Patrick was a healthy little boy; funny, smart and full of energy. He loved to laugh and play with his younger siblings. As they got older, his siblings called Patrick first whenever they needed encouragement. He was always ready with a kind word. A star athlete and scholar, his friends called him Patch in high school. As he graduated, his family celebrated his coming adventure to Texas Tech, a family tradition.
His battle with mental illness struck without warning. Two weeks after a perfectly normal call from college, Patrick called his dad again in a frenzy. This time, the conversation would change their lives forever. Micro chips, aliens, paranoia, and all kinds of hallucinatory imaginings; something was wrong.
A devoted father, Doug McSwane raced the eight hour trek to Lubbock. When he got to Patrick’s apartment, things were worse than parents could ever imagine.
“It looked like a tsunami had hit the place, food wrappers everywhere….” Doug says, “That began our dark, dark journey down the world of mental health.” Now, Doug graciously shares his wisdom on mental illness and suicide for all of us.
“Mental illness is a function of your body, specifically your brain,” explains Doug. For instance, like the schizophrenia that Patrick heroically battled, all mental disease is caused by malfunctions between our chemistry and our brains, he explains.
“Dopamine is what washes over the zebra’s brain when he sees the lion. He has a split second to decide if he is going to run away or become lunch,” Doug says. Both schizophrenia and bipolar disease involve malfunctions of dopamine, he adds.
Unprepared for the tempest of mental illness, the McSwanes initially withdrew from friends. Being isolated only meant they didn’t get the support they needed at first, though. Now, they strongly recommend that families seek out trustworthy friends and advisors immediately.
Since Patrick’s suicide, their family makes it their mission to call attention to the resources needed to combat mental illness. One terrific resource is Peace of Mind Conferences, an annual event that brings together experts and families. At PeaceOfMindTyler.com you can find information, videos, and stories about how others combat mental illness.
Doug created two podcasts with Fireside Talk Radio to help other families. He shared so much more than I have room for here. Go to His Story: A Father’s Story of his Son’s Suicide or His Wisdom: When Mental Illness Strikes Your Family. You’ll be glad you did.
I remember Patrick as a tot. I’ve known his family for over 35 years. Their family motto is “trying to live a beautiful life.” I’m deeply grateful to the McSwanes; they make life better for all of us by sharing their experience.
With that in mind, today’s column is dedicated to the beautiful life of Patrick McSwane.
Cathy Primer Krafve, aka Checklist Charlie, lives and writes with a Texas twang. Contact her at CathyKrafve.com.