Mental Illnesses Never Take Vacations

Patti and I took six of our children on vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina last week along with three of their significant others, and I witnessed something that I wasn’t certain I would ever see. 
While sitting comfortably in my beach chair with a cool breeze blowing ashore from the Atlantic Ocean, I watched Mike ride a boggie board on top a wave. 
Four years ago in August, Mike was on a downward slide that would end badly with him becoming psychotic, being picked-up by the police and hospitalized for a sixth time because of his brain disorder. That would be his fourth major psychological break from when he was first diagnosed and when it happened, I had reached a point where I wondered if he would ever find a way to manage the symptoms of his illness. I felt helpless and, quite frankly, without hope. 
Watching him at the beach last week, I turned in my chair to Patti, who was reading nearby, and said, “This is one of those rare moments in life when I can honestly say that I am totally and truly happy. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but today, I am happy.”
I am sharing this vacation moment with you because when I returned to our rented beach house later that afternoon, I called my office to check for messages. (Yes, I was on vacation but I still checked for calls!) I found a recorded plea for help from a father whose son had been arrested. The son, who had never been in trouble before, now was in jail because of a minor crime that stemmed from a psychotic break. An ambitious prosecutor didn’t care that the boy was clearly delusional and neither had the arresting police officer, who had no specialized training when he confronted the youth. What should have been an easily handled disturbance turned instead into an assault on a police officer and a felony charge.
As I listened to the recorded message and then telephoned the father, my mind flashed back to the first time that Mike had been arrested and the frustration, anger, and fear that I had felt — again washed over me.
Here we go — another Mike, another father, another family suffering.
I offered the father advice and counseled him as best that I could. But when I put down the telephone receiver, I continued to feel a sense of sadness.
Will this young man survive?
Will there come a time when his father can sit on the beach and savor a truly happy moment because his son has become stable and is managing his illness?
Or will our system fail this young man, as it does so many?
I thought about the father and son several times during the remainder of my vacation. His plea was a reminder, that even though some of our loved ones are doing well, which gives us hope, we can never forget that others are just beginning their walk down this path.
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. As a mother of a son who has lived more than 13 years with his illness of psychoeffective disorder I can relate to this father's frustration. I would like to advise him to take a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Family to Family class. Free to the public for anyone with a loved one who has a mental illness. It gives you an opportunity to meet other people struggling with similar issues, educates you as to the causes and how to best cope. NAMI is the first start to becoming an advocate for your loved one.

  2. Yes, enjoy the happy times when they come because mental illness can rear it's ugly head at any time. I went five years being fairly okay with the help of my medications. Then in less than two months there were three hospitalizations and a slew of medication changes. Our bodies…especially our brains…are scientific mysteries. Recovery is very possible, but I consider it more of my mental illness being in remission.

  3. We too had that wonderful moment at the Outer Banks with our adult son this year. Thank God. Last year at this time his girlfriend and I were in tears trying to convince the Fairfax Co. judge that involuntary commitment (his 2nd) was in everyone's best interest, especially my son's. Had they released him, things might be much different today. He might not be alive, much less a productive, professional employee without a criminal record. Never far from our minds though is the thought that it will happen again. What if my son goes crazy away from home? Are the police there going to know how to handle someone who is psychotic? What will they do with him at the hospital? Mental illness never takes a vacation.

  4. Scott Callison says

    Hi Pete, there definitely is hope. I experienced my first breakdown and hospitalization 9 years ago when I was 24. I have since been in to a psych ward 3 times- twice for mania and once for depression. Both manic episodes were following periods, once 2 whole years, of not taking medication. I, like so many Bipolar adults, thought that I had beaten the disease only to be shocked as I “came to” in a hospital. I have been lucky to end up in the care of mental health professionals each time I had an episode. I owe this to my Mom who has a vast knowledge of depression and Bipolar since it runs in my family, and she was always able to steer me in the right direction for treatment. I realize that the majority of our population do not have the knowledge to seek out the best hospitals (not all have psych wards) and psychiatrists that specialize in Bipolar. Medication management is number one for me when it comes to dealing with my disorder, but also living a healthy lifestyle is just as important. Alcohol and substance abuse are rampant in our society, and more so among those with mental illnesses as you have discovered in your research over the years. But there is hope, and apparently it is to be found at The Outer Banks in North Carolina- I spent a woderfully happy week there with friends two summers ago. All kidding aside, I am enjoying my time of emotional stability and happiness with the hope that I can maintain without a relapse for the rest of my days. By the way, say hi to Steve for me (and his Mom- she replied to my post in January but I overlooked it until recently- I'm living in the greater Tampa area). Thank you for establishing this blog. I find it therapeutic.

  5. Thanks, Pete. This brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart. I love your blog!

  6. Rhonda, thanks for your comments. It's nice to hear the opinion of the the experts, the consumer. I hope you'll continue to add your voice to this blog.

  7. A mom in the midwest says

    It's so refreshing to hear what you, the real expert on how one feels, what works, what doesn't, etc., has to say. As a parent, it's encouraging. Thanks, Scott. I hope you'll respond to many of Pete's blog entries.

  8. A midwestern mom says