Contacted an old friend, turns out he's schizophrenic. Advice?

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Brett_H, May 7, 2003.

  1. Brett_H

    Brett_H Second Unit

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    All,

    I had a good friend in high school, and as has happened to a lot of us I'm sure, we lost touch during the college years. He originally went to school for architecture, but ended up switching his major to "glass as a medium" (glass blowing). This dove-tailed nicely with his new found love for the neo-hippy culture, so I guess I wasn't too surprised by it. I'm 28 now, and about 6-7 years have passed since I last spoke to him. The last conversation I ever had with him was a very odd, cryptic phone call from him late one night in which he told me "the feds" were after him and that he couldn't talk long. And from there he vanished.

    I'd thought about him from time to time, but never did anything about it until recently. For some reason, he'd been on my mind a lot these days, so I figured I'd get serious about tracking him down. I eventually managed to find his number, so last night I gave him a call.

    Here's where it gets odd. I realize that I had probably worked things up to be some great reunion in my mind, but I wasn't prepared for what happened. I called the number and a woman answered, turns out it was his mom. She remembered me and we exchanged pleasantries. We got to talking about what I was up to these days, how they were doing, yadda, yadda, yadda. She gave me his cell phone number, and then she added a little more info: she asked me if I was aware of the problems he'd gone through? I replied no, that it had been years since we'd spoke. Well, she informed me that he was diagnosed as schizophrenic (not sure when, didn't press it). Apparently, his school first noticed it and tried to get him to go on medication. He refused, so they told him to leave. From there, I'm not really sure what happened (more later) but at some point he moved back in with his parents and now she says he's on medication, working occasionally by blowing glass.

    The conversation ended, and I debated the idea of calling him. I felt very conflicted about it, like what would I say, how would he react, would I freak him out, etc. I had no idea what schizophrenia entailed, I just knew it was serious. I decided to go ahead and call him.

    He answered, and the conversation was rather odd, to say the least. He seemed very lackadaisical about the whole thing, he did remember who I was but didn't seem to excited to be hearing from me (which could be perfectly normal, I might be projecting my thoughts onto that a little). We talked for a little while, but the conversation was rather strained. He said that after school, he had spent some time in Canada and Oregon before moving home. All in all it was just an unsettling conversation, and we left it as he has my number and he'll call me back later this week or next. Oh, did I mention he said nothing during our conversation about the illness?

    At this point, I don't know how to feel. I finally got in touch with someone I'd missed for years, and it's heart breaking to hear that he's been suffering from a mental illness. Then again, what do I know? Maybe he wasn't suffering at all, maybe he was happy as can be... maybe his ho-hum attitude was caused by the meds? It's all very confusing for someone with no experience in this area.

    I guess what I'm asking is for a little insight from someone who might have gone through this before, someone who's had to deal with a schizophrenic friend, relative, etc. I know now from reading some that there are several variations of the disease, but I don't know what he's affected with. If I had to guess, I'd say he's a paranoid schizophrenic, just based on his last phone call to me where "the feds" were after him. I really do want to see him again, but the thought of bringing someone who is potentially mentally unstable into my life right now scares me.

    Thanks,
    -Brett.
     
  2. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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  3. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    As cold-hearted as Joe's advice sounds, I have to agree with him.

    I was close to someone who had a schizophrenic breakdown in my home many years ago. It was the worst day of my life.

    By chance, I bumped into her again on New Year's Eve a couple of years ago. We both pretended the incident never happened (I knew she was extremely ashamed and embarassed, which is completely understandable, but no excuse for her breaking off contact for so long), and for a few months it was a pleasant fantasy. Unfortunately, it couldn't last. The conflicting signals would have driven me crazy if I wasn't wise enough to walk away before things got worse.

    To be fair though, her illness may not have anything to do with it. But then again, how do you separate the person from the illness? It's not so cut-and-dry like they portray in Hollywood films or feel-good autobiographies by those who have successfully overcome their disease, whom I suspect are the minority. They make it seem so simple to deal with. To say it isn't is a major understatement.
     
