Category Archives: My SuperStar

A Mentor, A Friend

One of the best things I have done for my son D. was persuade him to meet his future mentor. It was the push he needed to begin the journey back to himself (after months of hospitalization and drug abuse).

If I were to ask

What is a mentor?

Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)”. http://aas.sagepub.com/content/39/6/719.full.pdf+html

Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. However, true mentoring is more than just answering occasional questions or providing ad hoc help. It is about an ongoing relationship of learning, dialogue, and challenge.The person in receipt of mentorship may be referred to as a protégé (male), a protégée (female), an apprentice or, in recent years, a mentee.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentorship

There is a wide range of available mentoring programs. You can find mentors for students, teachers, people with disabilities, minorities, women, pregnant or parenting teens, foster care givers and recipients, prisoners, senior citizens etc.; there is professional mentoring, business mentoring, management mentoring, community mentoring, art-based mentoring …
http://www.mentoring.org/
http://www.asha.org/students/gatheringplace/MentBen/
http://www.mentors.ca/mentorprograms.html#RETIREDEXEC
http://www.management-mentors.com/

So, about one and a half years ago, D. was using drugs (https://heilablog.com/2014/01/10/group-therapy-contact-outside-the-group-meetings/) He floated in a brainpower-dimming haze, oblivious of his surroundings and totally neglecting himself. It was near impossible to communicate with him. As soon as he was halfway sober he’d rush to get the next smoke.

I had to find someone who could reach D. and help him get out of his isolation.
And, I needed to find a way to get my son to agree to meet this someone.

One of D.’s favorite pastimes and the only thing he did even when he was on drugs was play backgammon. Backgammon, the magic word! The call was for a mentor who likes playing backgammon. And who plays well!

I found Yaron. Yaron, 53, was so relaxed (and handsome! I wouldn’t have thought twice if he’d offered me his services … 😉 ) and obviously experienced with problematic youngsters and mental health issues. Yaron was not shocked by D.’s dirty appearance. At their second meeting he simply asked D. to change the shirt he hadn’t taken off since the last time they had met.

In the beginning of their mentor-mentee relationship D. and Yaron would meet in our place once a week for about an hour (later on they spent more time together) and play backgammon!  Sometimes Yaron would take D. out to eat or to some other place. And they communicated! Yaron was a magician! I was not present at their meetups so I don’t know how he did it. I just saw the gradual change in my son, his opening up and the fact that after some time he no longer waited for Yaron to call him but called him himself to fix a day for their next meeting. He wanted to see Yaron!

About two months into their acquaintance D. quit the drugs. He says that it was thanks to his ex-girlfriend who told him that he had turned into an aimless drugged bummer with no aspirations in life, words that shook him to the core. I have no doubt that Yaron deserves a fair share of the credit for my son’s decision to give up drugs.

Yaron became one of the most important people in my son’s life and, according to D., one of the few truly intelligent people he ever met (Today they talk philosophy…). Yaron even found D. a job.

To a certain degree Yaron also became a father substitute. (The last time D.’s real father felt the need to see his son was about two and a half years ago, when he visited him ONCE during the several months of D.’s hospitalization. Since then, their relationship consisted only of phone conversations. Until recently, when my son asked his dad whether he didn’t miss him and didn’t long to see him. The answer this emotional cripple gave his son was: “I don’t understand why a [young] person needs to see his father.”!

Since then, D. says he has no father. )

In Israel, psychiatric and psychosocial rehabilitation services funded by the Ministry of Health include mentor services. However, to be eligible for these services an applicant has to be free of drug use for at least six months prior to receiving the service. So in the case of my son, I had to pay for the mentor service out of my own pocket for over a year.

It was worth the sacrifice and I am so happy I did it!

Group Therapy – Contact Outside the Group Meetings?

I love support groups and group therapy.

