THE FIRST PHONE CALL
I received a text at almost one o’clock in the morning. It was from my middle son concerning my other son, with whom he lived. I had no idea that this was the day that my child had a psychotic break.
“I believe [his brother/my sons name here] is either really bad right now or incoherent. He sent me a text saying he needs to see a psychiatrist.”
“What!!!???” I texted back.
“Come here now. He is writing on his walls. Seriously, come here now. He is afraid of himself right now.”
“I am on my way”, I responded. Then, based on something their dad had said to me, I told him, “Gather all of the knives from the kitchen and hide them under somebody’s car or in the backyard or something. Get every knife out of the house, right now.”
You don’t know why such things come to mind; Maybe too many movies? Who knows, but the thought that it might even be a threat can sober you up pretty quick.
My middle son didn’t want to leave his brothers side to retrieve the knives. So, instead of hiding them, he took his brother out of the house until I was able to get to them. When I arrived, I found my son almost catatonic; he wasn’t able to speak; he stared off at the wall lost within himself and was eerily submissive to my requests. I have never felt so scared and alone in my life, but I had to be strong for both of my sons and I needed to act swiftly; I could come undone later.
GOING TO THE FIRST HOSPITAL
We packed my sons belongings and I took him to the nearest mental health hospital that I knew of; We didn’t know if he had overdosed on drugs or if he was having a very serious manic bipolar episode. Their father (my ex-husband) has Bipolar Disorder and will not take his medication. So, I am pretty familiar with the symptoms. , as are my sons. I did what I could think of to do and hospitalized my son. It was a very difficult decision to make and it took a lot of ‘letting go’ on my part. It was so hard putting his care completely in the hands of people who worked hard at keeping their treatments “secretive” and locked behind doors that family and friends never got to breach.
I left the hospital exhausted and depressed and scared, but I didn’t know what else to do in that moment. I felt like I was being faced with a life and death situation. And, my son had been behaving manic for at least a week. I just had no idea it was to the extent that I found him on that day. As I drove home, I felt some security that he was now being cared for by professionals. In the case that this was all just drug related, he wouldn’t have access to any drugs while he was in the hospital. So, I had some peace of mind about that.
THE SECOND PHONE CALL
I arrived back to my house after dinner time. Sadly, I couldn’t get my son off of my mind, but that was to be expected. I had a very hard time getting to sleep, but I eventually drifted off at some point in the night. Then, I got a phone call from my middle son around 8:00 am. He said that my other son had checked himself out of the hospital at some point in the middle of the night and was back at their apartment; I needed to get there right away.
When I arrived, my son was asleep in his room, drenched in sweat. He would continue to sleep in a pool of sweat for the next 24 hours.
I am a mom to five boys; I have seen things. When you are raising boys–especially that many–you end up ‘around the block’ whether you want to or not. And, yet, this experience ranks right up there with a few of my scariest and worst days as a mom. I never want to see my child like that again–and, I hope that you never do either.
THE PSYCHOTIC BREAK
Within days, my son was fearing for his life and was sure that the government was watching him. He was pushing all of his friends and loved ones away and he was extremely irritable and paranoid. I was getting calls throughout the day and night to come and be with him because my other son feared that he was going to either hurt himself–or someone else.
NOT ALL HOSPITALS ARE EQUAL
The first hospital that I checked him into behaved unethically and, instead of calling his emergency contact, tried to silence him by sedating him with multiple shots in both of his shoulders with three or four different drugs.
He had been fevered and sweating when I dropped him off. Throughout the night, he was chilling very badly and he couldn’t get warm. They have no record of checking his temperature and would not do anything to get him warm. He demanded that they call his emergency contact– which they would not do; instead, they pinned him down and filled him with so many drugs that he slept for over 24 hours in a bed drenched with sweat.
Luckily, he had checked himself out. Then, I was able to be with him that entire time to keep him hydrated, warm and observe his vitals. Who knows what would have happened to him in that hospital.
Unfortunately, as a result, he became very fearful and distrusting of the hospitals, doctors and facilities. I worked tirelessly for over 30 days trying to find a facility that would be a good fit for him. He had no desire for long term care, but was willing to do Intensive Outpatient Care; yet, we didn’t have any hospitals or facilities in our area–or within 2 hours of our home–that would take him for IOP care.