  4. Brett_H

    Brett_H Second Unit

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    Joe,

    Thanks so much for your thoughts. One thing I should clear up:

     
  5. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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    joe really nailed this one. yup, i'd stay away too.

    i understand the desire to hook up with old friends...i have a friend i'd love to see again. but, as in your case, it's been many years already. it would be (at best) an awkward situation. now factor in your friend's condition and you're really in for a ride.

    treat this like water on a duck's back...
     
  6. Holadem

    Holadem Lead Actor

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    I agree with everything that was said so far. Don't bother.

    My experience is different, but I believe the lesson is the same. I was close for a couple of years to a clinically depressed person (never diagnosed, she wouldn't see a shrink) and it nearly destroyed me.

    Looking back now, it was easily the worse couple of years of my short existence.

    Do not bring that kind of trouble in your life if you can help it. A family member, yes. A friend I have not spoken with in 6-7 years, no thanks.

    --
    Holadem
     
  7. Josh Lowe

    Josh Lowe Screenwriter

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    My uncle (mom's brother) was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in the mid 1970s, around the same time I was born. I never knew him any other way. You have to understand one thing though - your friend has probably gone through some personality changes that are massive, to say the least. Not only does his illness cause those, so does the treatment. Depending on the severity of his illness the meds can vary from somewhat strong to mind-altering. And they often have side effects that lead to muted, almost tranquilized behavior. Some schizophrenics can't cope without those effects - the paranoia can be overwhelming. Fear that everyone is looking at them and/or talking about them. Imagining things, etc. Some people who are schizophrenic are so sick that they're dangerous to themselves and to others. Luckily, that's the exception and not the rule. A lot of schizophrenics are perfectly capable of living fulfilling lives, albeit with the assistance of forms of therapy and medication. Others are limited in what they can do and may require a support structure to take care of their basic needs, but can still function semi-independently. Others need constant care and can't really interact with society.

    My uncle, for example, had a lot of severe problems. He took some pretty heavy meds. Lithium, for one. Lots of others. His behavior would vary pretty widely from muted to a little scary. But over the past 20 years the medications have come a long way. He still lives under the care of my grandparents, but is able to do things on his own when he wants to. He finished his degree and plays golf. You have to understand, for someone as ill as he is, that's a big accomplishment. Hell, even getting in the car and going to McDonald's is a big accomplishment when you have the irrational fear of what might be waiting outside for you.

    As far as not discussing his illness when you spoke to him - it's my experience that people with mental illnesses often -really- don't want to discuss them. Sometimes, they won't even acknowledge that they have them. I don't think I've ever spoken once to my uncle about it, ever. I don't think he'd be comfortable with it.

    So I hope this can give you some more insight into your friend's condition. I hate to be grim and dramatic about it, but the person you were friends with in high school may be largely gone. And if he is not getting the appropriate treatment for his schizophrenia, that would worsen it as well.

    I don't know what to tell you about seeking further contact with him, other than to be understanding.

     
  8. Dheiner

    Dheiner Gazoo

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    Josh,

    I suspect this might be a chicken or the egg type thing.
     
  9. Michelle Schmid

    Michelle Schmid Stunt Coordinator

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    I agree with the others--stay away. Yes, it may be the meds making him lackadaisical, some of them do that. However, you do NOT want to know what he would be like without them.

    My sister was diagnosed as bi-polar a few years ago. They put her on some meds and I'm told she improved dramatically (I was living in another state at the time). Then the jackass she lives with told her she was nothing more than a junkie who couldn't live w/out her meds so now she refuses to take them. She functions normally in society, for the most part, but you never know what you may say that will set her off. It could even be a compliment. It is not pleasant, and has ruined many family gatherings. Huge kudos to her understanding boss of two years now (the longest she has ever held a job--and she's 33) who makes exceptions for her and lets her have a couple days off every few weeks when she goes off the deep end.
     
  10. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    Apparently, onset of schizophrenia often happens to people in their early twenties, and is not always triggered by drugs. Often, a stressful situation may be enough. Scientists think it is related to hormonal changes in the body. It seems schizophrenia is triggered at or around the end of puberty.