They offer so many benefits:

  • A feeling of togetherness with people sharing similar problems;
  • Learning from the experience of others and from the way they cope;
  • Learning to overcome your fear of talking openly about yourself (which can be extremely relieving);
  • Experiencing that you too have something positive to give to others;
  • Receiving feedback from others, including the group leader (in all the groups I participated in, this was either a social worker or a psychologist), which can help you grow, strengthen your self-confidence and your ability to cope;
  • Improving social and interpersonal skills as a result from the interaction with the group members. This can include having to deal with people you don’t sympathize with and with being exposed to criticism (whether that is based on valid evidence, or on a personal issue of the critic – either way you can learn from it, especially if the other group members voice their opinion).
  • Receiving additional information about treatments, relevant events & activities, etc.
Group Therapy (http://blogs.voanews.com/photos/2012/03/08/march-8-2012/#photo_9)
Group Therapy (http://blogs.voanews.com/photos/2012/03/08/march-8-2012/#photo_9)

Two support groups helped me function and stay sane during the bitter times of my son D.’s involuntary hospitalization, and the subsequent phase of his drug abuse. Divorced, having to work full-time, and without family in the country – I had to cope with my only son suffering from schizophrenia and smoking synthetic marijuana – a toxic drug with psychoactive effects: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/spice-synthetic-marijuana

http://www.drugs.com/synthetic-marijuana.html.

As if someone suffering from schizophrenia needed more madness!

This hellish substance completely detached D. from reality and messed up his senses: He would smoke in his bed and stub out the cigarettes on the bed sheet; he probably wouldn’t even have noticed the first flames if the bed had caught fire. (We still have souvenirs from that glorious time: shirts, sweatshirts, and bed sheets decorated with brown framed holes.) He would vomit a lot, didn’t shower, and his room was a pig sty. Speaking to him was pointless, the words didn’t reach him – it was like there was nobody home in his brain.

One stormy wet night D. left the house at around eight in the evening and didn’t return.  Worried sick, I called the police after a few hours and asked them to search for him. They did a thorough job, but could not find him. Despite the tranquilizers I had taken I could not sleep. I pictured my son lying somewhere outside, wet and shivering, unconscious and dying of an overdose. (Just remembering this brings back the feeling of then…)

At five in the morning D. finally turned up, soaked from head to toe and water dripping from his clothes. His eyes were red and small, open but as if asleep. He was hardly able to utter an understandable word. Totally stoned, he had wandered around for about eight (8!!) hours, not able to find his home!

But those times are history. D. has returned to being his intelligent, philosophic, and very sensitive self, fighting his illness (and sometimes me as well – it’s not easy) with all his might.

And I’m in a new group, a therapy group (Free of charge – Hey, who says the Israeli healthcare system is all bad? [Israelis!]).

The group is great, but much to my chagrin, one rule is that the group members are not allowed to have private contact with one another outside the sessions. I don’t see the benefits of this rule and neither do most of the other participants. On the contrary, I think (therapy, support or other) groups can be an excellent place to meet new people and build meaningful relationships (as I have done with people from previous groups), because within this special framework you get to know the other very closely, with his problems, which is an ideal basis for any kind of deeper relationship. What do you think?

 

A Big Colorful Smile from Nature for Me

This Hibiscus flower looked right into my face when I came home today. How could I not smile back!

A big colorful smile just for me 2

I, the hyper-energetic Gemini, am exhausted.

I really don’t expect life to be a walk in the park, but fuck, I do long for some peace of mind once in a while! I want to lay (lie) back, read, daydream, go swimming in the desert (see photo), enjoy delicious cuisine without having to cook (I HATE cooking but I LOVE eating…) or clean up … and take a break from the stress of walking on a tightrope just to survive, not for the fun of it.

Photo credit: http://goisrael.about.com/od/BudgetandLuxuryIsrael/ss/Israels-Sexiest-Hotel-Pools_5.htm
Photo credit: http://goisrael.about.com/od/BudgetandLuxuryIsrael/ss/Israels-Sexiest-Hotel-Pools_5.htm

My son’s psychotic & obsessive compulsions are getting worse by the day. I don’t have the patience to elaborate on how that affects our everyday life. I’ll just say this much: The crazy bastard in D.’s brain is turning my wonderful and so intelligent, good-natured and sensitive son once again into a helpless, panic-ridden and even aggressive bundle of nerves, obsessed with controlling everything while completely losing control.

