As a high school student , my son, Neil, was diagnosed with mental illness. He lives with schizophrenia every day. As a student, he was an outstanding athlete at Manhasset High school. He excelled in lacrosse, basketball and track. But, starting in his junior year, things changed for Neil and for our entire family.
In the spring of his sophomore year, Neil was being recruited by several division 1 lacrosse schools. At the same time, he started exhibiting signs of mental illness. As his father, I couldn’t understand what I was seeing, and it pained me to watch his seemingly perfect life begin to unravel. Neil battled his mental illness for several years, and was hospitalized at North Shore Hospital in 1995. He escaped from their mental ward, and hitch-hiked 1,500 miles to Florida. We had no idea where he was until he showed up on my brother’s door steps. This is one example of what it means to live with a child with mental illness.
Eleven years later, all spent in and out of several hospitals, I reunited with Neil’s former lacrosse coach at a party. I informed Coach Rule of Neil’s diagnosis, and to my surprise he asked to visit Neil in the hospital. During his years in the hospital, Neil had very few visitors, and I was both shocked and honored that his coach wanted to visit him. During his visit, he said to my son, “you are a member of the lacrosse community, a respected member, and we will never forget you”. Coach Rule asked to share Neil’s story with his 7th and 8th grade classes. That was the beginning of a slow climb back for Neil.