Mathis is a turbulent, but very endearing child. He is an explorer, a cheerful boy, a ray of sunshine with boundless energy. He never wants to sleep and never says he’s tired. For many years, he would wake up several times a night; truth be told, he would do so up until he started taking medication, as he does now. While we slept, he would slip out of bed and rummage through the pantry. Every time, I would wake up and ask him to go back to bed.
Mathis is twelve years old now. It’s nighttime and I’m fast asleep when the doorbell rings. Barely awake, I open the door. It’s the police. They’re bringing Mathis home. He had simply decided to go bike riding with a 16-year-old boy. From that point on, I no longer sleep soundly.
The following nights, I peeked into his room to see if he was asleep, only to realize that he had arranged his sheets so that it looked like there was someone in the bed. Only, he wasn’t there at all. Suddenly, I was filled with anger; why was he doing this to me? I was so tired. I went outside to look for him and finally found him in the schoolyard across from our house. He was standing there with some older boys.
Mathis has started high school. He was so looking forward to it. But it soon became a nightmare. Mathis skips classes regularly, returning home to hide while we think he’s at school. At the end of the academic year, he transfers to another school and is placed in an emotional support group because he is deemed unable to adapt to the regular program. I do not believe this for a moment.
Mathis is now 14 years old. Feeling powerless, I decide to let him go, for one year, in hopes of seeing him start to thrive. He wasn’t cooperating; I had no control over him. I couldn’t just watch him jeopardize his future and destroy the harmony we once knew. I admitted defeat, I surrendered; the solution had to come from somewhere else. In trying to help him, I was destroying myself. I fervently hoped that he would never, for a single moment, think that I had abandoned him. On the contrary, I was trying something I had never yet contemplated and so, heartbroken, I sent him to live with his father, praying that he would flourish. His father and stepmother would watch over him now.
When Mathis was 15, he came back home as part of a joint custody agreement; it was what he wanted. For the first few months, everything went well, until he started using again. He had so many so-called friends milling about the house!!! And they all had only one thing in common: I’ll let you guess what that was. Every morning, it was a struggle sending him to school, and once he was there, the school would call and ask us to come get him.
Mathis is now 16. He has dropped out of school because he wants to start working. He is having a hard time finding a job, and when he does, it doesn’t last.
After several clashes with his dad, he starts living with me full time. The honeymoon lasts about six months. His life is a series of ups and downs, a veritable roller coaster until he turns 18.
A Young Adult
Mathis is now 18 years old, of legal age. He’s bought a car after working all through the summer. He is very happy. Just as I think it will give him wings and inspire him to develop goals, everything falls apart. He’s unstoppable!! He’s an adult now and proud of saying so.
Drugs are once again taking over; now he wants to be president of the United-States, or a race car driver or a rapper, even though he has never done any singing. He says things that are simply not realistic and every evening after work I stubbornly try to make him see reason.
At that point, I didn’t know what was happening anymore. I was thoroughly discouraged, and devastated by my inability to get through to him. It felt like I was speaking another language. I would tell his brother “Try to talk to him, maybe he’ll listen to you.” I felt utterly powerless and terribly worried about his future. At the same time, I was angry at him for putting me through all these emotions. I was angry at the whole world.
Eyes reddened, he would look at us and laugh, while I worried constantly about him. He slept during the day and stayed awake through the night.
And so, after wanting more for him than he had ever wanted for himself, after trying out so many ways of helping him, after doing everything I could for him, I made the most important and wrenching decision of my life: I asked him to leave. But even then, I made sure I took several precautions to ensure his safety.
At this point, the only thing I hadn’t tried was to let him overreach his own limits without having me to rely on him afterwards. Psychosis, police interventions and legal issues are just a few of the things he had to cope with. But I was never very far. I was always there for him, but I had to let him deal with the consequences of his actions.
When I was asked to give a testimonial, I immediately said yes. My heart went out to my son Mathis, and to you as the parents of other Portage residents. I told myself if I could help someone and give them hope by sharing my own painful experience, my suffering and what my son went through would not have been in vain. I told myself that, after all, we all have a role to play in society.
I wanted to talk openly about what I lived through so that you could understand my harrowing journey and especially so that you would come to realize that you are not alone; others are dealing with the same type of situation you are dealing with. Their stories may differ somewhat, but the fundamentals remain the same. There are common features to all these stories, both for residents and parents of residents.
Unfortunately, mental health issues are taboo in our society. Drugs (even though pot is now legal) and dependencies are not subjects we’re proud to discuss. We can’t talk about them with just anyone and, if by chance we do find a good listener, genuine understanding is hard to come by and people are quick to judge.
That’s why Portage’s meetings for the families of residents play such an important role; of course, a certain amount of humility is necessary in order to accept a helping hand. Understanding parents and residents is essential if we are to help them through their journey because we interact with them on a regular basis.
There are still some difficult times to get through even as we recuperate while our loved ones are at Portage. Sometimes, we need the support of a counsellor. Thank you, Guillaume, for being there when I needed your support.
Revisiting my memories has been very hard for me because there is so much that I have forgotten. But it was one of the only ways I had to keep hope. Hope that my son would find his way again, that I would be able to talk with him, that he would worry, if only a bit, about those who love him and have taken care of him; the hope that he can be happy and look forward to new experiences and projects; the hope that this was just a very trying time we had to get through and that the best is yet to come.
Last Thursday when my son visited, he said, ʺMom, I don’t want any more trouble! ʺ He talked to me and told me how things were going. The other day, he told me he had come to certain realizations about compensation behaviours. He talked about his emotions and even paid me a few compliments. He is motivated and looking forward to new projects. He has started taking care of his appearance again. He introduces himself to the people he meets and greets them with pride.
Some parents are proud of their children because they are teachers, doctors or lawyers. I am proud of Mathis because he came to Portage and has persevered. He has proven to be open-minded and humble enough to learn to use the tools he was given. Bravo Mathis for your courage and your perseverance. I love you.
Things don’t happen “just because”. We can’t control everything, but for everything there is a reason, although we may not yet know what that is.