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The Broken Road

September 11, 2014

In telling the story of our experience at Skyland Trail, we were inspired by the words from a country song - “God Bless the Broken Road that Led Me Straight to You.” The theme of the song is that sometimes life’s disappointments are actually pointing you on a better path. For our son and our family, the broken road of mental illness led us straight to Skyland Trail.

Ten days before he was to enter the Virginia Military Institute, at the height of his dreams coming true, our son suffered a psychotic break that resulted in a car accident, an arrest, time in an acute mental health care facility and finally, admittance to Skyland Trail. Until that traumatic day, he had never demonstrated any symptoms of bipolar disorder or psychosis. A soft spoken guy with a level head and a low key demeanor, his sudden erratic and bizarre behavior was a sign that something was terribly wrong. He was broken and because of that, we were broken.

The broken road of his illness had emerged very gradually over several days, with some signals we interpreted incorrectly. It escalated while he was visiting his big brother who lives on Lookout Mountain. Since we live in Virginia, we immediately rushed south, all the while not understanding what had happened. But inside we knew that in an instant, our son’s life had been broken. So we did what parents do, we began to try and put the pieces back together, uncertain of where the road might lead. 

For two weeks, he was a patient in an Atlanta Mental Health hospital, where he remained psychotic. During that time, our family struggled to comprehend what had happened to him, what the consequences would be and how we could get him the long term help he needed.

We truly felt helpless, and, without our son signing the HIPPA release, we would have been shut out of the treatment and analysis process completely. But, as the song says, “God was leading us straight” to Skyland Trail.

Who would have expected that Skyland Trail - a place nine hours from our home, where we just happened to be -- was the very best place in the country for our son to receive the care he so desperately needed.

And so, armed with hope, our son and our family began our journey at Skyland Trail. There is no question that given his diagnosis, our son received the most comprehensive treatment, education, empowerment, support and courage to face his new reality. I have to say that since then I have come to learn that the most important step in a journey like ours, in order to heal from the brokenness, is facing that new reality.

At Skyland Trail, the team approach is taken from day one. All of the individual caregiver specialties work in a holistic system to analyze the patient and set forth on an individualized treatment program. Our son left Skyland with a balanced medication regimen, knowledge of the warning signs of his diagnosis and an understanding of the important of continuing treatment on an outpatient basis.

I am happy to report that he is now a full time student at VCU, has his own apartment and a girlfriend and most importantly – a part time job!

Our story is probably like a lot of families whose lives are suddenly shattered by tragedy. In the midst of an overwhelming terror, pain and a yearning to help those we love, we must overcome a lack of information about mental illness and available resources, a confusing health care and legal system that penalizes the patient and a future that seems only to offer more of the same. At Skyland Trail, every member of the staff is dedicated to ensuring that the patient and their family are offered the tools they need to face the short term issues and decisions as well as the ability to make long term plans. In short, Skyland Trail not only returned our son to us equipped to manage his disorder and his life, but they gave us all back our future.

We know it will be a future filled with more challenges and perhaps even more trauma. But, thanks to what our son and all of us received at Skyland Trail, we will be able to confront any future “broken roads” with understanding, fortitude and resilience.

There’s another country song by Thompson Square that’s called Glass. It reminds us that, in a way, we’re all a bit broken. It goes like this.

We may shine, we may shatter,
We may be picking up the pieces here on after,
We are fragile, we are human,
And we are shaped by the light we let through us,
We break fast, cause we are glass.
We are glass.

-   Beth M., Parent of Skyland Trail Alumni