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When 'My Other Son' Spoke to His Voices Instead of Us

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I first met Stephen when he was 16 after my son, Josh, brought him home. They went to high school together. Stephen became, without any effort at all, “my other son.” 

He began to eat meals at our home and became a constant fixture at our house. Suffice to say, I love him dearly. That he was a bit odd was a given. He was also funny, intelligent, and very outgoing. And after all, he was a teenager and trying, as my son was, to find himself.

But there came a day when I could no longer ignore the fact the he absolutely refused to eat at home. I sat him down, face to face, and asked him why. 

He told me calmly and without a blink of an eye that he thought his parents were trying to poison him. Upset, I tried to convince him otherwise, but it did no good. He believed what he believed… period. 

He refused to eat anything that he had not bought and opened himself. That was the beginning. When Stephen was 17, he went to a concert and to this day, no one, not even my son, who is his closest friend, knows what happened because Stephen has never spoken of it, at least not to us. But something did happen and Stephen was forever changed. He became reclusive to the point that he refused to leave the house at all or stay in contact with any of his friends. 

The daily visits to our house stopped and Josh, concerned and worried, tried to help by visiting and talking to find out what had occurred that had caused such a devastating change in his best friend.

But Stephen wasn’t talking… at least not to Josh. He was speaking… to the voices in his head. In his early 20s, Stephen was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

As the years have gone by, his condition has deteriorated because Stephen refuses to take his medication off and on due to the side effects. The last time I saw Stephen, which was a few years ago, his mother had come to bring him for a visit. As I stood off at a distance speaking with his mother about his condition, which was worsening, I happened to glance up, concerned that he might overhear.

As I looked over and my eyes met his, I watched his lips as they silently moved while he whispered to the voices in his head that no one else could hear. I knew that while his body may have been there, his mind was a million miles away. I went over and hugged him and looking into his eyes. I told him how very much I loved him.

I told him to always remember I was there for him and to never forget if he needed me, to call or get in touch with me any way he could. I hoped and I prayed he heard me.

After they had gone, I went inside and sat down and wept… for “my other son,” Stephen, who had somehow gotten lost in a foreign land with no means to get back. Stephen continues to live with his mother. Please be compassionate and remember that mental illness takes no prisoners. It could be your family, your best friend or it could be you.

Getty image via francescoch

Originally published: October 22, 2021
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