I have to keep my cool. Next week another meeting with his psychiatrist. And my therapy group tomorrow morning, which I’m really looking forward to. And the sun will probably shine. So things could be worse… And they will get better. Because we are working on it.

Stigma is (for the) Stupid

“All societies will always stigmatize some conditions and some behaviors because doing so provides for group solidarity by delineating “outsiders” from “insiders”. – Sociologist Gerhard Falk. (Wikipedia)

Gecko on D.'s hand.
Gecko on D.’s hand.

My son has schizophrenia, so we will most probably have experience in dealing with stigma, you might think. Well, no, not really. When I take a few minutes to think back and relive the stretch of time that began with the day we received the diagnosis, and started telling the whole world about it, I find myself realizing that stigma has never really played a role in our lives.

Even if most of us know what stigma is, let me just share this very good definition that I learned in the Coursera course ‘The Social Context of Mental Health and Illness’:

Stigma is a combination of:

  1. Ignorance – Lack of knowledge,
  2. Prejudice – A problem of attitude, and
  3. Discrimination – A problem of behavior.

 Let’s have a look at these points.

Ignorance and Prejudice – I don’t think someone can be blamed for being uninformed about an illness he/she never had anything to do with. Before my son D. (who is highly intelligent and has a kind nature) was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I had a completely wrong picture of the illness. I thought that those suffering from it were unpredictable, strange weirdos with a split personality, an IQ far below average, and a tendency to violence. I had prejudice. I prejudged people with schizophrenia and had a negative attitude toward them, due to my lack of knowledge about the illness.

I think most of us have some prejudice.

For instance, what is your spontaneous reaction when you think of people who complete their studies with distinction and others who complete without distinction? Mine is, wow, those receiving ‘with distinction’ must be very gifted, more so than those who do not qualify for the distinction. Only when I ponder and become aware of the many possible reasons for a student not graduating with distinction, I realize that intelligence might not be one of them. Rather, personal circumstances, illness, language difficulties, having to take care of younger siblings or sick parents, etc. etc. may have rendered studying and concentrating especially difficult for that student.

 Discrimination – Having prejudice does not automatically mean acting in a discriminating manner.

The way someone behaves toward the object of his prejudice or misconception I think is greatly the result of the norms and values that prevailed in the environment this person grew up in, and how he or she was brought up to handle situations and treat people who deviate from these norms.

Back to the example of my own prejudice in regard to schizophrenia: In the beginning of D.’s stay in a mental hospital he was in a closed (I hate using the word ‘secure’ in this context) ward. I must admit that I was quite (negatively) overwhelmed when I first saw the other patients there. Mostly young people, some behaving strangely, completely aloof and seemingly not connected to their surroundings, some murmuring and mumbling to themselves, making faces or just staring into the void, others obviously depressed and extremely sad, and some even aggressive and loud. Visiting my oh so ‘normal’ son in this crazy surrounding nearly every day, I came to know the patients on a more personal level. My honest curiosity and interest, combined with a kind word here and a smile there, moved them to open up to me. Believe me, some of the life stories I got to hear were anything but amusing. An entire new world of mental and emotional settings revealed itself to me, both extremely sad and also very fascinating. Gradually, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder, eating disorders, post trauma etc.  became a part of my thoughts and my life.

My son D. asked me to get him the best books about psychiatry and mental illnesses and disorders. He became absorbed with the subject and eventually helped the medical staff diagnose him. D. speaks openly about his illness. To a certain extent, he is even proud of being special. And we joke around. I sometimes call him my smart psycho son. In return he gives me a cheeky grin and says ‘Well, I obviously inherited my craziness from you.’

