I was in a day-treatment program with this guy about 15 years ago. He was about ten years younger than I was, from the Cities, and had been attending college at UCLA. He was a brilliant kid, attractive, personable, very shy and self-conscious, but kind and respectful of the other group members. He had been cruising along in life until the day his TV and radio started talking to him. He didn’t know what was happening to him or who to go to for help and lived day and night in terror of these terrible voices. He got bad enough that he couldn’t take care of himself, and was picked up by the police in a psychotic state, locked up in jail, then sent to the hospital.
He went through the gamut of tests and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He wouldn’t stay on his medications, had trouble with street drugs and went from program to program. We met at a day treatment center and became friends. The combination of his natural shyness, his meds, and his shame of being “crazy” made Brad very quiet and withdrawn, but we both liked motorcycles and tennis, and after I left the program, we stayed in contact, getting together to play tennis or go to a movie. He loved cruising on the back of my Harley around the Lakes, simply “riding the breeze.” We learned that he was a wonderful musician when at a talent show the program put on, Brad got up, borrowed someone’s guitar and softly sang Neil Young’s ode to addiction, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” a memory that haunts me even now.
He had trouble staying on his anti-psychotics and told me once that by taking the meds, he was “giving in” to his illness, and that if he could just “get everything going in the right direction, and get on the right path,” that he’d come “out of it” and be just like he was before, back at college. I tried for a while to keep tabs on him, but life and time separated us.
I saw him one more time in the waiting room at HCMC, about 1988. He’d put on about 150 pounds and had a beard down to his chest, but he still had that spark when I told him about my new bike.
Another old friend from the program told me she had heard that Brad had finally lost his battle with mental illness. He had tried going back to L.A., retracing his steps to where he had once been healthy and happy. He had been in dozens of programs without finding or accepting the help he needed and had been abandoned by his family and friends. He was homeless, hunted by his voices and alone. He had tried, but the systems and aid he needed simply weren’t there, or weren’t right for him. He walked to the top of a car ramp and jumped. And though he did it voluntarily, I can’t help but feel sometimes when I’m down that in some ways, he was pushed.
Pete Feigal send this article “In memory of Brad and Lisa, angels too soon.” Reprinted from Access Press, 1999.