    Of course, there are many thousands of variables. Schizophrenia is probably a result of many different diseases, like how there are thousands of different flus with similar symptoms.
     
  11. Leila Dougan

    Leila Dougan Screenwriter

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    Just to make it clear in case it isn't. . .bipolar and schizophrenia are not anywhere near being the same disorders.
     
  12. Mark Fitzsimmons

    Mark Fitzsimmons Supporting Actor

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    Seems like Leila already cleared this up, but I was to add the a bipolar disorder (manic depression) and schizophrenia are completely different.

    And for Brett, I have a friend who is schizophrenic, if you would like to contact me I may be able to shed some light on this subject.

    Feel free to use AIM.
     
  13. Chris Souders

    Chris Souders Stunt Coordinator

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    Jeez,

    This conversation disgusts me.

    So, you call a guy you haven't heard from and haven't tried to call for years and you are let down because his mental illness scares you from letting him into your home with your family? What makes you think he is interested? Perhaps your first clue would be that he hasn't eagerly called you either.

    Secondly, why are you upset he didn't talk about being schizophrenic? Did you ask? Would you have told him about your most recent case of anal warts or STD or any other stigmatized disease? I'm sure his illness is not the topic he wants to bring up with 'old aquaintances'. He may be nonchalant about it. Maybe that is his meds working. Or maybe he is avoiding it because he knows you will be judgemental. Don't forget, most schizophrenics are very smart.

    And then, the people that have replied to you.

    What if he knew his friend had terminal cancer and a year to live. His friend didn't mention it in the phone call and this bothered him. Would you still tell him to stay clear? Ignore the guy? Forget it? The heartlessness displayed by the majority of you is disturbing.

    So, let's recap. Schizophrenia is a disease. Not somethind chosen. And likely not a result of any drugs he may have used. He should not be banished from your life for this sole reason. Life seperated you two and it wasn't important enough for either of you to work for your friendship then. So, drop it. Drop him. But do it for that reason, your IMHO ridiculous expectations, rather than your fear of his illness.

    Chris Souders
     
  14. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Cancer doesn't leave people subject to paranoia and delusions and potentially violent. Schizophrenia (which isn't really a single "disease" but a name given to a whole range of problems) does. Cancer also isn't a contagious and easily spread disease like SARS or typhoid, so I wouldn't support quarrantine for a cancer patient but I very well might for someone with one of the others. The mere fact that someone has a disease that isn't chosen doesn't mean that the person may not be a danger to others for one reason or another.

    And yes, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder are very different things - but people often confuse them and the warnings that apply to one can also apply to the other (especially since both encompass a wide range of symptoms and degrees of severity.) It ocurred to me as I was typing my earlier reply that the friend's problem might not have been reported with 100% clinical accuracy, since laymen not familiar with the two problems often confuse them, and that I should cover all bases in case further information came in that changed the description, but no my advice.

    Chris:

    Alcoholism is also claimed as a disease. Does that mean you should let your alcholic friend drive, as you would your friend with cancer, or that you'd let him watch your kids even though you knew there was a danger that he might pass out and leave them unattended? And that's an example of a disease in which there is a clear component of choice - nobody ever held a gun to an alcoholic's head and forced him/her to take that first drink of the day. There's an element of volition there. (Or as Chesterton said, "Show me the men who want to be consumptive equal to the number of men who want to be drunkards.") I'm a recovering alcholic and I've always been bothered by the disease model of the problem for precisely this reason. I never had a shotglass full of scotch or a mug of beer jump up for the bar and pour itself down my throat - not even once. [​IMG]

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  15. MickeS

    MickeS Producer

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    Chris Souders, I would just like to know if you have first-hand experience of schizophrenia? You are awfully quick to pass judgment on those in the thread who have had it, and advice Brett to not take up contact with this old friend.
     
