How Can I Help My Schizophrenic Son

How Can I Help My Schizophrenic Son – Alissa Dumsch flips through her high school yearbook, stopping at a photo of a burly young man with sandy hair and a chiseled jaw. “There’s Aaron,” she says, pointing to her brother. “He was so handsome.” She turns a few more pages. “Here he is in the student council. I ran for office every year and lost every year,” she says, laughing. “He ran one year and, like, won by a landslide!”

We are sitting in her home in Scarsdale, New York, with her parents, Anita and Pat, and her sister, Amanda. Alissa’s husband silently taps hockey sticks in the corner as the youngest of their three children, a boy, enters the room with an enormous dark blue helmet teetering on his head.

How Can I Help My Schizophrenic Son

Aaron is the only thing missing. Even though he knows we’re here. His parents told him. And you know this article; He gave me permission to write it the first time we spoke on the phone, in the fall of 2018, when I explained to him what it would mean to share the story of his struggle with mental illness with a journalist and have his name and name in print. his photo a national magazine. “That would be great,” she said. As time went on, her family and I continued to check in to make sure he still felt that way.

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Pat walks over to the coffee table and picks up a scrapbook, titled “A Superstar’s Keepsake,” that Alissa made decades ago to commemorate Aaron’s accomplishments in high school. “Oh God, it makes you think,” she says, studying the pages as if she were Aaron himself. “I wish I could go back in time and go back to that day and relive some of these things.”

In the 1990s in Tucson, where football reigned supreme and quarterbacks were king, Aaron Dumsch filled the role. He was a military brat who arrived at Sahuaro High School as a sophomore with natural talent. “He was a tall guy, with a rifle arm and very smart. He had all the potential in the world,” recalls former Sahuaro football coach Howard Breinig.

During the final game of the 1994 season, Sahuaro’s starting quarterback injured his shoulder; Aarón, a junior, took the lead with less than a minute to spare and his team was losing 21-20. He made six passes in 37 seconds, giving Sahuaro a 27-21 lead at halftime. Sahuaro won that game, and Aaron’s heroics continued soon after, in the Class 4A state championship. Sahuaro trailed 17-9 with 1:27 left when he scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion, tying the game, earning his team a co-state championship and ousting Breinig, who would retire that night. with his first and only state title.

“I remember sitting in the stands and it still brings tears to my eyes thinking about it,” Alissa says. “We couldn’t believe it. We were so proud. He was so talented.”

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The Dumsches could tell stories about Aaron’s exploits all day, but there are other stories too, ones that his family would rather forget. Like the time he pushed a woman with a walker. Or that time I was lying on the couch, watching news coverage of 9/11 and laughing. “We locked our bedroom doors because we were afraid he would come in and hurt us,” says Anita. “I could get into these moments of anger where I would yell and scream and push and hit.”

Over the past 20 years, Aaron has gone from being a high school star and academic All-American on the Arizona State University football team to becoming a quarterback at Maryland State. He has been held captive not just by a schizophrenic brain, but by a perfect storm of factors: underfunded treatment facilities, jails and prisons that serve as de facto asylums, the lack of advances in medicine that have generally made it difficult for people with serious problems mental illness. to get the help they need.

All along, Anita has been at Aaron’s side, trying to take care of her son while isolating her family and the public from his unpredictable behavior. As she says: “By protecting the mentally ill, you only become mentally ill by trying to put it all together.”

Michigan high school sweethearts, Anita and Pat Dumsch married young and had Aaron in their twenties. Alissa arrived 17 months later, Amanda three years later. Anita was a secretary and Pat worked in a factory, but life was a struggle until Pat joined the Air Force, training as a dental hygienist and moving her family to six states and Norway over the years.

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Wherever the Dumsches landed, Aaron’s athletic talent shone through. When he was 6, football scouts came to Dumsch’s home in Wichita Falls, Texas, to convince his parents to let him play. At age 10, he made it to a state championship free throw shooting contest. At age 12, he was the starting pitcher for a Norwegian baseball team, which took him to the Little League World Series in Europe. In high school in Tucson, he quit baseball midseason, switched to track and field and won his first race wearing borrowed shoes. “He excelled in every sport, in almost every phase of his life. He was crazy,” says Anita.

Over the past year, Aaron’s star has seemed unstoppable. As the football team’s quarterback, he was a fixture on the local news. USA Today named him America’s High School Athlete. But he was more than an athlete. “He was a brainiac. Very sweet. A guy who knew how to cry and wasn’t afraid of it,” says Jennifer Carner, who dated Aaron for two years in high school and college. “But he also stood up for himself. He was an enigmatic personality, but that was also what made him sexy.”

“He had a genuine, warm spirit,” says Cara McCrain, a friend of Aaron and Alissa’s from high school. “There was nothing he couldn’t do: in school, in sports, get the girl he wanted. It was him.”

Graduating at the top of his class, Aaron was recruited by the Naval Academy but chose to attend ASU; he had had enough of military culture. He joined the football team at the end of his freshman year. (He had chosen not to play that fall largely on principle; ASU had not formally recruited him.) Anita and Pat remember standing on the edge of a practice field at training camp when a player with long hair and flip-flops approached and introduced himself. “I’m Pat Tillman,” they remember him saying. “I just want you to know that you have a really great guy here for a son and I will be keeping an eye on him.” (Tillman, then a star on ASU’s football team, later played for the Arizona Cardinals before enlisting in the Army after 9/11. He was killed by friendly fire in 2004.)

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Aaron earned awards for highest grade point average on the team and offensive player on the scout team, and made the dean’s list twice. He had a girlfriend that he thought he could marry. “I should be the CEO of a Forbes 500 company,” Breinig says, “or a professor at a major university.”

“He had this warm, genuine spirit,” says Cara McCrain, a high school friend of Aaron’s. “There was nothing he couldn’t do: in school, in sports, get the girl he wanted. It was him.”

Instead everything collapsed. Aaron, confident that he would receive a coveted football scholarship for his senior year, was gutted when he went to someone else. Anita calls it “the turning point,” the moment that “broke her spirit.” That fall he left the team. He spent his days smoking marijuana. Soon he was calling home with strange statements: his bedroom was barricaded, or his toes were growing, or the television was talking to him. He lost a car and a couple of bicycles. “Our initial thought was, ‘Oh my God, I think he’s on drugs,’” Anita says.

Once, Alissa recalls, he grabbed her arm in the car. “They’re looking at me!” she murmured, her face full of fear. When she asked him what she meant, he walked over, looked behind him and said, “The movie ‘Varsity Blues’. They stole my life.”

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Two weeks before graduation in May 2000, Aaron threatened students in an ASU auditorium, saying he would fight and kill them. “I get this phone call. It’s basically, ‘They’re going to kick him out. You need to come get him,'” says Anita, who dropped everything and went to Tempe. “I got to his bedroom, which was an apartment he shared with a guy, and I was like, high. I mean, totally high,” she says. “I was so angry.”

Anita took Aaron to meet with administrators, and as he sat mumbling, acting “completely out of his mind,” she begged them to let him drop out rather than kick him out of school. “At that point I think, ‘He has a life ahead of him!’ He will never go back to college again! ‘” Anita says. The administrators agree. At the end of

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