May is mental health month

I’ve written extensively about mental health and my mission to erase its stigma in blog posts and essays for my own and other websites. I’m also written about my son’s mental illness that ended in his suicide in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide.

Today I’d like to leave you with a list of some agencies that provide mental health and suicide prevention services. I’ve also pulled a passage out of my memoir to share with you – a scene with our son at a restaurant in New York City where my husband and I observed his clearly irrational behavior. We were so distressed at what we saw we plotted to get him into the hospital to be diagnosed and treated for the first (of many) times. I urge anyone who has a similar experience to get help as fast as possible.

Some Helpful Agencies

An excerpt from Leaving the Hall Light On

Finally, I saw Paul at the entrance checking his jacket. He spotted us and slowly made his way to our table, moving his mouth constantly. He seemed to stagger as he walked. He was as thin as a scarecrow. His face looked haunted. His eyes, glassy with deep black shadows underneath, couldn’t stay focused. What had happened to my beautiful son with the chiseled features—high full cheeks, a square jaw line, and clear blue eyes? Just two months earlier when he was home for the Christmas holidays, when we celebrated his twenty-first birthday on New Year’s Eve, he looked so healthy. When he was home just two weeks ago, he seemed fine except for a bit of a cold. How could the effects of little sleep and food have changed him so quickly? Even so, he had tried to make himself look presentable. His clothes were clean. He wore his usual baggy jeans, a long-sleeved green and brown striped heavy knit T-shirt I had bought for him at one of his favorite shops in Hermosa Beach, California, and his brown, thick-soled Doc Martens oxfords. And, he was clean-shaven.

He was babbling as he sat down at our table. “I’ve got to be careful what I eat. They’re poisoning my food and cigarettes. They’re putting drugs in my drinks,” he said as he sat down opposite from me. He picked up the menu, opened it, closed it, and quickly put it aside. Who was poisoning him? If he was on drugs he surely was taking them himself. “I can’t stand the sirens. I want to go south where it’s warm. Help me rent a car. I want to go to Florida.” I knew what he meant about the fire engine and police alarm sirens. Their sounds were everywhere—especially in this weather. But the last thing I would do was rent him a car and help him go to Florida. He was in no condition to drive. “I’ve got to find a drummer for my gig tonight. That’s why I’m late. I had to make some calls. Where’s the phone?” He started to get up, but changed his mind and sat down heavily in his chair. One of his forks fell under the table, and he got down on his hands and knees to retrieve it. When he sat down again, he began to tap his fingertips wildly on the table. “I took a cab here—left a twenty dollar tip,” he said, not looking us in the eye. He couldn’t keep his body still. His fingers on the table and his foot under the table kept time with his racing mind. Where was he getting the money? We were supporting him. How could he have enough money to pay for his food and rent and still tip a cabbie twenty dollars from what we were giving him while he was in school? Was he selling drugs? I didn’t ask these questions out loud. My mind was racing too.

The waiter came back to take his order. “You order for me, Mother.” The waiter looked at me. “Order the same thing you’re having. That’s what mothers are supposed to do, order for their sons,” he said with a wry smile on his face. It was as though he were trying to act normal, but having a very hard time keeping himself together. “I’ll have what you’re drinking too,” he said. I asked the waiter to bring my son the same thing I was having. When Paul’s Pellegrino water came to the table, he wouldn’t drink it because the bottle was already opened. He loudly called the waiter back to our table and asked him to bring him another and open it in his presence. The waiter was gracious and didn’t question Paul’s request, but, whether I imagined it or not, I saw from the expression on his face that he sensed something was wrong. I also might have imagined the people at the tables nearby staring at us. Was I being paranoid, imagining things? I don’t know. All I knew for sure was something was very wrong with my son, and I had to figure out a way to take care of him—quick.