  16. Allen_Appel

    Allen_Appel Second Unit

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    A friend I used to work with once contacted me wanting me to accompany him on a trip, helping with a new business he had started. He was strangely, almost beligerently insistent, but I begged off. He contacted me again later and when I returned the call (to what he said was his business office) the meek girl who answered the phone said she couldn't take a message for him since they weren't allowed sharp things like pencils. Don't deliberately invite crazy people into your life, Brett.
     
  17. Brett_H

    Brett_H Second Unit

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    Thanks for the replies, I'm without internet access at home so I had to wait until this morning to reply...

    Lots of advice here, and the resounding answer seems to be stay away. I didn't expect to call this guy up out of the blue 7 years later and be instant compadres. I was just looking to see what he' been up to, what he was doing with his life, let him know he was on my mind, and take it from there....

    Chris Souders:
     
  18. Brett_H

    Brett_H Second Unit

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    Yes, I'm replying to my own reply...

    I wanted to take another minute or two to personally thank all the other posters who have shared their own experiences with this subject. I'm sure it might be difficult for you to do so, but please know that you've helped open my eyes to what I might have been getting myself into, and you have made a difference.

    I know that I should now stay away from him. I think it was more just the curiosity of knowing what's going on with him than actually getting together that I was interested in. (as in, if I could just read a "where are they now" article on him, I'd have been satisfied with that.) Knowing what I know now about his situation, I'm just going to leave it alone. Thankfully, we're unlisted and all he has is our number, so there's no way for him to physically reach us.

    Again, I appreciate all the thoughts on this subject.

    And for Josh Lowe:
     
  19. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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  20. Chris Souders

    Chris Souders Stunt Coordinator

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    Hello,

    To respond...
    Joseph,
    I agree that some out of control schizophrenics can be dangerous. Other out of control ones are not. Some medicated in-control ones can be dangerous, and others not. I don't particularly recall anything which led us to believe this guy was or wasn't currently taking medications AND is or isn't violent when he is 'out of control' medically speaking. In addition, would you advocate staying away from diabetics and people with dementia (be it age, aids, alzheimers, multi-infarct). These are chronic conditions and the people that have them can be violent when 'unstable' whether from a blood sugar standpoint or disorientation. As to your alcoholism comments, I agree with you and consider it not truly a disease but an addiction (which somehow is something different in my mind). I'm not expert in that area as well.

    MickeS

    Well, I'm not schizophrenic it that's what you mean. My experiences are limited to a good friend in college who I didn't see for a couple days, then saw her standing on a table singing to God that next weekend when I went to work at the locked psychiatric floor at the hospital I used to work at. Additionally, my sister is diagnosed with bipolar, though I don't know that I agree with it. Additionally I've been to medical school and worked in an emergency room for 5 years now and have, on average, at least 5 out of control schizphrenics in a week's worth of shifts. Additionally, I've worked for EMS for 2 years and make responses in the field/streets to 911 calls. I've seen some schizophrenics this way as well. So, is that enough for ya? So, unless you've been very close to a schizophrenic or are a psychiatrist, I have at least as much experience in this area as you.

    Brett
    Him not bringing it up could have a thousand explanations. I think most importantly is that it's none of your business at this point in your relationship with him. If he wanted to become friends with you again, he should bring it up at some point. But, if he has no intention of it, why would he bring it up? What's he going to gloat about it? I don't get hanging on this point. You can presume the worst, that he's non-medicated and out of control and paranoid, but that might not be the case.

    Brett #2

    Well, ok, we all agree. He's a leper. Dont' touch a leper. Don't let him near my baby. We're all in agreement.
    We feel much better now. Yea. You have any friends with HIV/AIDS? This whole conversation sounds like talking about people with HIV 10 or 15 years ago.

    Ted

    Well, I agree with your point for the most part.


    Nevertheless, I'm not saying that Brett should put his newborn baby in the guy's care for a day. That's not wise. I am saying it is easy and ignorent to cut this guy out of his life completely (or at least to end the possibility of it) solely because of his mental illness. Meet the guy out for dinner, catch a movie, do something in public. Don't leave him in your house alone with a baby. It's all common sense things.

    Still not thrilled with the discussion,
    Chris Souders
     

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