All Along the Watchtower: A view into mental illness; a crisis of existence

Jan 3, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Mental Health

by Carmel Christine

A turn of events can catapult your life as you know it into a sphere so foreign, so cold, dark, distant and frightening that you barely recognize it. My teen son was diagnosed with Bipolar several years ago. This disorder didn’t arrive subtly so we could slowly get our bearings and adjust to it. But, of course that likely wouldn’t have made a difference. It came in like a wrecking ball – depression extinguishing his youthful effervescence, crashing into his life and ours. Within a very short time, he almost took his life and only by the grace of God the attempt was interrupted. It was then life as we knew it changed and would continue to change, including his diagnosis and a new world opened up to the realization of life’s fragile unpredictability. From a caregiver’s point of view, I write.


Carmel Christine

There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief. “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.”

I read song lyrics and their meanings often. Here is a familiar tune by Bob Dylan that most of us know through the voice of Jimi Hendrix, made popular in 1968. This song has been interpreted thousands of ways over the years and the most common theme is the perception of life that the joker and thief have on life, creating a sort of parable within the song. The joker believes life is a joke and the thief in a sense robs himself of a future because he can’t move beyond the past. And another thought is that in seeking life’s meaning with easy explanations they find themselves in unexpected danger; the idea that, to live outside the conventional walls of life one has to be very brave. Brave indeed when a “crisis of existence” interrupts the journey.

A crisis of existence

My article today is about the meaning of a beautiful life gone too early. A chaotic life. Julian St. John, the son of a popular, dramatic actor, Kristoff St. John, passed away – it is believed by suicide – on November 23, 2014 – just a few days before his 25th birthday. Juilan suffered with schizophrenia since he was 18, and was diagnosed earlier in his life with depression. It breaks our hearts when a life is cut short – and even more so if at their own hand. By all accounts, Julian was a brilliant artist himself with talent creating paintings, pastels and pencil drawings. His work highlighted here in this Huffington Post article.

As word is getting out about Julian’s death, many are offering their condolences. I didn’t know Julian nor did the likely thousands saddened upon hearing of his passing. But some say confounded things at times like this. Some ask, “Couldn’t something more have been done?” Like what?

His devoted parents will be asking this of themselves until they die. What more could have been done? Generally, I believe parents of teens and adult children with mental illness wonder maybe if what they did wasn’t enough. I would guess they ask themselves, “Maybe if we had paid more attention he would still be alive. Maybe we missed a cue. Maybe the best doctors we could find wasn’t enough; the best treatment available still wasn’t enough. Maybe if we talked with him more, took him to church or provided as consistent an upbringing as possible…”

I have no knowledge of Julian’s family’s experience. Still, my questions may come close.

I recognize this world of “not enough.” I live in this world of not enough. I accept it. Maybe it wasn’t enough, being there in the middle of the night during the psychotic breaks, talking him down while he looks for a kitchen knife or knitting needle during the paranoia. Maybe it wasn’t enough, sleeping for three years on my family room floor so I could keep watch near to wherever he would finally crash, because his body couldn’t stay awake any longer. It’s not enough.

Maybe making his favorite meals when he asked – comforting meals at midnight to soothe him, maybe it wasn’t enough. Lovingly seeking out resources, people, teams of educators, medical providers, and friends – maybe that wasn’t enough. Maybe if he feels he is heard more often he will get on the right track and not wander off again. More encouragement, understanding, tough love, soft love, humor, money. It’s not enough.

There is no amount of time or balance of time, energy, resources, fun, work, treatment or love that would or could change the outcome of Julian’s life. This I am certain. Schizophrenia is an insidious disorder. While these things and so many other things families do for their children don’t seem to be enough or cannot keep frightening things from happening I believe they are worthwhile because the child is worthwhile. The things families do for their children may or may not protract their lives but they do bring life to their days. I believe there are joyous moments in all of it too. The smiles that break through the tears. The amazing talent that exudes out of the chaotic mind. The hugs and kisses when balance comes around again. This is what we live for. It is living in the moment – the present – where we should all be so lucky to learn to be – in this sweet spot of existence. And we learn only from those most courageous of all.

Carmel Christine is a freelance writer and blogs at on faith stories, “unearthing the paradoxes of life to discover what really matters.” Carmel’s professional work as a paralegal, specializing in business and advocating for others in constitutional, elder, and disability law, spans over 25 years.



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