Beatrice Weatherly

Book review

Weatherly presents her memories, hopes and dreams of her son, Edward, in a chronological portrayal of a life of great promise, unexpected realities and disappointing outcomes along the way. It is a unique perspective of one parent’s struggle to maintain family equilibrium while dealing with stress in the marriage, stress at work, financial stress, and the unexpected stressors and challenges of an adult son dealing with addiction and mental illness.

Weatherly takes the reader on the roller coaster ride she has experienced as her life as a mother. Nothing in her background as a teacher prepared her for the challenges she would face with her gifted son as he grows up and struggles to find out who he is. Some professionals would have advocated that Weatherly and her family take a “Tough Love” stance, but it is not in her to shut out her son or give him anything but unconditional love. She struggles with her need to be there for her son as her savings dwindle and her marriage deteriorates. Weatherly does find emotional and practical support from her daughters, Shelley and Nicole, as well as her sister.

Weatherly struggles within the healthcare community to find the supports her son desperately needs. She finds disappointment here, too. It seems, nothing is as straight forward as one would hope. Eventually, Weatherly is forced to seek the aid of the courts and police, in order to get her son the help he needs. But, as with any addiction or lifestyle choice, the person with the problem has to want to change: no one can make them. It is only after he stops using drugs and starts making wise lifestyle choices and caring about himself, that Weatherly’s son is able to face his reality with a sense of purpose and hope.

Questions by

Terry Herbert, also the mother of a son who was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Does Edward have a relationship with his father?

Edward’s relationship with his father was strained for many years; however, now that they have reached an understanding, they correspond amicably by telephone, with Edward visiting his dad a few times a year (there is a physical distance factor).

Does your other daughter, Nicole, have a relationship with her father?

The status of Nicole’s relationship with her dad is largely unrelated to Edward. Edward’s situation brought them closer together because they agreed in many ways on how to approach him. On one occasion her father was there in support of Nicole during an intervention and while she went to court to have Edward committed to the hospital.

Has anyone else in your extended family experienced mental illness?

I recall my father speaking of one of his uncles being locked away in an institution, but probably because of the time period and with the stigma attached to having mental illness in the family, the details weren’t privy to all members. In our immediate family, I experience anxiety disorder with sporadic panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and symptoms of bipolar, and have taken medication for depression several different times during my life. However, during the most critical period in my life when I needed the assessment of a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with “adjustment disorder” and “depression.” I believe that emotionally intense situations triggered my mental illness which required treatment, including medication and psychotherapy.

Has any healthcare professional ever told you that there is a link between the use of marijuana and schizophrenia?

Yes, illicit drug use will trigger the onset of schizophrenia in someone who is genetically predisposed; however, according to the professional community it is not thought to cause it.

Has anyone ever come right out and suggested that Edward would not have a mental illness, if he had not been involved with drugs?

No, they haven’t. Stress is another trigger for schizophrenia, with or without the use of street drugs. Once diagnosed, it is imperative that the individual NOT take street drugs as they will exacerbate the symptoms and lessen the effectiveness of any prescription medication. I believe it was the symptoms of schizophrenia which “enabled” Edward to fall into a pit of addictions to sex and drugs. Schizophrenia is referred to as “Youth's Greatest Disabler.”

Do you think the social pressures, real and imaginary, of Edward’s sexual orientation led to his mental illness?

I believe that Edward’s sexual orientation itself did not lead to his mental illness. It led to the underworld he discovered in Toronto, which for the most part, in my opinion although Edward would probably disagree, was unsavory and furthered him along a path of self- destructive activities. He most likely experienced some stress in the form of self-stigmatization (internalized from the images/stories/society) and it is known that stressors will bring on schizophrenia. Edward was bombarded by the stress concerning his sexuality. With the onset of schizophrenia, hallucinatory voices and delusional thoughts made it a challenge if not impossible to make healthy and realistic choices.

From your experience in the education system in Alberta, is there a growing acceptance for homosexuality?

Yes, I think there is a growing acceptance of homosexuality. That being said, I think that the curriculum and the conversations that can occur to help educate students (and parents) are promising, but often teachers and parents are reluctant to allow those discussions to be entirely explored, partly because of legislation.

Is it something that is visible, or ignored?

Legislation provides parents with the option of exempting their child from sitting in the class when topics of Human Sexuality are taught. This has the effect of denying significant children’s rights. It is my opinion that this could be considered infringing on children’s rights, since their child may be one of the 10% who are homosexual. There is a risk of the child becoming suicidal (at the least developing self esteem issues) because of their fear of reaching out for understanding. Also, I believe the potential cause for stress can lead to anxiety and depression. Bullying Awareness Week, World AIDS Day, along with opportunities for health professionals to be guest speakers, also help dispel myths and misconceptions about homosexuality, but I believe that homophobia and discrimination are still the norm – perhaps subversively. In rural Alberta, it may be worse than in urban areas. “Despite the immediate and long-term implications of poor mental health, the evidence indicates that for the most part, these issues are not being adequately addressed. For example, an estimated 15% of Canadian children and youth need mental health support and would benefit from some level of treatment. However, only 1% of those in need are ever connected to the mental health system.” -Wellness Curricula A Review and Synthesis of Related Literature, Alberta Education, Alberta, Canada 2008 As an educator, I know my students learn best when their individual differences are acknowledged, and they are taught in a compassionate, respectful classroom, supporting safety and self-worth.