Waiting for the Guillotine
Drug Addition and Mental Illness
What a macabre way to describe what it’s like to live with a member of one’s family who is both mentally ill and subsequently addicted to drugs. Yet that is how it feels, waiting for that last phone call that tells you, it’s over. Much like it must have felt, waiting for the blade to fall, yet hoping beyond hope there would be a last reprieve. Something at the last minute that would change things. In today’s world, with such easy access to cheap, criminal-pushed drugs, especially Meth and Fentanyl, that hope — especially for those mentally ill — seems slim indeed.
As parents of loved ones that are struggling, we cannot give up hope, yet at the same time, to maintain sanity and not slip into our own depressive abyss, we must gird ourselves for what seems, sadly the inevitable. What a way to live, if one can call it living.
Our son, was living on the streets homeless. We would lose contact for several days sometimes a week or more at a time. When we received the call, much like many other calls, he had been evicted from where he was living, hungry, feeling alone, high, and having little clue why he was there or how he got there. He was crying and wanting to end it all. We have received calls like this often when he is high, followed by periods of reprieve in between when he is more normal. This time he was in jail, and knowing that he was alive, and safe for the time being, some how we actually managed to sleep that night, unlike many other nights.
Mikey, as we called him when he was little, developed schizophrenia as an adolescent which stunted his behavioural and educational development. He was hospitalized for almost eighteen months while receiving world class care, yet his prognosis at the time was not good, with expectations that he would likely be hospitalized for most of his adult life. Much to everyone’s surprise and joy, despite his illness, with love and support from family and mental health professionals, Mikey reached his mid thirties living more on his own than not.
In the ensuing years, he got married and eventually divorced. A new anti-psychotic drug removed all symptoms of his illness, giving us our old Mikey back. Unfortunately our joy and his peace was not to last long. Against the family’s advice, about two years ago, he returned to his ex-wife who had her own mental illness issues, and subsequently introduced him to drugs, first cocaine and then meth. They split awhile after but it has been a down hill spiral ever since.
Mikey’s nature is one of a loving and caring person, but like many others with mental illness, craves to be accepted. This makes him susceptible to the criminal elements who take every opportunity to use him and fill his head with visions of irrational grandeur.
This last time Mikey had spent several months in jail and as a consequence, clean. We had hopes, not expectations, but hopes, that with help from everyone and temporary housing with us, we collectively could get him into one of the residential mental health/drug additions programs. Hope faded pretty fast when he disappeared for two days on a drug induced bender. We took him back in one last time.
Despite the best efforts from family, friends, mental health and judicial system professionals, Mikey continues to recycle and spiral lower and lower. Admission into detox programs and rehab programs that specialize in people like Mikey, depend on his voluntary cooperation and that is the rub. While things start out well, his illness and the damage caused by the drugs, cause him to make bad choices and as a result, to date, he has not lasted through any of the extended programs. His behaviour is so unpredictable and erratic that he cannot be with us or his family members other than on occasional off site visits. There have even been attempts to have him committed to a long term hospital stay, because the drugs have damaged his mind to the level of a 13 year old in a 37 year old man’s body. However, legally seen as an adult, commitment has to be voluntary, unless he is a danger to himself or to others. Apparently slow suicide by drugs, wasting away in body and mind and losing more grasp on reality until he dies, doesn’t qualify under our legal system as “a danger to himself”.
So we wait and hope.
About ten months ago, my wife and her best friend, were discussing their respective sons, wondering who was going to get that last call first. As it turned out, her son, a vibrant, high functioning individual with a full time professional job, yet depressed and addicted to heroin, had already overdosed. The autopsy showed he got hold of some street drug laced with Fentanyl. He was forty years old. She didn’t find out until two days after he had passed, via an accidental text message. Everyone is devastated. Our kids grew up together. None of us will ever be the same.
The parental guilt that follows, is at times, often unbearable. What could have been done differently? We ask ourselves, how did we fail? Or did we? There are no right answers to these questions, sometimes no answers at all. We do as much as humanly possible and sometimes more than is reasonable, to our own detriment, because of the love we have for our children. We never want to give up.
So we wait. There is little that can be done because our laws do not allow us to have those we love, committed — even temporarily — for their own safety. And while it’s well documented, that intervention doesn’t work if the addict is not committed themselves, the malnutrition, and mind altering aspect of the drugs, even with their own commitment, makes it very difficult for them to get a successful kick start. That’s why its called addiction. If it doesn’t get better, it gets worse, there is no middle ground.
Until we take the criminal element out of the drug problem and provide a lot more beds and help with the addicts’ underlying problems, more people, young and old will die. It’s estimated one in five North Americans suffer yearly from some form of mental illness, and one in 25 with serious mental illness. With that additional population source, the market for illegal drugs grows along with the sorrow that follows.
And so we wait, hoping that something will happen before the blade falls, and all hope is gone.
Life's Petty Differences
Anguish of an absent heart to be.
Our greatest fear when one so young,
Life so dear, it makes no sense.
The end is near, you see.
Life's petty differences, simple woes — gone.
Then overwhelming when we know,
Precious life, vibrant, full.
Senseless finality — ending so.
About the Author: Lloyd Osler is a veteran, professional engineer, serial entrepreneur and business leader with heart. He has seized every opportunity to reinvent himself, resulting in several challenging, and exciting careers throughout 50 years in the military, advanced education, IT and health industries.
What a ride! And #notyetdone — he is exercising his right brain in pursuing his passion as a writer.
Lloyd relishes the opportunity to give back and has a long history of mentoring in education, business and community. Husband to one, father of four, papa to five, he is passionate about future generations and is a strong advocate of social issues such as mental health, gender diversity, and equality. He currently serves on the international Advisory Board of sitatthetable.org, promoting global gender mentoring and equality in business. He is also a co-founder at cormosaic.shop. Follow Lloyd on Twitter at @powerofpapa.
At various times in one's life, there comes a moment to evaluate where we are and where we want to be, who we are and what we want to become. Seize the moment and change. No time to waste. —Lloyd Osler