When Paul’s food finally came, he hardly ate a bite. He couldn’t concentrate on eating anymore than he could concentrate on playing the piano. Finally I couldn’t stand the babbling and Paul’s behavior and our inaction any longer. I rummaged in my purse for a piece of paper. I tore off part of an old envelope and wrote on my knee out of Paul’s sight, “Let’s get a cab and take him by force to St. Vincent’s”—the only hospital I could think of—and passed the note under the table to Bob. (I still have that scrap of paper.) Bob immediately got our check and asked that the desserts he had just ordered for himself and Paul be packed to go. Once Bob paid the bill, we maneuvered Paul toward the coat-check room, and, after we all got our coats on, over to the door. He resisted getting in a cab with us probably knowing we were up to something. “Come on, we’ll give you a ride back to your apartment,” I lied. Bob took hold of him and somehow got him through the restaurant’s revolving door and out in the street.

“I’ll walk. I want to walk in the snow. It’s fun. I can make snowballs,” he said. The doorman hailed a cab and I got into the front seat. The cab driver looked toward the street in front of the restaurant and saw Bob practically pushing Paul toward us. “This is not an ambulance. You’ve got to get an ambulance driver to handle him,” said the cab driver. “I’m his mother,” I screamed over and over. “You’ve got to help me! I’m his mother! You’ve got to help me!”

Bob managed to open the back seat of the cab and push Paul inside, and with the promise of a large tip and the boxed desserts from the famed restaurant we had so conspicuously departed, I got the cab driver to relent and take us to St. Vincent’s. Bob kept a firm hold on Paul during the ride to the hospital while Paul clutched the back of my seat so tightly I could see his white knuckles. He kept edging himself toward the door and trying desperately to talk his way out of what we were doing. “I’m all right. Leave me alone. I can take care of myself.” Bob and I gave each other a look, promising each other we had to be strong and not give in to his pleas and desperation. “If I go south, I’ll be okay. I’ve just got to get out of New York.” And, as the snow flew around us as the cabbie drove us over the icy streets, I didn’t blame him for wanting to leave and go south. But Bob arms were tightly around Paul’s shoulder. We were determined. We were acting like kidnappers, kidnapping our son to try to get him fixed, trying to cure him of his demons. Taking him this way was the only thing we could think of to do.

Paul was still resisting when we arrived at St. Vincent’s emergency entrance. Luckily, as Bob and the cabbie were trying to get Paul out of the cab, five police officers who were standing in the driveway intervened and forced him inside. Something in Paul’s behavior—his resistance, his holding on to the cab door for dear life—seemed to alert them to our trouble. We didn’t ask the police for help, but they knew intuitively that we needed it. By the time I walked through the crowded waiting room, talked to the receptionist, and was ushered inside, he was already handcuffed to a gurney in a private holding room, waiting for a doctor to see him. An armed police officer was stationed outside his open door.

I peeked in and then turned away. I couldn’t face him like that. At least not yet. Bob and I went to the waiting area, cried, and looked out of the window at this March 1993 snowstorm, that looked more like a blizzard than a light spring sprinkle, played havoc with the streets of New York City. We waited for word from the doctors on call in the emergency area.

Blizzard in B

It is mid-March, 1993,
and a bitter blizzard blows in.
Some predict
the century’s biggest.
Flakes of snow swirl in gusts to the sidewalk.
Cold slaps our cheeks,
pushes through our clothes
as we cling to each other,
walk through the cavern
at the feet of New York’s skyscrapers
The sirens set our teeth chattering
as impatient cabbies honk,
inch their way up the streets.
Yet, we trudge forward
uncertain of what
we will discover when we arrive.
A more foreboding blizzard, perhaps,
blows through our boy’s broken brain.

This is the Kindle edition cover with our son Paul photo on it. He was indeed a beautiful boy – gone way too soon before his time. I always think how much he’s missed. Please be aware of those whose actions seem strange to you and get them help quickly if you can. Our intervention with Paul did not save his life, but it did prolong it a bit.

We all must heal our brains as well as our bodies!

#4mind4body

Comments

  1. Heartbreaking—especially the poem at the end. And beautifully written, of course.

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