 Beyond the forces that govern us such as instincts, likes and dislikes, illnesses and other elements within ourselves and in our environment that we cannot influence too much, most of us do have a certain amount of freedom to choose. We have the freedom to think, to learn and to make changes; the freedom to decide to react in one way and not the other; the freedom to explain and help others understand, and the freedom to talk and let it all out. I am convinced that the extent of how much stigma influences our life depends considerably on how we perceive ourselves and our disabilities. By showing the environment that you accept yourself the way you are and have no problem talking about your strengths, weaknesses and disabilities, you minimize your vulnerability to criticism or ridicule. I mean, hey, if you openly say you have schizophrenia, the idiot who will still find it attractive to call you a psycho will look like the loony himself.

AND, the more we all openly talk about our disorders and get people to become aware of them, the more we contribute to reducing stigma. It is a snowball effect.

 I am a volunteer with the Israeli Association for Mental Health. Together with several other relatives of people with mental health issues we are a group that helps organize and come up with ideas for the various events & activities the association offers.

We are now independently starting a new project to fight stigma in the media here in Israel. If you have experience or ideas I’ll be happy to hear and get inspired, no matter where in the world you are located.

Thanks!  Heila

3. Surfacing before Drowning

I am lucky. And, I am grateful. I have been blessed with a second chance to be a good mother to my son and make up for some of the shortcomings in my “first round”.

I am a biologically well-programmed healthy mammal and as such my maternal instincts to protect my offspring were activated the moment D., my son, was born. I turned into a You-mess-with-my-baby-I’ll-mess-you-up (honey) badger mom that would have jumped at anyone who came too close to him.  Why badger mom? D. loves badgers (and so do I), the common badger for its chubby-charming-clumsy appearance and the honey badger for its fearless audacity.

But there is more to being a parent than just protecting your child from harm.

Being a good parent means being the type of person you want your kids to become, in other words, setting an example. If you are positive, stable and handle problems in a mature way, that’s what your child will see and learn and do. Discipline and clear limits provide stability, security and the tools to become an independent individual.

I was one of those parents who would have definitely needed a parenting course.

I mean think of it, even a cashier in a supermarket has to go through more schooling than a parent (to-be) who has to master the most challenging and responsible project of all, Raising a Child, i.e. molding a soft and easily deformable mass of cells, nerves, flesh, blood, bones, feelings, senses, and physical & emotional needs into a content grown-up who knows how to cope with life.

Here is some valuable advice on the subject:

http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1763#1

The first months after D.’s father and I separated and I moved out with my 2-year-old son were tough. I felt lost and lonely. I remember myself often gazing at the warm homey light coming out of other people’s windows in the evenings and a hurting envy would overcome me. It seemed like everywhere I looked there were only happy couples and harmonious families.

It took a while until the pain faded. And then I realized: Hey, I am free! Well not really. But YES, I was.

My new life was an exciting struggle, mainly with my unstable and irrational self. Adrenalin rushes fuelled me and my child was in the middle, between me and myself. I loved and love D. more than anything in the world and I wanted to be the best of mothers, but often I stood in my own way. I felt the need to break free. I had days with extreme highs and then there were the downs. Not an ideal setting for bringing up a child.

When I (uneasily) ask D. today what he remembers of his childhood, the only negative things he comes up with is that he was sad we didn’t have cable TV and that kids in school would tease him; bad enough that I didn’t know about the teasing at the time, but not as bad as what I had expected to hear. He does also remember good things, like the trips we made together, the places I took him when he was crazy about birds, knowing many of their names in Hebrew, English and German… and a few more nice things he does recollect …

All along my son was suffering from OCD at different severity levels and he received various treatments, some effective others less.

Shortly before being drafted D. tried various types of “light” drugs, nothing that really worried me because I did not see any extreme effects on him. Until one night when he came into my room in panic, his heart was racing and pounding strongly and we were both frightened. It was the effect of cocaine. While I tried to convince him that we should go to the hospital, his heartbeat returned to near-normal. From then on he lived in hysteric concern for his heart. He no longer touched any drugs or medication, not even regular painkillers. He stopped smoking and drank only caffeine-free drinks and no alcohol.

