things that are happening in my head.
There are also times when I think they think negative things about me but all that stuff is small beans now and it tends to pretty easily roll off my shoulders.
It’s amazing to me the resiliency of family when big stuff like this goes down; many families wouldn’t be able to make it through the pain and the difficulty but I feel blessed that my family has.