This is a true story with details changed. It is literally one of the thousands of stories we have heard at New Directions Support Group -- for People with Depression, Bipolar Disorder and their Loved Ones -- since our inception in 1986.
If there is a moral to the story, it is: “JUST SAY NO.”
“Josh,” now 26, first came to our group when he was 22. He was taking a hiatus from Syracuse University after a debilitating mania, followed by depression. His parents welcomed him back into their suburban home, thinking he would return to college when he was well.
It never happened.
Instead, he stayed home for three straight years, smoked pot and became a terror to his family. Occasionally he ventured out half-heartedly to look for a job or see friends from high school.
Josh was 17 when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He accepted the diagnosis and took his medicine faithfully.
But his personality began to change. This once likeable, popular teenager became nearly unrecognizable. Anger swept up from his depths. He began having conflicts with many people who crossed his path.
“Bipolar disorder is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” he fumed at his parents. “Why did this have to happen to me? My life is ruined.”
Indeed, it almost seemed that Josh was "willing" it to ruin his life.
As the oldest of two children, Josh began bullying his younger sister Laura. The two of them could not be in the same room without Josh physically blocking her way, “playfully” punching her arm or teasing her, telling her she was getting fat or that she was a slob.
Profanity coursed from his lips.
He treated his parents no better.
“Is this our Joshua? Is this my son?” his mother lamented.
Like any mother would, Adele asked herself, “What have we done, as parents, to cause our beloved son to turn out this way?”
She came up empty-handed.
There was one good quality about Josh that Adele thought might just “save” him. He loved gardens and wanted to become a landscape architect. He certainly had the brains for it, and the talent. It was just a question of his “sticking to it.”
Josh had finally stopped smoking pot, moved in with his grandmother and then found an apartment in Mount Airy.
He also found a job in a local garden shop.
Adele was ecstatic. At last, they were seeing progress. Josh seemed to be his old self again, cheerful, charming and optimistic.
Adele and her husband Barry even agreed to put him through Temple University Ambler’s Horticulture Program, at Josh’s request. He could pay them back later.
Maybe, just maybe, she thought, things will work out for him.
Since Josh had no income, she and Barry supported him. Every time they turned around, he was asking for more money. Not only for rent but for frivolous things like more clothes, a newer phone and laptop. His needs were endless and he was sucking them dry without compunction.
Soon Joshua began complaining about his job at the garden shop. “Everyone there is stupid, inept, disorganized. And no one likes me even though I’m the smartest one there.”
After three weeks, Josh had had enough. He quit.
Ditto for the next six jobs.
And now, his apartment lease was expiring.
“I want to come back and live at home,” he told his mother.
Adele went into a panic. Laura was home for the summer. They still could not be in the same room together. His behavior was downright abusive to his sister. Not to mention to his parents.
At this point, Adele came to a New Directions’ meeting and got excellent advice from our Family Member Group.
“Arrange for your son to get on disability,” said the group. “Let him have his own money and learn to how to manage it.”
Adele put it on her “to-do” list. A busy woman, she was vice-president of an engineering company owned by her husband. There was only so much she could do in a day.
By now, it was nearly futile for Adele and Barry to engage in a civil conversation with their son. If you didn’t “yes” him to death, he’d have a tantrum like a 2-year-old and storm out of the restaurant, which is where they usually met.
How could she ever break the news to him that she didn’t want him to return home to live? She feared his anger.
She also had insight into her son's condition. The young man was suffering terribly inside. He probably never had a moment's happiness. He could not face reality ("everyone else is to blame") or his own inability to grow up.
She had an idea how to present him with the idea he would not live at home this summer.
Joshua liked his therapist at the University of Pennsylvania. The therapist had a way of talking that was calming to Josh. He used a very soft voice that was non-threatening.
Occasionally Adele and Barry would attend sessions. The therapist was honest with Josh and often talked about his bullying his family.
In only a week, the three of them would see the therapist together.
In that safe environment Adele planned to tell Josh he would not be living with them this summer.
At last she was ready to save herself, her daughter and her marriage from the encroachments of her son, who would eventually have his own Social Security Disability check instead of taking advantage of the endless “cash cow” his parents had inadvertently become.
With the therapist they would halt the newest crisis. How tired Adele was of going from crisis to crisis. They would finally have the courage to break the “coming-home” cycle and say No.
She hoped her resolve would hold fast.
I told her she could do it and sent her an affirming email and also told her to write herself an affirmation note and put it in her wallet:
Joshua is my son and I love him dearly. However, I will not sacrifice myself, my husband, or my daughter for him. Three years was enough. He will not come back to live in my house.
But what of Josh’s future?
For now, Adele put that out of her mind. She concentrated on her job at the firm. A promising business opportunity presented itself in the Republic of Singapore.
They would fly out shortly after the landmark therapy appointment and immerse themselves in this new opportunity.
And hope for the best for their beloved son, Joshua.