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For this parent, there are no easy solutions for a son’s mental health crisis

I reached a point during the latest mental health crisis with my adult son where the weight of absurdity actually robbed me of my vision and I saw stars. 

Standing in my front yard with a couple of police officers, a social worker and a psychologist, we were listening to my son yelling and ranting from his upstairs window, discussing how we might get him the treatment he needed and removed from my condo where he has lived with us as a suffering schizophrenic for many years. 

The crisis visit was one of many 911 calls when his disease takes over and our lives decline. 

His is a unique sickness that makes it difficult by Vermont statute to force any treatment, since he denies all evidence, with the strength of Brunhild, that he is ill, but we have accomplished involuntary treatment in the past and we were hoping to issue a mental health warrant (which was done after a few hours) and convince him to ride to the hospital (which was not accomplished). 

We’ve had some successes over the years but they are difficult to recognize and disappear after a few bad spells. The Vermont statutes defining abuse are nowhere near the situation we face. It’s a short definition. 

I have no issue with the state’s laws on involuntary confinement. If it was allowed, people would be pointing fingers all day and all night and the system, such that it is, would collapse. I don’t have the time to change society; all I want to do is use it to my own ends — in this case, getting our son who we love out of the house and into treatment once again. 

Throughout the years of our ordeal, I’ve dealt with judges, lawyers, court clerks, police chiefs, social workers, doctors, nurses and psychiatrists, all full of good intentions in a business where good results are few. It’s nice having all those college degrees working for you. Pay attention and remind them of what they are saying. 

I have noticed the changes over the years in dealing with mental health issues in Vermont, and most seem positive, but the increase in programs and training can just lead to larger cracks on which to fall through. 

In our case, the situations we have found ourselves in are nonviolent; stomping and screaming incoherences for hours on end are the level reached throughout most of our crisis. No blood on the floor, no talk of self-harm. 

The mental burden of living with a schizophrenic is very heavy and you wonder if it’s as contagious as COVID. In my case, a few days’ reflection brings me back toward normal, if a little short. 

The conference continued in the front yard. A warm wind blew loudly through the new-leafed trees. There’s always a metaphor lurking about. At this time, I found out that a relief from abuse order — a desperate attempt that I had applied for the previous day — was denied. No physical danger. I had to take that disappointment in stride and hope we could convince the authorities for the warrant and removal to the hospital. 

It was then that I was hit by the absurdity of it all when, during a conversation about evicting my son, the social worker brought up the question of that, since I was my son’s legal guardian for 12 years, how could I be responsible for his well-being while also, perhaps, forcing him to be homeless (he has no place to go)? I let out a respectful whistle. It was a logic loop with a cherry on top. 

Looking at the big picture does not supply relief during a mental health crisis; there are only abstractions that must be faced. I’ve addressed the futility of modern existence pretty well over the course of my years, but this one hit hard and led to these words that demanded to be seen.

I have no defense against Joseph Heller and the world he accurately drew. 

The warrant was signed by the judge and served to my screaming son. The authorities then left the premises, leaving us with one hell of a mess. The warrant was not executed for the safety of the officers. 

I guess orders aren’t what they used to be. Hours of anguish for naught. 

Hope is defined as the spot where desires meet reality. Let me tell you which way to bet.

Editor’s note: Jim Tomczak is a poet who lives in Milton. This story originally appeared online at VTDigger.org.

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