The residential care facility fades from the rearview mirror. My 24-year-old son, sitting in the passenger seat, turns to me. With a straight face, he says, “If I would have known hitting someone would free me, Pam-e-la, I would have manned up and hit someone long ago. I knew I was being a pussy.”
And then the laughter rolls. Just like that, the uninvited guests show up for the ride. There isn’t enough room for all of us in this two-door Jeep.
Mika’s hysterical cackling doesn’t make sense to me. I try to pretend that I don’t hear it, that he doesn’t scare me. I am a warrior mommy, after all. But my knees are bruised from praying—heal me, heal him, heal my guilt.
"That place is nuts. The animals talking through the TV was too much," he says with eyes wide and rolling. With disgust, Mika tells me how he could feel his roommate’s breath on his body, on his genitals from the across the room. "That dude had it coming. I had to hit him,” he says. “I couldn’t take one more night in that place.”
More stories follow. I’m not sure where one ends and another begins; what’s true and what’s a delusion.
Since Mika is legally an adult, I had to get a court order to have him involuntarily committed for treatment in the first place. He’d get a little better, then relapse.
This time around, Mika had been acting odd for more than eight months. His doctor tried to adjust his medication and gave him lithium. It reacted badly with the other drugs in his system and he was hospitalized.
After returning to residential treatment, his delusions got worse but only I noticed. I couldn’t convince the doctor that’s what was going on. I was told to accept Mika the way he is.
Next thing I know, I’m picking him up after he had been refusing medication for more than five weeks, put in jail for attacking his roommate and dismissed from the facility. Once again, I had to petition the court to order him to the hospital. Then wait and see if the doctor would hold him there until he could get reevaluated and placed in another facility.
In the meantime, he had nowhere to go but home with me. I had hoped this temporary arrangement would provide a little peace, but no one is sleeping tonight.
Mika won’t stop pacing around the house, talking to the uninvited guests. All day and all night, the conversations continue. Mika argues with himself. He thinks he’s talking to God and Satan. He thinks he’s a famous rapper, and that I’ve stolen $83 million from him and that’s why I’m keeping him in a facility. He’s angry at me and my husband, Rudy.
We’re afraid to go to bed.
About five or six years ago, before we knew the name of his disease, I kicked Mika out of the house. He’d been stealing from us and pawning TVs, computers, cameras, video recorders—anything of value. We thought he was using the money for drugs.
He’d be gone for days at a time. Then he’d suddenly show up. Once, he kicked in the front door to get in the house. Another time he broke out a window. He would try to take over the whole house. He weighed 350 pounds. He was strong, reckless and unpredictable – and he scared us.
Rudy couldn't take it anymore. I could feel him pulling away. I took the tough love approach with my teenage son. I told him to get out. He went to live on the streets.
But I remained his mother. I always wondered what he was doing, where he was staying. I’d often see him outside the library. I started dropping off backpacks filled with bottled water, dry socks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
One day at work, I got some text messages from him, claiming that he was being held hostage and forced to break into houses. Hours later, I found him—cold, coughing and beat up—in a park porta-potty at 3 a.m.
There were more sleepless nights that year. Something wasn’t right. I feared it would come down to losing my husband or saving my son.
In one last-ditch effort, I got Mika a job at Tyson and rented a room for him in Dakota City. But instead of going home after work, he slept in the locker room, on the cement floor. Shortly after that, he started taking taxis around town, but he couldn’t pay the drivers. They’d put him in jail. No matter what we did to help, he’d always end up losing all of his clothes and possessions.
I should have known he wasn’t well.
Mika wasn’t just a manipulative, spoiled child, tripping on drugs. He was developing paranoid schizophrenia. But he was good at hiding it. He didn’t want to believe he was mentally ill. Couldn’t, actually.
Lack of insight affects about half of the people living with schizophrenia, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why people who have it do not take their medication. They’re not in denial of the disease; they’re incapable of seeing it.
As his mother, I could drown in a sea of hopelessness, trying to save him. But above all else, I choose love. For Mika and myself.
Of course, it’s not easy living between sacrifice and self-care.
Last year, when I was forced to take my grown son home from the residential care facility, our lives descended into chaos again.
The pacing wouldn’t stop. The laughter. The uninvited guests. I was paralyzed by fear after Mika excitedly asked, “How would you spend your final moments if God said you only had 30 minutes left to live?”
He started calling me Pamela again. Not mom. Pam-e-la with every syllable exaggerated.
After 48 hours and no sleep, I barricaded my bedroom door with a chair and several plastic tubs full of clothes and stuff we don’t use. He shoved the door open anyway, just far enough to see me jolt from bed. And just like that, he didn’t trust me, again.
No matter what I do, his paranoid schizophrenia won’t go away and neither will its challenges.
This is a situation that calls for honey. Slow and sweet while navigating the sticky, I try to move through it all like honey.
Today, Mika lives in another group home and works for a commercial cleaning company. As nice as this is, he never changes. Several times he’s left and been unaccounted for, risking being moved to a lesser facility that will not offer the comfort that this place does.
This is my worry. Not his.
Like I said, Mika has no insight or awareness. Schizophrenia stole it from him. He’s always trying to run from the disease that he can’t comprehend. He’s looking for a normal life. He knows enough to realize that how he lives is different, and he doesn’t want to be associated with it. But he can’t make sound decisions. The paranoia never lets him rest. Never allows him to think anything through.
On Mother’s Day, Rudy and I had planned to go out for dinner with Mika, a special meal with just the three of us. But by Sunday afternoon, I received a text message from him. Mika didn’t want dinner. He wanted me to send him money for cigarettes. So that’s what I did.
Because I choose love. Because I choose acceptance. Just the way he is.
Pam Muniz is a senior sales specialist at Tyson Fresh Meats and yoga teacher at Be Yoga Studio and Underground Yoga.
Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. It’s produced by Siouxland Public Media.
The next event is 7 p.m. Friday, August 4 at Be Yoga Studio in downtown Sioux City. The theme is “Little Did I Know.” Tickets are available at kwit.org. For more information, visit facebook.com/odestorytelling.
This story was produced as part of an Images & Voices of Hope Restorative Narrative Fellowship, which supports media practitioners who want to tell stories of resilience in communities around the U.S. and abroad. ivoh is a nonprofit committed to strengthening the media's role as an agent of change and world benefit.