As an aside, I will say that I have discovered what I consider to be a major flaw in the mental health landscape: you can hire a therapist to do talk therapy any day of the week; they are a dime a dozen; you can be admitted to do intensive inpatient care if you are a threat to yourself or others; but, that person who falls somewhere in the middle gets a bit forgotten, I found.
I could hire my son a psychologist to do talk therapy and recommend him to a psychiatrist, but he needed immediate and intensive care. But, his first hospital stay was decisively his last hospital stay. He was willing to spend intensive one-on-one time with a psychiatrist as long as he was able to walk out the front door every evening and go home to sleep in his own bed. They do it with substance abuse patients. I didn’t understand why we were finding so many roadblocks to getting the help that we needed.
I had even attempted to check him into our local hospital’s ER to get an IOP recommended for him, but they only wanted to admit him fully to the Behavioral Health floor. They told him that he would not be able to check out until the doctor signed for his release. So, needless to say, he walked right out without a second thought of that option.
The only good thing that came from this stall was that I started to do some research on my own. For one, my son, his best friend and his best friends girlfriend all had psychotic breaks in the same week. I mean, come on, no one can deny or overlook a big coincidence like that–or so I thought; it seemed like I was the only person who found that a little odd.
Two of my three college-going sons admitted to me that it was pretty typical for students to take Adderall to help them study for tests and take tests. And, I had found a little Tupperware container in which my son had four or so Adderall pills in. So, I knew that he was, indeed, taking Adderall. I knew that my sons smoked pot, as well, but I was indoctrinated so much with the “it’s all natural. it is natures medicine. It’s going to be legal everywhere before you know it” business that I wasn’t even looking there just yet. I had my sights set on the Adderall. And, indeed, if you look up the possible symptoms/side- effects of self-medicating with Adderall ‘mock’ Bipolar Disorder is on the list. I thought that I had found the answer.
Important to note, I would have known what was in my sons system the night that I checked him into the first hospital except that they didn’t do any drug tests on him. They took more than one blood draw from him, but did not take any urine tests. And, they did not test the blood that they did take for drugs either. So, I was working blind.
THE THIRD PHONE CALL
Again, I got a phone call on another night around three o’clock in the morning from my middle son. My middle son was in the middle of a full blown panic attack. He begged me to get to their house to care for his brother. He said that he was having another episode and that I was to come there to care for him right away. Fully frightened for his life, I was determined that I was going to do a urine test on him, myself, and prove–once and for all–that the Adderall was the culprit.
I drove to the first drug store and they were out of drug tests; drove to the closet grocery store with a pharmacy and they were out; drove to the next grocery store with a pharmacy and they were closed; then, ended up having to crisscross the city to find a big box super grocery store which did have a nice selection of drug tests available.
For added assurance, I bought their most expensive test. I figured I was not going to get a second chance at this; I wanted one that was hopefully going to work and cover as many possible drugs as could be tested for.
It took some strong-arming on my part, but I did get my son to give me a urine sample and we waited. No methamphetamines. I was taken back. I was sure that it was the Adderall. He had marijuana in his system, but…hey, that stuff is all natural. It couldn’t be the pot. Right?
POT INDUCED OR BIPOLAR?
Then the real fear set in: what if he just simply had inherited his dad’s Bipolar Disorder? I cannot explain what that fear feels like unless you have walked in those shoes. My ex-husband was very abusive to me and the children and to many people around him. Although a very educated man and having respectable initials behind his name, he had trouble maintaining employment; he had multiple OWI’s; had totaled more than one vehicle driving while intoxicated; and, filed bankruptcy more than once to try to correct some major overspending on his part. He now lives in a little shack of a house, alone and lonely because it is too hard to have relationship with him. My only thought was, Oh, please Lord, don’t let him end up like his dad.
I was so angry. I wanted it to be the Adderall so bad so that I didn’t have to face the possibilities of a long term condition that may adversely effect the rest of his life. More than one person reached out to me to remind me that my ex-husband dealt so strongly with his illness because he would not treat it with medication–which was true; we got to only ever see the full force of his illness. They promised me that–if my son had Bipolar Disorder–he could live a very normal life, one where episodes may be so few and far between that it could be as if he didn’t even have the illness.
Which in turn made me so angry at my ex-husband. I sent him a text on a night that I was feeling especially vulnerable and said, “…I will say that I wish that you would have had the courage and strength to deal with your issues in a healthy and honest way so that our children would have seen/witnessed/learned how to deal with mental health when they need it the most”.
