My Birthday Reminds Me To Smell The Roses

firstdayofschool I turned sixty-two last Thursday and my wife, Patti, hosted a family party on Sunday.  When you have a blended family of seven, there’s always someone having a birthday but this one was different for me. I can’t say that I am going through a mid-life crisis because I already have done that, several times.  I am now old enough to collect Social Security so I have to acknowledge that I have walked over the  middle age line .

The first week of September is always a time of taking stock for me. Patti’s first husband, Steve, died on September 2nd  when he and Patti were in their thirties. Her sister, Joanne, died recently from cancer and would have celebrated her 50th birthday on Sept. 4th. Whenever I complain about getting older, Patti reminds me that Steve and Joanne didn’t celebrate as many birthdays as I have.  Patti has no patience for self-pity.

 My parents, Elmer and Jean, ages 93 and 94, live with us and came to my party, although my father grumbled that birthday parties should only be held for  kids. Five of my adult children were  there and three of them brought their significant others, including one who had changed his Sunday work schedule so he could attend.  My parents will celebrate their 70th anniversary in November. As I watched them mingling, I wondered how many of my children would be fortunate enough to spend so many years together.

I also thought about Patti and how incredibly fortunate I am to have such a supportive, understanding and forgiving partner.

My adult son, who many readers know as Mike, was at my party and is doing super. He reminds me each day that recovery from a serious mental illness is possible. Despite tremendous obstacles, people can and do recover.

The same week as my birthday, I received this email from a reader.

Dear Pete,

Remember me? I’m probably the only person alive who would call the police and start straightening up the house for their visit, but I did that tonight…You see, last week I set a boundary with my son, Jack, who is mentally ill. His diagnosis is paranoid schizophrenic. And he’s off his meds again. 

In the past he’s attacked family members and friends in a rage…he was off his meds each time. Last week I put him out of my car after he yelled F$%# You in my face. I stopped in the middle of the road and calmly asked: “Is this where you want to get out?” As he stormed off down the road, a stream of foul language floated behind him. He called me names he would never use when he’s in his “right” mind…

Because of current mental-healthcare laws, we can’t get help for our son. He’s loose out there with no food and no medications. He has a history of violence. And the police are very kind, but their hands are tied as well…So until he “does something,” our hands are tied. So are the cops’ hands. Same with medical personnel. I can’t even send Mobile Crisis Response Team over to him because of state laws. 

Today I gathered up all the education and training I’ve gotten through NAMI and tonight I called the police to come by and take some notes and enter it into the log.. Jack is off his meds again. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be sure to lock my door tonight.

Sadly, I get a lot of emails such as this one. I try to respond to most although I can’t always. Many of the writers simply want someone to listen. I understand their frustration, hurt, and pain. I’ve walked in their shoes.

As I have aged, I’ve found it easy to focus on the negatives in my life. When someone you love has a mental illness and is not doing well, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless.  A friend of mine once said, “No one gets through life without getting beaten up.”

The day after my birthday, I received an email from my daughter-in- law in New York City who sent a photo of our granddaughter. She was attending her first day of kindergarten and was all smiles.

All of this has reminded me of  the circle of life. I see my parents nearing the end, my children moving up in their careers,  buying houses and getting married. I see Patti and me entering a new chapter in our lives as empty-nesters.

At age sixty two, I’ve gotten battle scars and gray hairs. However, I’m keenly aware that many of my problems have been self-inflicted and I have gotten off easy compared to the problems that so many people in our world face.  Someone once said that if you threw your problems into a pile with everyone else’s and had to take back some, you would ask to have your’s back. It might be cliche, but it is true for me.

This morning I came to work feeling grateful that I had another birthday.

My birthday wish for you is a simple one.  Be well, be mindful of others and, most of all, have hope. Find something today that fills you with wonder and expectation, much like a child going to kindergarten for the first time.

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.