Love Letters to Schizophrenia

Embracing My Son’s Psychosis Disorder.

I’m a fraud.

I teach people about the energy of every word and how important it is to tell your story. I coach writers to write their journey to success, their memoirs, their brand’s story, their transformational narratives. I give them the power to change the world, one word at a time. But I don’t do the same.

I hoard my own words like sugar packets in an old lady’s purse.

All the pretty words sit around the translucent elephant in the room, its pulsing madness never forgetting, never remembering.

In cutout ransom note letters, the fortune cookie reads: Your son has Schizophrenia.

I can’t find the bridge of trust to cross between myself and my story and all the braided parts of my past. Because I will be stripped down to bone and muscle, exposed to the world’s judgment of myself. And of him. And my own judgment of him. And my judgment of myself for judging him. Shamed into this cycle of emotional persecution that somehow just isn’t punishment enough.

After all, I’m his mother. If he’s crazy, it’s my fault. Because maybe I ate the wrong thing or drank too much coffee when I was pregnant. Maybe I didn’t hug him enough. Or yelled at him that one time (or a hundred times), or forgot to give him his medicine, or didn’t help him with his homework.

I don’t like writing this now. It makes my bones itch. I would rather sweep it under the rug and write posts about our amazing weekend adventures or post photos of our dinners —a mosaic of Instagram happiness and normalcy.

I’d rather be silent. But silence is the death of me.

I have been a tombstone of quiet, and here lie my beloved thoughts, untold to the world in a soul-wrenching epitaph — a love letter to Schizophrenia.

Dear Schizophrenia:
Today is Monday. I won 4 tickets to Disney World. An hour later, my son had a psychotic breakdown and I had him committed.
I have had far too many manic Mondays with him, but this is the backdrop of living with mental illness. I’m its caretaker and its host is my 16-year-old son.
Most people don’t even know I have kids. They don’t know anything about me. I rarely discuss intimate details about my personal life online, but if my work as an editor and writer has taught me anything, it’s that stories are what connect us. And there is power in openly telling our stories of struggle and fear and grief.
The act of declaration alone can alter the environment of an outcome and lessen the spiritual burden of a hardship. Every word is in an incantation. I preach this to clients and collaborators, but I have taken the long road to learn this lesson myself.
I have not wanted mental illness to be a part of my story. I don’t want it to make its way into my bio. I don’t want to become a spokesperson for the awareness month or food drive dedicated to my son’s disorder. I don’t want you to run a 5K marathon or wear a ribbon in his honor. I don’t want this on my business cards, or my website, or my Facebook profile.
I don’t want to carry this around. Because once I reach down to pick it up, it will be a weight around my neck that everyone can see, like a lead scarf with a scarlet letter. An M for madness by proxy. Or martyr. Or mother. I will be tainted and I will be judged. Then the quick, silent hesitations will follow, barely noticeable if not for the heaviness of them. I will be mummified in the gauzy folds of this familial madness, a Pharaoh without a funerary crown.
I didn’t want to let this monster ride shotgun on this journey of my mine — in motherhood, in entrepreneurship, and in life. I was afraid that to name it, to call it out, to acknowledge it, would mean it had won. That it had defeated me and him.
I didn’t want to be a survivor of a war I never wanted to fight.
But now I understand, its power came from my silence, rotting from the inside like a poisoned apple. It grew, caterwauling to “feed me, Seymour.” And now it’s a tangled mess of holes in walls and broken dishes and incoherent rages. It’s the voices and the insomnia and the constant darkness that hovers overhead. It’s a caged beast trapped in a teenage boy. But it’s also hope and faith and love.
This is a resounding protest against the silence. This is a beacon shining in our dark places. This is a bold declaration of triumph. This is my truth.
When the phone rings, I’ll be able to put a name to this enemy, whom I’ll welcome to the family and invite to Christmas dinner and smile through gritted teeth. But I’ll be gracious, because we are unbreakable.

Tonight, I’m hanging my hope onto a magic pill whose name I can’t pronounce while the scrub-wearing nurses watch his little room from a small TV. Tonight is for stillness and repose. But tomorrow, we’ll keep pushing forward.

And if you ask me what we’re going to do once he gets out, my answer will simply be, “We’re going to Disney World.”

Kemari Howell is a self-described word goddess who uses her powers as a professional namer, bestselling editor, and intuitive writer to help people tell stories that change the world. She’s a rebel mama to twin teenagers and is obsessed with mermaids, peacocks, lotuses, and all things purple. In her spare time, she annoyingly uses baby talk with her mini dachshunds and consumes copious amounts of coffee and pizza. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.