The morning did not get off to a good start. Chris was late for our appointment with Doctor Jones. I waited outside the building for twenty minutes; by the time we got inside, our scheduled time was half over.
My heart was pounding as I cleared my throat and began to relate my concerns, which centered on the decline in Chris’s grades over the last year—and his personality. I told the doctor I thought Chris was becoming disorganized and had unrealistic ideas about his own abilities. I went through the Ophélie episode, but omitted mention of the turd incident, reasoning that Dr. Jones could compare notes with Dr. Robert on that one. I learned later from Dr. Robert that Dr. Jones had never contacted him as Ian and I had requested. When Chris and I showed up that day, Dr. Jones had no information about the nature of our visit and what was going on with Chris other than the picture I painted.
As I chattered on, I realized that I must have seemed like an overbearing and overanxious mother. Surely he’d heard all this before: A talented kid flounders during his first year at university, to the disbelief of his doting parents. After hearing me out, Dr. Jones swiveled in his chair, turning his back to me, and focused his attention on Chris to find out from him why he was causing me such concern.
Chris launched into a charm offensive. His face lit up, he was relaxed, he smiled his old self-deprecating smile.
“He’s got good teeth,” I found myself thinking. "Never needed braces, never had a cavity."
The way Chris told it, he had been too busy having fun the previous year to bother with his studies; he was distracted by parties and debates and co-ed rugby. All that was behind him now, he said; this year, though, he was determined to do well.
At that point, I knew I had failed to resolve the issue in the way that Dr. Robert had advised. Despite the fact that my being there surely signaled to Dr. Jones that something was wrong, I did not state categorically that Chris was giving his family concern that he was mentally ill. As his mother, I didn't want to "rat" on him to a doctor. To me, it was disloyal to think of my own son as "crazy."
Based on Chris’s bravura performance, how could Dr. Jones see what I was seeing? If Dr. Jones did think something was amiss, as a trained professional, his face gave no hint of this.
I pressed him to start seeing Chris on a weekly basis. Dr. Jones swiveled back to Chris to ask if that was okay.
Chris wasn’t so sure this was a good idea. “Maybe I could see you again in January,” he said.
We left the office with an appointment for Chris to return in a month. I was acutely aware that I had fumbled the ball and let down the team. My own fears had stood in the way of getting Chris the help he needed.
The consequences of my being me were soon to follow.
Ian and I heard little from Chris after I left him on the pavement outside Dr. Jones's office building. He rarely called us, nor did he write to us the way he used to.
We called regularly to find out if he was on track with his work and on one occasion asked if he had seen Dr. Jones. He had seen him once.
“You, know, it’s nice to talk with Dr. Jones, and I think he enjoys talking to me, but I don’t think he really needs to see me.”
His answer sounded to me like Chris thought he and Dr. Jones were on the same level intellectually. This was the grandiosity that I had observed with Chris's wanting to skip ahead on his math course and with his aborted driving lesson.
Even though during this period Chris wasn't writing to his parents, he was writing cheerful, upbeat letters to his brothers. If he had issues with his Ian and I, we took this as a perhaps positive sign that he was trying to become independent; our flagging hope was that that’s all it was.
Christmas was approaching fast. Chris was supposed to let us know when he was coming home and what his flight arrangements were. He had a ticket to return to Geneva on December 17, which could be moved forward depending on when he finished exams.
My birthday, November 4, passed with no word from Chris. He left a message a day or two later on my answering machine at work. He must not have wanted to talk to me directly, so he left the call at 11 p.m. Toronto time, 5 a.m. our time. His voice sounded hollow and cold and vague—the shortest message ever. “So happy birthday, I guess.” Click.
I called him a couple of days later.
“Chris, hi, what’s up?”
“Oh, not much. Talking to God and all.” He laughed dismissively.
I told Chris that Ian had gone ahead and rebooked his ticket. His new flight out of Toronto was on December 13. Through our own research, we found out that most first year exams were over in early December so that left him a comfortable margin of time in case he had a late exam.
I lectured him that taking charge of flight arrangements is something someone his age should be able to do himself and we resented having to do it.
Chris didn't immediately respond to my lecture. He just breathed into the phone. Breathing rather than talking was becoming more common each time I spoke with him.
Chris’s Aunt Jane, my older sister, lives near Toronto. She later told me she had been having trouble getting hold of Chris during this period, but that he eventually called her back one night after eleven o’clock. He told her he’d been getting together daily with a Singaporean friend to pray. I knew that Chris was attending the college chapel services, but the intense devotion of the daily prayer sessions was unsettling to me. Excessive religiosity to me is a sign of mental instability.
A few years later, after I took up the practice of yoga, I grasped what I actually already knew at this time but hadn't associated with what Chris was going through -- that religious ecstasy also involves trance-like states and hallucinations. Mystics frequently experience this state which Eastern mystics refer to as kundalini. Kundalini is associated with latent sexual power and is represented symbolically by a sleeping serpent coiled around the base of the human spine. This energy is an evolutionary and consciousness raising life force which goes under many names. Prana, chi, ego or the Holy Spirit are just a few synonyms for this cosmic energy. Religious mysticism is also associated with alchemy. Alchemists were also aware of this life force and had many names for it, according to Carl Jung. The pursuit of alchemy was most notable because of the alchemists' desire to turn base metals into gold, but alchemists were also interested in healing disease and prolonging life and in discovering how God's will is made manifest in man. Chris's desire to study chemistry in order to understand the essence of matter, was indeed, a spiritual point of view.
The pineal gland buried deep in our brain has an ancient mystic association with kundalini and the "third eye" or brow chakra (see Chapter XX). It's a small, pine cone shaped endocrine gland that functions as a messenger circuit that interprets images seen through the retina. Another of its functions is to secrete melatonin which helps regulate our circadian rhythms and our ability to distinguish night from day. When the kundalini is aroused suddenly and violently, the energy is said to leave the body quickly through the brow chakra. This is a plausible explanation for what had happened to Chris when he got a stabbing pain in the area of his brow when our plane landed.
Our Western culture today more and more embraces these spiritual beliefs, as evidenced by the number of people who meditate and practice yoga, but over the course of Chris's treatment I soon learned that this life affirming view of so-called mental illness has not filtered down to the medical community. Medicine may have forgotten that the symbol of its profession, a serpent coiled around a wooden staff, has a similar meaning to kundalini. The snake represents the dual nature of healing (snake venom is both poison and antidote); the snake is also a symbol of renewal because it sheds its skin and is transformed.
The kundalini experience cannot be rushed and every effort must be taken to ensure that the person undergoing this mentally and spiritually wrenching process is allowed to heal in a gentle, supportive way. Had I known about this link between religious ecstasy, kundalini and schizophrenia I would have viewed Chris's problems in a more positive light and I feel that Chris and all of our family would not have suffered to the same extent through the negative medical model of schizophrenia that we were soon to encounter.
Unfortunately, the medicalized view of mystic states has so permeated our society that even our clergy sees mental illness through the lens of disease.
During this period of our lives, at the time that Chris was praying on a daily basis and looking and acting more and more like an ancient prophet, my consciousness was not raised. I was terribly frightened and not at all enlightened.
The events soon unfolded for us as they usually do in schizophrenia. There is an acute crisis event followed by hospitalization, and almost nowhere to turn for real help.