My 26-year-old son was one of those kids wearing a gold cord at his high school graduation. He received a scholarship to study engineering at Saint Martin’s University. After a year, he transferred to Western Washington University, where he became a student media representative, traveled to Washington, D.C., worked an internship at NASA. He took swing dancing lessons. He liked to cook with lots of garlic. Bacon wrapped tofu was his signature dish.
My son is mentally ill. Undiagnosed. Unmedicated. I’m a mom of six boys, a U.S. Army veteran. I live with PTSD and I am bipolar. I am medicated and live a fairly normal life. I want the same for my boy. When he “cycles” I say he’s spun out. In his normal state, he is an intelligent, loving hippie sort who muses about compost and organic gardens. He dreams about alternative fuel. Self-sufficiency is his passion.
Then he shaves his blond locks to nubs. His movie-star good looks are gone and his blue eyes are just not right. If he walked by, you’d cast your eyes to the ground. Spun out also means he has a hatred for me. Pure resentment, disdain, anger – it’s frightening. The person who loves him most in the world becomes the target of his psychotic rants and rage.
Almost a year ago, I began to address his mental illness. I named it. I studied about it. I called him on it. I got a restraining order. I watched the Lacey police handcuff him and take him away. At that time, last February, I figured he might get the help he needed. They would have to evaluate him. My other sons and I were confident we would get our guy back. Long story short. He passed the exam at St. Peter’s Hospital like he’d written it. They could not hold him. Except for a college run-in with police regarding skateboarding, he had no previous record.
Fast forward to this fall. He was suicidal that evening. When I woke at 4:30 a.m., he’d left a rant on my laptop about stealing vehicles. The car, located abandoned at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass was recovered the next day. I thought my son was dead. Two weeks later, I discovered he jumped freight trains from Washington to Iowa and “borrowed” a running Ford Escape. Louisiana is home to a distant relative. It was also far away from a mom who reminded him he is ill.
During his month in jail, I made more than 600 phone calls. Mental health advocates, the jail warden, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. After a month, I was tasked by the public defender to write a letter for the judge with the understanding if it got my son released, I would get him home, obtain a diagnosis, get him on medications. The jail made a mistake and released him three days later to the well-intentioned relative. He remains untreated, living in a house where there are weapons.
The Olympia police can’t help. The police in Louisiana say there is nothing they can do until he does something. The shoestring relative took my son target practicing the other day. I can’t fathom this. I can’t fathom my son hurting another human, pointing a weapon at a child, turning it on me?
I will not stay silent about mental illness in my family. I’ve warned mental health workers, police, strangers. Spun out, he changes both his appearance and his name. He thinks he can walk on water, quotes scripture and attaches superpowers to things such as light fixtures, water bottles and gemstones.
I don’t want to be the shooter’s mother. I don’t want someone’s child, pastor, husband, wife, teacher to die. All I can do is name it – mental illness – and know that every person knows someone touched by it. My wish is for people to educate themselves. Destigmatize it. Live with it. It’s not going anywhere.Patty Kinney is a writer/poet and lifelong Olympia area resident. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.