My Mum, My Dad, My Advocate: Mental Health Affects Every Family

In My Story, Print Issues by Karen Thomas

As we bid “Good-bye” to the challenges of 2020, our hopes for a better year were high. Never did I anticipate 2021 bringing our family something more horrifying than the pandemic.

But things can change quickly: the dreaded phone call. Your gut tells you before a word is spoken… something is wrong. Your child needs you, but you’re thousands of miles away.

In early January 2021, we received an odd phone call from our son. Then another one, and another. Each progressively stranger. Something was off, and real details were scarce. We only knew something was terribly wrong. I booked our flight.

No time to plan. In a flurry, we threw items into our suitcases. Mine: three pair of pants, two blouses, two pairs of socks, my Sonicare toothbrush, but no toothpaste, no charger, and no makeup. Then we dashed to the airport, with mere minutes to board our flight before they closed the airplane door. Next, we were airborne.

For the next few hours, anxiety traveled with us. We were getting there as quickly as humanly possible, and yet it didn’t feel fast enough.

Once we arrived, a sliver of relief eased in as we saw our adult son, and he seemed physically okay. His friend was kind enough to drive to pick us up. Our son’s joy in seeing us was obvious and immediate. A round of hearty hugs— the relief of being able to touch him—such a blessing. For the first time in hours, we exhaled.

But, within a couple of minutes, I noticed our son’s demeanor change, as if his mind regressed to four- years-old and needed extra reassurances from his dad. I witnessed this a few times over the next couple of days and grappled to understand the behavior.

He seemed to be struggling to “keep it together” until we arrived, like his psyche had been waiting to relax. Once we were there, he knew he could unwind: a safe environment established, in case anything happened.

A loving family is special. The sound of a mother’s voice, a father’s touch, and the love of family provide soothing peace. It’s a safety net, where you know we—the family— will catch you if you fall.

As such a family, we were his advocates—discovering what happened, and working each day to keep him safe.

The next day, we worked the puzzle. What triggered this? We quickly learned the handling of COVID had much to do with it. From there, it spiraled.

In June of 2020, the CDC reported 40.9% of respondents conveyed they’d experienced at least one adverse mental or behavioral symptom related to the pandemic. That’s only a few months into the health crisis. By January 2021 I’m certain the statistics were much higher and probably underreported.

Different areas of the country handled the pandemic in a variety of ways and with various attitudes. Some areas tended toward a more fear-based mentality than others.

Additionally, the difficulty many have experienced while being forbidden to socialize has put an extraordinary burden on anyone needing a support network. Without a regular social system, a person can lose track of what “normal” is supposed to feel like.

He ultimately called his friend and asked for help: an extremely uncharacteristic request, so his friend dropped everything and went to stay with him.

Our son wrestled to keep it together—every thought, every gesture—as though his mind wrestled to make sense of the world and how he fit in it. It became like slogging through thick peanut butter. Every medication adjustment brought more challenges. We witnessed his condition worsening with every change—spiraling downward. We feared what he might do.

We mirrored his actions. He walked to the bathroom, we walked to the bathroom. He sat on the couch, we sat on the couch. Never knowing what was next, we did our best to move in sync with him. Our only job, keeping him safe, no matter what.

But in a flash, the unthinkable happened.

I’d turned for an instant, and five feet away, I heard a scuffle. I spun around to see his leg hanging over the 5th floor balcony railing. My husband had only a grasp of his t-shirt. I raced over and put myself between the rail and our son. I attempted pushing him back from the banister, but gradually, I felt my weight being pushed into the balcony rail, staring down five floors.

I screamed at him, “In the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus.”

It’s all I could think of. Suddenly, he turned his gaze and stared at me with the blankest expression I’ve ever seen. A vacant look—an empty vessel—wondering why I was screaming, “In the name of Jesus.”

My husband took his legs out from underneath him and tackled him to the floor, and I ran to call EMS. Blood everywhere. My husband held him tighter than you can imagine—knowing if he let loose, he would lose his only child.

He cried, “I’m not going to lose you. I love you. I love you. Son, I love you.”

Police arrived with EMS. They picked him up off the floor—a limp, ragdoll form—bewildered by the circumstances. They put him on a stretcher, wrapping him on a papoose board for his safety.

We followed to the hospital, but COVID restrictions meant we weren’t allowed inside. We couldn’t see him. We wept. As we waited, we observed multiple refrigeration trucks near the ER. They had to be excess morgue storage, a horrendous thought.

Our faith in God gave us hope and helped us pass the time while we waited for our son’s return. Twelve days later we picked up our sweet, 36-year-old son. Humbled, he seemed ready to reengage in life.

He came home to North Carolina with us. No longer would he be alone while the world attempted to figure out COVID. I put my functional medical detective skills to work, on his behalf.

We have more neurotransmitters in our gut than in our brain. For this reason, it’s imperative we veer from processed-food diets to whole-food diets. Feeding our body whole, nutritious foods is how we give it the good information it needs for healing and improved functioning.

I asked, “What had he been eating?” He was eating cereals, ladened with sugar. Not good. No wonder he was deteriorating.

Next, we ran detailed functional medicine blood work, which revealed very low levels of vitamin D, amongst several other issues. We needed a deeper investigation.

Next, came the pharmacogenomic test. This gives your doctor valuable information by looking at how your genes respond to and metabolize depression medications. It’s supplemental information within the framework of a comprehensive medical assessment. Who knew this existed?

My functional medicine nutritionist training changed how I think about healthcare and opened up a new wellness paradigm: one which allows me to discover root causes, rather than using the typical band-aid approach on symptoms.

Medications can be very important, but what if we also paired medication with the nutrition we take in three times a day? It can make the biggest difference in our overall health.

As my son’s advocate, I’m encouraged with how I can help him, not just as his mum, but as his functional medicine mum. I’m already uncovering his hidden issues. I’ll stop at nothing to get him the help he needs to live a healthy and happy life. We all have a renewed sense of hope.

Hug your children, your friends, and your family members because each day is a gift and we never know what lies ahead of us.