the schizophrenic in my room

My mom met me at the door between the garage and kitchen.  She’d been waiting to hear me get home so she could give me some sort of warning of what I was about to face.  The strain of the early afternoon she had already lived through was evident in her features.  She quickly explained the situation to me, and when we had gathered our bravery, our mental strength, we went inside.

He had isolated himself, for the moment, in my room.  It was at the end of the hall, as far from the living spaces of the house as he could get while still being in the house.  I remember thinking it was odd that he thought this was a safe place for him to come, a home he had only been to a handful of times over the years, but he still didn’t trust us enough to be around us.

I sat at the kitchen table and started going through my homework.  I didn’t have anything that needed immediate attention, but I needed to do something to keep myself occupied.  The sound of commotion coming from the end of the hall pulled me away from the table and down towards my room, compelled to protect my home even as I was terrified of what might happen if I invaded his privacy.

A new wave of paranoia had gripped him and he couldn’t understand why my bedroom didn’t have a door.  In his panic he had begun to fortify the doorway with anything and everything he could from my room.  Somehow, I convinced him that he was safe and rather than tearing apart my room I could bring him a cardboard box from the garage and we would create a door.  That calmed him down.  For a time.

The rest of the afternoon has been reduced to a series of snapshots in my mind, where I can picture a specific moment but nothing that led to it or followed.  There were moments where I feared for him, my mom and myself.  There were moments of lucidness where he seemed normal, like the family friend my brother had gone through scouts with.

Eventually his parents came and convinced him that he’d be okay if he went home with them.  I remember wondering what had taken them so long.  I remember sighing with relief when he was out of the house.  I remember trying to understand what had happened to him and not being able to.

Over the years the images of that afternoon have faded in my head.  If I had written this story the following day, month, year, I could have filled multiple posts with the sights, sounds, and thoughts from those few hours.  However, I will never forget the look on my mom’s face when I got home, and the relief I felt after his parents had taken him away.

I didn’t judge him, but I did fear him.

Update: I won a top row award (I was one of the five favorite posts) for this one! Thanks to all who voted for me.

36 thoughts on “the schizophrenic in my room

  1. This is a great piece! I like how the memory is spotty in places. It allows me to try and fill in the blanks and feel what you were feeling. Good job. 🙂

    • Thanks. It was harder to write than I thought it would be. There are parts that seem so fresh and parts that I had to struggle to first remember and then figure out how to articulate.

      • Once my friend found a good dosage and got into a routine of taking his meds he was able to turn things around… I’m not sure if I’d be afraid around him anymore… but, I probably would be, because you just never know if he has been taking his meds, or if they aren’t working any more, or if something will just set him off anyway.
        It’s scary that we can know so much about the world we live in and know so little about how our minds work.

      • Yes, all those lovely side affects… As fascinated as I was with psychology, hence the degree from that one school your son also attended, knowing that all we currently have to help these people are basically symptom treatments rather than cures, and those symptom treaters often create problems of their own, really put me off the whole subject.

    • It was an experience.
      I was still young enough that I wasn’t trying to hold myself to any societal expectations of how I should act, or think. But, typing it up now, it was hard to think back on those thoughts I had then and not cringe…

    • It was. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I don’t think I’d really read much or watched much on mental illness before then (other than a comedy or two).

  2. You’re such a good story teller. I almost want to curl up on the floor in some bookstore and maybe you can read these to us especially on a rainy afternoon….

    • I’ve been temped with the idea of doing a spoken word kind of post, where I’ll read out a story…
      I’m just not at all impressed with my voice. I guess I wouldn’t have to listen to it, but knowing everyone else would, well… I’m not sure I’m okay with that. We’ll see. I’m all about taking up challenges…
      Thank you for the high praise.

  3. wow, this must have been so intense, and it really shows in how much you actually can remember after so long. i’m not surprised there are some blanks to be filled in, as you probably had a hard time making sense of all of it at the time when it happened. well written –

    • Definitely. In a very real way I couldn’t even recognize him – he looked like the same person but his voice and manner were so far removed from who I knew him to be that he looked like someone else… and I couldn’t wrap my head around that then. I studied psychology in college, and some of what I learned there helped me piece together some of this experience, some of the “why” of it all, but still not nearly enough.

