James’ Story

Our youngest son, James was in his early 30s. He lived at home and enjoyed his plumbing job and had been given some supervisory authority. Then he was injured in a car accident. While it didn’t break any bones, he received considerable damage to the soft tissue in his back.

This caused a great deal of pain and he was off work for months. He couldn’t sleep, but distrusted pain killers and sleeping pills although he did use them on occasion. He found that he had lost a lot of the body flexibility that his job required and realized he would have to retrain for a different, less physically demanding job.

Because his injuries were to soft tissues, they were not apparent in X-rays, so he encountered a lot of skepticism. These are the type of injuries that are the favourites of scam artists. But he was able to get some compensation, which he used for living expenses during his convalescence and to start taking courses that were meant to give him a new career.

Around this time he met a young woman at a location many miles from home, but then reported that an ex-boyfriend of hers had threatened him. The ex and his friends had also turned up outside a night club and made threatening remarks on another occasion. And yet again, when he was by himself camping sixty miles away from home.

We took this at face value and suggested that he not return to the restaurants and clubs that he had been frequenting and just give up the possibility of that relationship which had not got past the friendly greeting stage.

Later, while at a technical college, he told his mother and me that a fellow classmate was one of those ex-boyfriend’s buddies and he was spreading untrue rumours about him. He said he had complained to the college authorities, but his work suffered and he finally quit the course which he had found quite demanding after so many years away from schoolwork.

Now it was three or four years after the original accident and he’d recovered a lot of his physical strength. He found a job he could handle and seemed to be settling down to earning a regular, if not large pay packet.

But after a few months he reported that he was being threatened by a co-worker, which seemed to be strangely the same story as before. However, because James was a mature person, we felt we could not get directly involved by talking to his boss. We knew that would upset him.

Around this time my wife and I left on a long vacation trip to Eastern Canada that we had been planning for some months. But when we arrived at our destination, we received a call from our married son Charles. He reported that James had become very agitated and had upset some of our neighbours with his probing questions about unrelated things they had no knowledge of.

One of the neighbours had phoned the police and another neighbour had contacted Charles. My wife flew home, while I returned home over the next few days in the car.

We found James very angry, using bad language in front of his mother which was out of character. He was not able to give a clear, concise description of what had transpired. He was all emotion and no substance.

He was referred to a psychiatrist and clinician and after meeting with them received some medication. He reported that the psychiatrist said he had a mild case of schizophrenia. His explanation was “They think I’m crazy!”

James didn’t like the medication because it made him sleepy and dopey. But his agitation slowly dissipated, although months later he still heard people shouting threats as he walked for exercise near our house. He classified his meetings with the clinician a waste of his time and insisted that the verbal harassment from the ex-boyfriend and buddies was quite real.

Sometimes he would be out with friends and came home halfway through the evening because he thought my wife and I were under threat. He reiterated his love for us and no longer swore in front of us.

He was totally bored and if he wasn’t in his bedroom, presumably sleeping, he was sitting in a living room chair staring into space. He insisted he was well enough to go back to work and found another job.

James has now been working steady there for over a year and has added at least one friend from his co-workers. Two other sets of friends stayed with him and seem to be supportive, although we are not sure whether he has been totally frank about the diagnosis that the psychiatrist made.

We have no indication that James smokes pot or takes drugs. He’s always been negative about drugs and has usually refused even ordinary pain killers for headaches. However, our eldest son reluctantly stated that he thought James had used pot and may still be using it. Although Charles doesn’t drink, James does. But James seems to be scrupulous about taking a sleeping bag and sleeping over at a friend’s house if he drinks alcohol.

My wife and I were away for three weeks last summer and by the time we returned, James’ mood seemed to have slipped. But he seemed to regain his equilibrium after our return. We encouraged him to renew his drug prescription (which he said was allowed to expire with the agreement of his psychiatrist) but that would have meant “wasting” more time with the psychiatrist. His clinician has invited him to attend group meetings, but again, he declined.

James is now in his late 30s. He seems to have recognized, to some degree, that not all he experiences is “real” to everybody else and has even joked that he has more “conversations” than we are aware of. He still broods when not involved in doing his laundry, etc., but has started to sing (off-key) when he’s actively doing something. He doesn’t watch TV as much as he did, but spends a lot of his time visiting his friends.

But now, my wife and I have to be away for just over two weeks, a couple of months from now. We think that length of absence might be OK, but are concerned, nevertheless.

Members of the support group we attend monthly suggested we make specific requests to his friends and his brother Charles to make a special effort to contact him and provide support while we are away. We’ll do that.

Although I find myself saying, “Oh, darn, its the support group tonight! Shall I go? Or should I give it amiss?” But every time, I come away quite enthusiastic over what I hear. We always learn something and come away comforted to know we are not alone in this. That there can be a way through even though there will be ups and downs. Many parents face a much more difficult problem than ours.

The convener of the group is, of course, a major part of that good outcome. I recommend you bite the bullet, seek out a support group in your area and attend regularly. No one in these groups will judge you. You will find strength to face the next step to recovery. While our children are ill, we parents suffer from broken hearts. The meetings help.