Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Boy Interrupted"

Dana Perry produced a documentary called “Boy Interrupted” that appeared on HBO. I didn’t see it from the start last night, but I saw enough – over an hour—to get the gist. Her son, Evan, was depressed from the time he was a small child and actually talked about death and suicide from the age of five. He became so disruptive at school – he threatened to jump from the roof - that first he was hospitalized and then put into a special school for children with problems. There they finally diagnosed him as bipolar and put him on lithium, and he responded well to it. Eventually he returned to a mainstream school, made friends, and received top grades. He was well liked, very handsome, and had a lot of girlsfriends. However, by the time he was 15 he and his mother discussed his going off his medication, and with the advice of his doctor to go off gradually, he did.

And as he did he became increasingly depressed again. His last night alive he was agitated, didn’t want to do his homework and he told his mother he hated her as he left to go to his room. His father came up shortly to check on him and he seemed fine. He was at his computer and he said he was doing his homework. His father went in to help his younger son get to bed, and then came back to Evan’s room. He was gone.

Dana and her husband finally found him, with the help of the building superintendent, at the bottom of the air shaft, several stories down. He was in a pool of blood and dead. He was 15 years old. He decided to consummate his long lasting and ongoing affair with death.

Dana also had a brother who committed suicide in his 20s. However he was never diagnosed as bipolar as Evan had been, though she suspected his brother was afflicted with it as well.

Though my son, Paul’s, story is much different from this one, one thing stands out. They both stopped taking their lithium, and they both got increasingly depressed as a result. Paul never talked about killing himself as Evan did, but they both had the same result.

Now, I want to rework my book query letter to emphasize how important it is for parents to keep their children on their meds. Evan’s mother, Dana, couldn’t have known what the outcome would be because she didn’t know how deadly bipolar can be. And in a way she was lucky. She had the opportunity to keep him on the meds. He was not an adult. With Paul, we had no say in his ultimate care. We could express our concern that he wasn’t taking him meds, but because he was an adult, we couldn’t make him take them. Evan’s mother could, and unfortunately she didn’t. No, I’m not blaming her. She didn’t know better. That’s what I need to point out in my query. I will tell parents how important staying on meds is. And, perhaps this is the purpose of Dana's brave documentary about her son -- to let others know the horrible truth of a bipolar diagnosis.

The documentary was made up of a series of photos and videos starting when Evan was a very young child. There were also remarks from his parents, his grandmother who lost her son, Dana's brother, to suicide; his teachers; his doctors and other care givers; the girlfriend of Dana’s brother; Evan’s half brother, and his friends. They all spoke of him in glowing terms. He was smart, talented, and beautiful. Yes, this boy’s life was interrupted. Like his brother said, his suicide note could have been written by any moody teenager, yet Evan’s moods were thousands of times greater than the norm. And his brother was in despair that he never had the chance to say these things to him.

Some memorable quotes from the piece (probably not verbatim):
• I can’t believe he’s not here
• I can’t believe I’m sitting here doing this (Dana, his mother, the producer)
• You never get over it
• You move on
• You put one foot in front of the other and move on
• Bipolar is like cancer. It’s a killer

I realize that I’m writing this clinically. Well, that’s the only way I could get the words out. I do not feel clinical about the piece. I was greatly moved by it and very sad. And, I came away with the thought that this boy could have been saved. It’s a matter of education and the right care. I don’t believe that we have enough or the right kind of care for mental illness. Bipolar disease is just that. It is a disease. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. And, it can be treated – like cancer can be treated. Of course the treatment is not always successful. There has to be a willing patient. However, the more parents and other care givers and even the patients know about it, the better the outcome can be. I truly believe that.

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