Despite his OCD and the various treatments he had received my son was drafted. The army asked for his medical records, so they knew about his psychiatric history. D. wanted to join the army. Obviously he didn’t serve in a combat unit, but still, being a soldier meant having to obey rules and orders and being punished if not. The fear of coming late and thus sometimes not sleeping several nights in a row, and the stress of constantly being concerned with hiding the symptoms of his disorder took their toll on D. Eventually, he couldn’t bear it any longer and asked to leave the army. The IDF wasn’t going to take any chances and released him immediately.

D. had served for nearly two years (in Israel the duration of basic military service for men is three years), which I think deserves respect, considering his background. He says today that the time in the army was the happiest of his life.

After his release from the army D. spent a few months at home not really doing anything. He wanted to “relax” for a few months. In these short months his problems intensified extremely and reached a point where life became unbearable, both for him and for me. He had visions of himself torturing others and he heard voices, which he tried to drive away loudly in the middle of the night. He spent hours washing himself and sometimes, exhausted of washing and washing and washing, he would just sit on his bed with disposable gloves on his hands so as not to touch anything since everything around him was dirty and full of supernatural powers. He would throw clean clothes to the dirty laundry, just because they had accidentally touched something “impure”; he gave me orders which things not to touch because they were “infected”, which was about everything! I felt like a prisoner in my own home. But poor D. was a slave of his irrational mind and that was far worse. He would knock his head on the wall and break furniture, in despair, and say he couldn’t bear it any more. He cut lines in his skin with a knife, to punish himself. We were no longer merely dealing with OCD here:  https://heilablog.com/home/ .

And still he was not willing to take medication out of fear for his heart.

I saw only one solution: I had to get my son into a psychiatric hospital (Luckily we have the best in the whole country right around the corner) and because he wasn’t willing to be hospitalized voluntarily, I needed to find a way to force him. It was a very painful road I had to take and while I am writing these lines I feel a lump in my throat.

I involved the district psychiatrist, the police, and the court. Thanks to a dear and very determined friend who stood by me all along, holding my hands when I couldn’t control the shaking, and thinking for me when my mind just couldn’t focus, I managed to get through those hard times in one piece.

And we made it: D. was hospitalized by court order.

Of course in the beginning my son was mad at me, upset, scared and felt shitty. I visited him nearly every day, brought him what he asked for and tried to convince him that this was finally his chance to get better and lead a normal happy life. And I hugged him. As soon as he let me.

The medical staff didn’t want to force D. to take medication. They gave him time. Time which they also needed to establish a correct and comprehensive diagnosis. Then, after more than a month, D. had to either agree to take the pills or he would receive medication via injection, by force if necessary. He felt so bad and frightened to death, literally. This was when his former IPEC therapist came to visit him at the hospital and calmed him down, and convinced him that taking medication will not do any harm to his heart.

D. agreed to take the pills. Another hurdle was overcome.

There are many types of psychiatric and anti-psychotic medicines and finding the right one or the balanced combination of several different products, and adjusting the dose to best suit an individual patient in regard to optimum effectiveness and minimum side effects can be quite a lengthy trial-and-error process.

To be continued…

2. Judo – Skydiving – Accident

Skydive 5
That’s me alright. Nearly 15 years ago.

Skydive 4

D.’s judo teacher Gal* lost his life on a Saturday morning, on his way to doing what he loved second most: skydiving. The light aircraft that was to take him and his younger brother (who was a judoka as well and skydived together with Gal) to the jump altitude crashed into a cliff. Gal was gone immediately, his brother died shortly afterwards in the hospital.

Their parents lost three of four sons (the youngest had drowned a few years earlier).

