The Lessons I’ve Learned from My Adult Son’s Ongoing Struggle with Personality Disorder
Schizotypal personality disorder is a mental health condition characterized by unusual thoughts and behaviors that make it difficult to function and relate to other people. It is similar to but milder than schizophrenia and causes paranoia, poor emotional response, and unusual beliefs. Families of people with schizotypal personality disorder can support their loved ones by helping them get treatment, learning more about the condition, and helping them find work and social opportunities that suit their personalities.
Schizotypal personality disorder upended my son’s life beginning in high school. It has also been a long and difficult journey for me, for his father, and for his siblings. An adult now, Adam continues to struggle with his personality disorder as well as anxiety and depression.
The best thing we did was learn that Adam had a mental health condition. Before that, we were lost. With a diagnosis, a name, we could do something. He received intensive treatment and still goes to therapy. My son struggles to this day, but with family support and treatment he is doing much better and is able to live with this condition.
First, I Learned What Schizotypal Personality Disorder Is
I certainly had never heard of this condition before my son received his diagnosis. I knew of personality disorders but not much. My experiences with mental illness were limited to my mother’s depression, so I was aware that some issues could run in our family.
Looking back, I realize that some of the first warning signs cropped up in high school. Adam started to worry about social events, which didn’t seem that unusual at first. It got worse, though, to the point that he refused to go to any parties or school events. He didn’t want to go to school at all. He became a real loner.
Adam started college, but he dropped out pretty quickly. He got paranoid about his roommate, thinking he was out to get him. We tried getting him to go to community college while staying at home and that worked a little better. He got a job, but that didn’t last, either. His unusual behaviors and the way he interacted with other people just didn’t mesh in a work setting.
Finally, I insisted that Adam get some help. We saw our family doctor, and she recommended a mental health professional. He got a diagnosis of schizotypal personality disorder with social anxiety and depression. The very next day, I researched treatment options.
What I’ve learned from this experience could fill a book, but some of the most important lessons have been the most difficult to accept:
1. There Is No Cure for a Personality Disorder
This is one of the hardest lessons my son’s mental illness forced me to learn. As a parent, it isn’t easy to accept being unable to fix your child’s problems, even when they are adults and especially when those problems are so major.
Treatment, I learned, is different for everyone, but generally involves a combination of mediations and therapy. We settled on a residential program, wanting to give him the chance to focus on treatment for schizotypal personality disorder and learn the skills he needed to be more successful.
He really benefited from that time, although living with strangers was challenging. The facility was small with just a few other residents, which was best for Adam. In behavioral therapy, he learned how to manage his irrational and troubling thoughts. In group sessions, he learned and practiced social skills. In family sessions, we all benefited from learning more about schizotypal personality disorder and how to support Adam.
2. We Had To Build a World Around Schizotypal Personality Disorder
For a long time, I tried to carry on as normal. I tried to make my son’s mental health condition fit into our usual lives. But it simply wasn’t possible. For him to live well, to thrive, he needed the family and our lifestyle to adapt to him.
This meant finding him a job that suited his strengths and limitations. He had always been good with computers, so we enrolled Adam in an online degree program. We then helped him find work that he could do mostly independently. Computer work suited his loner tendencies.
Instead of trying to push Adam to have a social life or make new friends, we adapted to his comfort level. He feels best when alone or around family, so his family is his social network. We do insist that he keep up with therapy groups to get some socialization practice outside of the family, but we let him go at his own pace.
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3. You Can’t Let Things Slide With a Personality Disorder
In my everyday life, I can take time off from goals and healthy lifestyle choices. I can let my diet slide for a week or two and then get back to healthy eating without much harm done. I can put aside my goal to get promoted at work and just do the tasks necessary to tread water for a month without risking that goal too much.
What I learned about my son’s condition is that the same kind of relaxed approach to treatment and management isn’t possible. We have had to be vigilant with Adam, making sure he takes his medication on time, keeping up with therapy appointments, and setting short- and long-term goals.
Early on in this experience I let him skip a therapy group because he wasn’t feeling up to it. Then he skipped the next one, and soon after he had slid back into old habits, hiding in his room and isolating even from the family.
We have a strict routine in the household, not just for medication and appointments, but for everything. It really helps him to stick with regular mealtimes, the same bedtime every night, game night on Wednesdays, a walk after lunch, and other healthy habits.
4. Someone With Schizotypal Personality Disorder May Never Be Fully Independent
I have had to adjust my expectations going through this experience with my son. My first adjustment was to recognize that I couldn’t fix him, that there would be no cure. I thought he could still live a normal life, though, getting a job and his own apartment.
We’re still working toward that, but I have had to accept that Adam may always need someone looking out for him. He can work. We’ve figured that out. When we tried to get him into his own apartment, he isolated completely.
We tried a few things but just found that he could not live fully on his own. My husband is a contractor and was able to convert the garage to a standalone apartment at cost. Adam lives there, and we can check on him multiple times a day, making sure he stays on top of his routine and treatments.
The solution isn’t ideal, and we are still working on helping him become more independent. I have, however, accepted that it may never happen. If he needs to live with us indefinitely, that’s fine. This isn’t what I pictured as a life for any of my children, but he is doing the best he can and so are the rest of us in the family.
These lessons were hard-earned and won through significant personal reflection and struggle. Watching my son have such a hard time just functioning at a basic level has been the biggest challenge of my life. My family and I have done everything we can to help him thrive with schizotypal personality disorder. The work is far from done, but our support and professional treatment have made all the difference in his life.