Life Beyond the Diagnosis of Schizophrenia
By Constance Hale
This is a story that in my wildest dreams I never imagined I would tell – a story of survival, the power of hope in the midst of sorrow, and of life beyond the diagnosis of schizophrenia.
At seventeen, my eldest son Christopher came home from high school making bizarre comments that I dismissed as typical teenage behavior. But then he began expressing the delusions that plagued his mind.
One day in his delusional state Chris was having what we would later call an ‘episode.’ He began smashing windows and doors, becoming completely out of control. At only seventeen, Chris was admitted to the hospital against his wishes. There, we received the heartbreaking news that our firstborn son suffered from schizophrenia. The long dark journey began, and we had no idea where it would lead.
Schizophrenia is not a disease of a split personality, but rather a disease where one is split or separated from the real world. This disease caused Chris to separate himself from the world, and from his family. We have lived behind a glass wall with Christopher ever since. I call it a glass wall because with mental illness you can see the person, you can hear them, you can get very close to the person but you cannot touch them. Chris was in a world that I could not enter, or even understand.
We came against two obstacles in our attempts to save our son, one was the law. We found out that during one of Christopher’s violent episodes, we could not hospitalize anyone eighteen years or older against their wishes unless they were arrested. To our horror we discovered that during one of these ‘crisis’ moments we had to have our son arrested in order to remove him from our home to get him help.
The second obstacle unexpected was the church, which has a limited understanding of mental illness. If you are diabetic, the church has no hesitation praying for you without judgment. If you have a heart condition, the church will send meals to your house for weeks until you are better. If your illness is in your brain, however, many well-meaning Christians think you have a demon. Can you imagine the horror a God-fearing parent feels when she is told her son is possessed?
I am not saying that the enemy cannot influence or oppress the weak because he does when he gets the chance; but whether it is physical or mental illness, God did not intend for us to be sick. Labeling mental illness as a “spiritual” issue rather than a physical, chemical imbalance is an unjust generalization, and it only makes the chasm between the families coping with this disease, and the church wider than ever. Our friends and church members just didn’t know how to approach us or even know what to say and I completely understand. As the Body of Christ, we must learn how to be more compassionate to the families of these sons and daughters.
As time progressed I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I could not change the situation. I felt completely helpless and had a sorrow that words could not go deep enough to express.
Overwhelming stress and anxiety took over my life. This situation was simply beyond my control. Yet, in my weakened state, I began to wrestle with my thoughts. Was this the result of my poor parenting? Could I have prevented this terrible tragedy? These lies from the enemy made me feel guilty which caused even a deeper hopelessness.
My son, my precious son, was mentally ill and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt ashamed as a parent. While other parents told me how their children were becoming engineers, going to University, and even Bible College, I was ashamed to say my son was in a psychiatric ward for the mentally ill. Shame renders you powerless. It makes you feel unworthy. It prevents us from ministering and connecting with others.
When we drove home from the hospital my husband and I saw people biking, cutting their grass, and enjoying the summer outdoors. I thought to myself, “Will we ever enjoy those things again?” I felt like I was on the inside looking out at the world.
I really struggled when Chris came home after the first hospital stay. I was teaching at that time. I would cry all the way to school and all the way back home to my dark world of mental illness. I began asking God to help me. Home is supposed to be your refuge, but for me it was a cold reality of the pain that lived in our house. I never knew what I would find behind the door. Would Chris have hurt himself? I didn’t want to go home. Fear came back to revisit me. My only protection was from the Word, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7, NKJ).
One day the emotion of hopelessness overcame my being. I sat on my bed and wept. These tears were from the depths of my soul. That is the day when God gave me the grace to truly surrender my son to Him. It was the day I chose hope over despair. I surrendered what was so precious to me and gave back to God what He gave me. I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to in order to have peace. The hardest part was that I had to rest in the outcome God had for me and my son, whatever it would be. I am convinced that the only way we can surrender our children is with divine intervention through prayer. It is not humanly possible.
After many hospital stays, jail, and rest homes, Christopher is now 26 living at home on medication and functioning to the best of his ability. I’m still praying for God to heal him, but He did something so unexpected—He healed and changed me. I see the world differently now. I will never be the same again. I understand that we can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we will respond. Life is an unpredictable journey for all of us. God in His mercy gave me Jeremiah 29:11 to be the foundation for my life that ‘grace-filled’ day, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. In those days, when you pray I will listen. You will find me when you seek me, if you look for me with all your heart” (NLT).
God was in control. He had a plan for me and my son. Hope was not about having a perfect family or never being disappointed. It was also not about having children who met the world’s standard of success. Hope remains secure when we get to know the source of all hope. Perhaps Psalm 62:5-7 says it best, “I wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor come from God alone. He is my refuge; a rock where no enemy can reach me” (NLT).
Nothing can make you desperate for God more than heartache. I struggled through the journey of releasing my son to God, but in the process I learned how deeply He loved me. I despised the ordeal that compelled me to come so close to Him, but I cherished the ordained moment of sitting with Him that ‘grace-filled’ day on my bed.
I said, “God this can’t end up bad, some good has to come out of this terrible tragedy.” He answered my prayer. I have had the privilege to minister to hurting parents and the brokenhearted not just in my church but in other churches and places. What we have come to call the “Prayer Blanket Ministry” at our church was birthed through this journey. When I visited my son at the hospital, people on the psychiatric floor seemed to be holding stuffed animals, hats, and other small items that brought them comfort. I asked the church to make blankets that the patients could use to keep warm. I attached a card with the Jer. 29:11 verse on each one. The card also stated that every time they wrapped the blanket around themselves, they could think about God’s loving arms embracing them.
Today, hundreds of blankets have gone out to hospitals and to nursing homes where people are sick and need the comfort of God’s love.
Imagine, when there is a glass wall, God’s light shines through to make a way for us in the darkness, giving us courage and strength to choose hope over despair. “When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in” (Ps. 112:4).
Constance Hale is the author of Champion over the Darkness and a conference and retreat speaker. Currently, she is ministering as a pastor. Connie teaches women to rise above their seemingly-hopeless circumstances of grief, death, broken relationships, mental illness, etc., encouraging them to trust Christ.