This happened when D. was ten. He loved the judo classes and Gal was the perfect teacher: He was young, in his mid twenties, and he had this cool way of instilling a sense of discipline and competitiveness into the kids while at the same time turning each judo lesson into an hour of sheer fun. Yes, Gal was special. He was twelve years younger than me and yet so much more mature. We had developed an immense closeness. He even succeeded in convincing me to do a tandem skydive jump.

Nearly each time I came to bring D. to the judo lesson Gal would show me photos of his latest jumps and flood me with enthusiastic verbal illustrations.

Listen, it’s not dangerous and you will love it, he would say.

I: NEVER. Nothing in the world will get me to jump out of a plane several kilometers above the ground!

Slowly but surely however, my I-will-never-do-that attitude began to dissolve, making way for an intrigued curiosity. Maybe I should…

How many people got killed skydiving I asked Gal the next time I saw him.

In Israel, none.

(So far.)

Eventually, I succumbed to Gal’s tantalizing descriptions and his enthusiasm, and accompanied him and his brother on a Saturday morning (Saturday is our Sunday and it was his skydiving day) to the Sky Club (Paradive today), forty-five minutes north of Tel-Aviv. Gal and his brother prepared their equipment and put on their outfit. I was helped into my suit and then I went through the preparatory exercises with the instructor. We then all (six or seven people) waited for our turn to board the small plane that would take us up to the four-kilometer jump altitude.

During the twenty-minute ascent I was sitting on the lap of my tandem instructor and jump partner, a stranger with whom I was going to share the freakiest minutes of my life.

Then the plane slowed down and the bustle of the other divers that were preparing to get out made me even more nervous than I was already anyway.

Suddenly I said NO, I’m not going to jump.

I nearly fainted when I saw the depth outside. The earth was so far away!

But my instructor ignored my words – I was probably not the first one trying to chicken out when the time to jump had come. He went over the safety instructions again and then we jumped. I couldn’t do anything about it – I was fastened to him and he gave me a small push and out we were.

OMG! It was horrific at first. At a free fall speed of 200km/h I felt the air pushing up my nose and I could hardly breathe. Everything happened so quickly. Gal jumped right after us and I managed to see him and the others wave and grin at each other, their faces somewhat distorted by the force of the wind and the resistance of the air that seemed to push and pull their skin into all directions. Then, my partner from whom I was hanging suspended, face down, attached to him only by easily detachable fasteners, pulled the rope to open the parachute.

A sudden strong jolt pulled us upward, and then nothing, the great calm. Incredible, I don’t have the words to describe this. An exhilarating yet indescribably peaceful state of hovering above the sea – we had jumped out of the plane over the ocean, close to the shoreline. Breathtaking. Electrifying. Do you know the feeling when you’re sitting in an airplane that just lifted off and while still ascending you can clearly see the houses, the cars, the mountains, and the sea below? Now imagine the same, but with you being outside of the plane, slowly swaying through the air above the deep, dark blue water with the many tiny ripples sparkling in the sunlight. You feel the pleasant wind around your face and body, and have the almost tangible scent of salt water in your nose.

And then the descent accelerated.
Hey, I don’t want to land in the ocean.

But my coach navigated us safely back to land. A soft thud and a slightly rough touchdown and we had the ground back under our feet; all bones intact, nothing broken.

I walked like on clouds. I was still in heaven.

****

The day Gal was killed D.’s father called me:
Did you hear about the accident at the skydiving center, Gal is there today isn’t he? I immediately tried to call Gal on his mobile, but he didn’t answer. As I found out later when details of the accident began to emerge, he had already been dead when I called.

The next day the newspapers were filled with photos and reports on the accident. It was a tragedy, two brothers dying together; and the first fatal accident related to skydiving in Israel. The pilot of the plane, and if I remember well, another skydiver were also killed in the accident.

Thank you Gal. Whatever is left of your body down there in the ground, your spirit will always be with me and I love you for all the excitement you brought to my life.

In the weeks that followed the accident I spent more money on wine than I did on food.