    • It was such a disconnect – because I knew him, he was a family friend, but he wasn’t at the same time… I couldn’t work it out: was I right to feel scared, or should I have worked past that and tried to help him more than I did… Was he a guest, or was he a home invader? Friend or foe?

  4. Very, very intense post! I love how you’ve kept it spotty, even for us – somehow adds to the fear of it all.

    And yet, and yet, part of me hurts, thinking of his confusion, his pain, his anxiety, to have done such a thing and to have been met with such fear.

    Really well done.

  5. I think that you did a great job of working with this person. You were scared, your mother was scared, and paranoid schizophrenics can be extremely scary. Yet you were kind to him, you shifted his focus from his paranoia to something more positive(using cardboard to make a door). A lot of people would have no idea to do that, yet you instinctively reached out to your friend, even though his reality was no longer yours. I wish more people could do that.

  6. We crazies can be a bit freaky at times, that’s for sure. Though, I think it is very important to keep in mind that paranoia/schizophrenia does not automatically equal violent, and, that when there is violence, it’s often directed at the self, rather than at others. Not that there aren’t violent paranoid schizophrenics, there are.

    That kind of mental illness is tough to classify, because there are so many variations of mental illness of the extreme kind … it’s not always the illness that causes the violence — it can be drug or alcohol related, because some PSs self-medicate to stop the voices/delusions, but the drugs and alcohol can make the PS worse, bringing out the violence.

    Engaging the person can actually be a good thing, as long as your engagement is non-threatening. In spite of their illness, people with PS are still people, still need people to believe in them.

    I’m sure it was a terrifying experience, especially because you were young — but, in a way, you should feel good about it: the fact that your friend came to your house, and, even though he barricaded himself in your room, the fact that he felt safe at your home, around your family, is a good thing — it means there is trust.

    Mental Illness is such a dark, mysterious world, and can be scary to be around someone ill, who is not on meds. But, it’s not something that can be generalized — everyone’s experience with mental illness is difference. We shouldn’t group them all together, because it does a disservice to them. No, I’m not lecturing … as someone who deals with his own mental demons, it’s a subject I’m passionate about, and I’m always amazed at how much misinformation is out there.

    I like your story, because you tell it in such a matter-of-fact way. You are honest about the scariness of it, but manage to keep calm and balanced, which is good. Thanks for sharing…..

    • And thanks for sharing your insights too. I wasn’t trying to generalize… just pulling the snapshots from my mind as I thought of them.
      I majored in pscyhology in college a few years later so I became well versed on the myriad of mental illnesses and the variations within each. I think some of how I feel about this story is deifnitely tempered by what I know now. At the time I really didn’t know anything about anything.

      • I probably didn’t say as clearly as I could have, but, I don’t think you were making generalizations — I was making generalizations about the general public. 🙂 Guilty of the thing I say we shouldn’t do. 🙂

        That’s a good insight — that your telling of the story is impacted by what you know now, rather than by what you knew then … it would be interesting to see if you could write the story based on how you felt then …

        So, just out of curiosity … since you majored in Psychology, did you end up working in the field, or are you one of those people that end up on an unexpected career path that has nothing to do with their degree…. ?

      • Did not end up working in the field. I got turned off by a lot of what I saw going on in the industry, and rather than trying to change things from the inside I turned tail and fled.

  7. This is such a powerful piece. There’s something about writing childhood memories, isn’t there? They’ve had all that time to simmer. I actually have a creepily similar experience that I’m writing, so thanks for the inspiration.

    • My biggest problem with writing about childhood memories is the disconnect between how vivid they are in my mind and my ability to get that image down into words. We think we remember something clearly, but then when we try to expand up upon it we realize we only remember certain aspects of it clearly, and we struggle to tie those together to form a coherent picture.

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