Truly, I wanted to lash out, but I kept it civil. I would have broken something or punched some walls if I didn’t have the wonderful wisdom to know that acts like that just make for costly repairs that I don’t have the money to pay for. Am I right? But, it didn’t rid me of the temptation.
Simply, I just wanted my son to be okay.
In a desperate attempt, I told the devil that I rebuked a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and I tried to be very careful not to use those words to describe him or his symptoms.
Like a machine, I continued calling around in the hopes of getting him some care. I was given a local psychologist’s name, but she was on an already long list of names. Of the previous names, no one called me back or was able to help in any way. Finally, I gave her a call and left a voicemail giving her a brief description of what we were dealing with.
CANNABIS INDUCED PSYCHOSIS
On Christmas Eve, this particular psychologist called me back. She was so compassionate and listened and empathized with my ordeal. And, then, she told me that her best friends son had suffered cannabis induced psychosis recently, that she had three cases come across her desk in the past week of the same thing and that the mental health practice was seeing cannabis induced psychosis happening at an unprecedented rate among young people.
And, then, my second oldest son sent me this video:
This is another exceptional video to watch.
My heart sank. Yes! This could be the answer to my many desperate prayers. I did know that my son was smoking so much pot that even other pot smokers near him were commenting on his excessive use. And, he was ingesting pot with a much greater intensity than generations before us were ever used to smoke.
I took my concerns to my son who quickly brushed me off as crazy, controlling and uneducated; his college provided one course that taught that marijuana and hallucinogens were completely natural and safe to use; and his school knew far more than I did, of course. Duh.
CAN ‘ALL NATURAL’ BE DANGEROUS?
CAN POT CAUSE YOU TO HAVE A PYCHOTIC BREAK?
I turned a bit of a blind eye to my adult sons’ use of marijuana because I had a nephew who died of an heroin overdose. Wouldn’t that make me more staunchly against the use of marijuana? No, actually it didn’t. Somewhere along the way, fear that my own children might use and become addicted to heroin, I let myself ignore their marijuana use on the basis that my children were adult young men and that pot “was natural, harmless, non-addictive“, but most importantly NOT heroin. Fear can render you compromised.
My son, eventually, lost his home and had to find new roommates. Within days of moving into his new apartment, I got a phone call from him. He told me that he was scared and wanted me to get him to the hospital right away. He was so scared, in fact, that he asked me to stay on the phone with him until I arrived to his apartment. Unfortunately, reception dies halfway between my home and his. So, he asked me to have one of his brothers (who lived in the same town) come sit with him until I could get there.
So, one of his brothers did just that; but, his fear of himself wrenched my heart so much. My adrenaline was pumping out double time.
I got him to the ER this time. If you do anything like this, plan for a long stay. We sat in the ER for over 12 hours before my son was finally admitted to the hospital, but he was thankfully in the right place and with the right attitude this time.
Below is an image of the doors that he entered, where I had to say good-bye to him. That was an emotionally exhausting moment; every bit of adrenaline drained from my body and all that I was left with was loneliness, watching my son pass through those doors and into the care of the Behavioral Health Center of our hospital; but I knew that he needed to be there.
Luckily, the family support in the hospital was spectacular and I was able to visit with my son one hour each evening. However, the first three days, my sons psychosis was still so bad that he just slept during my visits or talked incoherently when he was awake. It was so scary, but I wanted to make sure that I was there for him even if he couldn’t appreciate it in the moment.
NINE DAYS IN BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
He remained in the hospital for nine days until they finally released him. During that time he went from very kind and loving to me during his time of psychosis. When his mind cleared he become very angry at me; he blamed me for everything that was happening to him and for him being in the hospital. My son had never fought with me prior to his first episode of psychosis and, now, he hated me, would cuss at me and tell me that I had ruined his life. And, almost within the same paragraph, he would tell me how much he loved me.
Honestly, It was an emotional roller coaster for me; and, was so painful to watch my son become someone that I didn’t recognize and to be hated by someone who had just previously been a very loving son.
After nine days in the hospital, he had convinced the doctors that he was okay to be discharged; he was missing important days of class and we all knew that he couldn’t get too far behind.
THE FIRST DIAGNOSIS
The doctors diagnosed him with Cannabis Induced Psychosis, prescribed him his medication and he was sent home. We had one final visit with the psychiatrist who went over instructions for his self care outside of the hospital and, of course, the number one instruction was to stay away from marijuana.