D. continued taking judo classes for a few more weeks, being taught by a fellow judoka of Gal, but then he quit judo.

——————————————————————————

* I changed his name.

1. In the Beginning

I love geckos and there are two clans of them in my room. They come out at night and party, making those rubbery clicking sounds and feasting on flies, baby cockroaches and other creepy crawlers
I love geckos and there are two clans of them in my room. They come out at night and party, making those rubbery clicking sounds and feasting on flies, baby cockroaches and other creepy crawlers.

D. was born in Jerusalem, nearly 24 years ago.
He was an extremely sweet baby that developed normally.
From the age of three months he slept through the night.
I breastfed him for five months (tensions at home probably contributed to the fact that my body then stopped producing milk).
He loved drinking water, so I never needed to bribe him into drinking with sweetened liquids.
Hearing two spoken languages from the beginning, my German and his dad’s Hebrew, may have slightly delayed the development of his first spoken words. But once he started speaking, he didn’t stop. 🙂

Then there was the First Gulf War. Israel was under persistent missile attack from Iraq and everyday life was upside down. It was a stressful time and in the beginning I was in a constant state of panic, making it hard for me to relate to my child in a calm and comforting manner.  I don’t think I actually neglected him, but he certainly must have felt my fear. Eventually, we made it through those crazy months unharmed. Unharmed, but not unaffected, at least as far as I was concerned. For the next two or three years, any siren, like the one sounded on the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day or in home-front exercises, made me jump and my insides tighten in a mini panic reaction. My son however, didn’t display any post-war symptoms and altogether life was back to normal quite fast.

Shortly after the end of the Gulf War, early 1991, my husband – D.’s father – and I decided to separate. It was not a surprising thing, just the logical development of what had begun five (or six) years earlier as an infatuation, a flame and continued with a great deal of spikes, sparks and spits, only to culminate in the finale of a relationship between two people who actually never had a real bond going on between them.

 The day I moved out with my not-even-two-year-old son I had hired a young man to help me move our few belongings to the new place two streets further down. He had a big car and occasionally did such transportation jobs to earn a little extra money. I remember when I sat in the back of his car; there was a bunch of flowers wrapped in colored cellophane lying on the back seat. He saw me staring at the flowers and explained: “These are for my wife; it’s our wedding anniversary today.” Ouch, that was like a sharp blade straight into my hurting heart! I struggled not to burst out in tears, but eventually I couldn’t hold them back. I was soaked in sadness and filled-up with alcohol most of that day. I know that my environment did not perceive me as being drunk, and I actually don’t remember myself feeling hammered either. Life was just a little more bearable with a boozed brain. I did have a surprisingly high tolerance for alcohol in those tumultuous days, a phenomenon I was to experience in numerous extreme situations that life had in store for me in the next few years.

D. was in kindergarten that morning and when I picked him up I took him to the new place instead of to our home where we had lived together as a family, with his dad. I don’t recall how D. reacted to the new situation and in the days that followed our move. It really seems like parts of my memory are simply erased.

As it goes with life, we adapted and the new place turned into home. During the day I was at work and D. in kindergarten. We made new friends in the building and D.’s dad took him regularly to spend time with him. This killed me at first, but after a few months I started enjoying my hours and weekends “off”.

D.’s first signs of OCD appeared when he was about three or four. A coin fell from his hand to the ground and he didn’t want to pick it up. When I asked him to get it he said: “No, it’s dirty.” Now this might have been a normal response from a child who, like in most families, is told not to eat something picked up from the dirty floor before washing it. But there was more to his reaction.

Again, I really don’t remember the actual day-by-day development of D.’s OCD or schizophrenia and the behaviors he displayed then. I just recall bits and pieces, parts of the incomplete puzzle of the first decade of D.’s life.

I recently found a letter from a child psychiatrist when sorting out some old papers. There are less pieces missing in my recollection of D.’s second decade of life, and the time leading up to and surrounding his hospitalization is clear as a crystal in my mind, with all details painfully present and sharp.