I was bringing in the mail when I noticed the picture of a teen with the caption, “Have you seen me?” I instantly thought about those parents and how heartsick and heartbroken they must be since their child was last seen October 9, 2013. I then thought about all those parents of the nearly 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped from the school dormitory a few weeks ago. And I thought about the hundreds of thousands of girls and boys that are rounded up daily and sold into slavery as sex workers. Then there are all those kids and young adults who seemingly drop off the planet, labeled as runaways or derelicts when something much deeper or more sinister may be going on.
Sometimes I wonder which is worse: not knowing or what I imagine? I haven’t had any contact with my oldest son since a brief text on my birthday in October. His brother had a call from him on his birthday in November and he answered his phone when his brother called him on his birthday in February. That is all the contact we’ve had in the past six months. We think he’s still in the area and still has a place to live, but we don’t really know for certain.
My son is 35 and has mental illness. It’s a world I do not understand, although others I love also have mental illness. In fact, the National Institutes for Health suggest that nearly one-quarter (25%) of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia, an anxiety disorder, or something else. There is a lot of awareness, education, and acceptance around diabetes (only 8.3% of U.S. population) and heart disease (11.3%), and cancer. We all know someone who has had cancer, yet only 8.5% of adults have ever been diagnoses with cancer. And yet, families and individuals struggle and suffer in silence because of the lack of understanding about and the stigmatization of those with mental illness.
We moved back to California to be closer to family after my brother’s death and my oldest son was a big factor in that decision. Every time I reach out to my son, I am an emotional wreck. It’s not that he doesn’t return my texts or take my calls. I even understand how difficult it is to manage the medications and hate the way it can make you feel. What wrecks me is seeing this wonderful, gifted human being ravaged by a disease chemistry he himself is fighting against. It is painful and agonizing to witness the slow, self-destruction of someone to whom you gave life.
A postscript: Wonders never cease. I called on the off-chance he would pickup. I will be downtown for a doctor’s appointment tomorrow afternoon and wanted to try connecting with him. As it stands now, we are meeting up after my appointment. P-r-a-y.