My son agreed.
On his second day out of the hospital, my son denied ever being in psychosis and said that he was fine to smoke marijuana and that marijuana had nothing to do with what had happened to him; He said that it was just from the stress of school.
Right then, I knew that we were in trouble.
I asked him if he was taking his medication. Just asking him that question sent him into a rage. He accused me of treating him like a child and never trusting him and his ability to care for himself. He left for a friends and didn’t come home for four days.
TIME FOR A DO-OVER
Nearly a week after being released from the hospital and him not coming home, he started to send some nonsensical texts to me. It was early in the day and continued for an hour or so. I asked him if he had been smoking pot. Sadly, I could not get a clear response from him, but it was obvious that he had. I called around trying to figure out where he was. Finally, a close friend of his notified me the name of the friend he was with and gave me a general location and apartment complex where he was staying.
I jumped in my car and drove to his town; found the apartment complex where she said that he would be, but I had no idea which apartment he was in. Then, in a desperate display, I proceeded to go from door to door knocking until I eventually found him.
Without a doubt, I was prepared to burst into the apartment if I wasn’t allowed in, but when the door opened I was looking right at my son sitting in a chair. The room was filled with about six other college kids all sitting around chit chatting. However, my son was not “sober” like the rest of them. My first and actual response was to threaten everyone. I notified everyone present that if they ever smoked pot with my son again that I was going to send the cops there and have them all arrested. What can I say? It is important for you to read–in case you are a parent, too–that we may do some irrational things sometimes when the fear for our childs safety is driving us.
It took some coaxing, but I was finally able to get my son into the car and back to the hospital.
THIRD STAY IN A HOSPITAL
This time, he checked himself in and stayed another four days.
We learned that they did not give him all of his prescriptions. And, the pharmacy was closed he had tried to to fill his meds. So, he had gone 24 + hours without medication and then when he did get it, he was not given everything.
My son had checked himself in, but when he did so he was in a state of psychosis. So, when his mind cleared his was furious with me, again. He banned me from being able to visit him or contact him while he was in the hospital. That was very painful. It is so easy to start to feel sorry for yourself. You can list off all of the sacrifices that you have been making to keep them well; all of the sleepless nights; the expenses you’ve been incurring; all of the missed days of work caring for them or hunting them down in random apartments and dragging their butts to hospitals.
They don’t get it.
SECOND TIME BEING RELEASED
When my son was discharged this last time, more support was set up for him “on the outside”; he had more visits with a therapist and an immediate appointment with a psychiatrist. My son came to me and told me that the only way that he was going to get on top of things was to get out of the pot culture of college. Pot is everywhere. I learned through this that even that cute little girl in your sons apartment complex who looks like she could be a “book worm” is probably the dealer for their floor; but that isn’t what they’re called anymore. That is just who they get their pot from. Everyone sells anymore.
And, my son agreed that it was healthiest for him to live at home with me where he would have more stability and a “wholesome environment” (his words). That made me feel pretty great. He can hate me so long as he acknowledges that I am providing him stability and a wholesome environment. I can work with that.
MAYBE SEEING SOME HOPE
I thought, kudos to him for realizing his limits, and I assured him that I supported him in whatever decision that he made at school. So, he worked with his advisor to apply for a medical leave for the semester so that he wouldn’t lose his scholarships and he proceeded to withdraw from all of his classes. That in and of itself was a huge and bold move on his part.
SELF-CARE FOR THE CAREGIVER
So, now, we are in the aftermath of it all trying to heal from months of trauma. I am going to join an Al-Anon group to maybe not feel so alone. Too, I now have so much anxiety. When my son leaves and is gone for hours, I sit and fret that he is with friends doing drugs; I never say anything to him because I know that I cannot micro-parent him and that I cannot control him, but I still feel it all so deeply. The fear is real to me.
Marijuana is not as safe as it is being marketed. It may be alright for one person to do and another person can be thrust straight into a scary, horrifying state of psychosis. I do not wish that on any parent.
Additonal reading from an article posted on USA Today that is very informative from a parents perspective: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/01/06/marijuana-induced-psychosis-rises-mental-health-treatment-elusive/2698446001/
If you have had a similar situation as THE DAY MY CHILD HAD A PSYCHOTIC BREAK, please reach out and comment in the comment section or send me an email.