My first brush with schizophrenia. (Not myself)

In the seventies we had a family friend. I don’t know how or where my parents met him but my first memory of him was when he was grown up at age 18. His name was John and as long as I knew him he was a hippie. He had the long hair, the beard. Blue jeans, flannel shirt. I think the first time I remember him was when he came for an extended visit to our apartment in California. He looked like I described and he was traveling with two friends around California in an beat-up old Station Wagon. I was in fifth grade at the time. I always liked him. Him and his two friends stayed about a week and a half. John would come outside and play touch football with me and my friends. I thought that was pretty cool. He was just a likable guy. Being a hippie, he was also into eating organically or naturally so he was one of the first vegetarians I ever met. He ate a lot of nuts and before Silicone Vally became a center for technology it was largely orchards at that time and he would take a burlap sack and go to various orchards and pick walnuts or almonds which were plentiful. Well, he visited us occasionally over the years. He would just sack out in his sleeping bag on our living room floor at night. Then, in a great surprise to everybody he got married. Everybody thought he would settle down. He brought his wife to our house and they stayed awhile and then a few months later he wrote us a letter saying he had a kid with his wife. And so for the next couple years that’s how he stayed in touch by writing long letters. Obviously no computers or e-mailing back then. Then things got a little weird. Things began to unravel. He separated from his wife and moved up to Washington and Oregon. Then he wrote us a letter saying he had got picked up and put in jail. That was TOTALLY out of character for him. He was just NEVER a troublemaker. So his letters started sounding a little weird and we started to understand something was wrong. The last time I saw him was in 1977 when I was in high school. Well the next thing you know his mother sent us a letter. I guess John had told her about us and how close we we to him. 'Her letter said John was homeless and in jail again and acting bizarrely. When I saw him in that last visit to us he was quiet, but wild-eyed and confused.This was before anybody had an inkling that I was schizophrenia but his mom visited our house with him and told us he was schizophrenic. I didn’t exactly know what that meant but I remember being shocked along with my family. It sure explained things about his behavior. I remember feeling very sorry for him. I had never had a reason to feel sorry for him before. He was a nice guy and a happy-go-lucky guy before he got sick. Then one day his mother wrote us. John had been homeless for awhile and survived by eating produce and nuts. It was winter time. He had picked a sackful of nuts (his mother wrote us) and his mother said someone had found his body on the ground leaning on a tree in an orchard. It had snowed and he had frozen to death. It was just sad and shocking. You may think mental health treatment is bad now but in lots of areas back then it was nonexistent. I guess he had slipped through the cracks of the mental health system. That was thirty years ago. I still think of him every now and then, playing with us kids, laughing and smiling. Until he got ravaged by schizophrenia.


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everyone has to die anyway.

better be frozen to death than to LIVE ON MEDICINES.

case closed.

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A sad and moving story. There have been times when I would rather have died on the road than have to take a typical anti-psychotic. One time I just walked around outside for a few months, because I knew that coming in and living with my parents meant that I would have to take Haldol. Sometimes I think I would rather be on the road than in a comfortable apartment like I am now, but then again, it’s looking like we are going to have a very cold winter. Anti-psychotic medication has taken away my ability to brave the elements.

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I don’t think everybody would agree about that. Some people might.


I always get a little something from your post.

Man… poor guy. It just makes me think about the people who are still sort of falling through the cracks right now.

You’re reminisce is exactly why I want to stay plugged in. I do NOT want to end up alone and homeless again and left to die of exposure.

Thank you for this.


@77nick77 you say he was a Hippie - I wonder if he dropped acid from time to time - maybe this contributed to his SZ?

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My grandmother had paranoid schizophrenia as well, unfortunately she isolated herself for 40 years and did not get treatment for the disease until she was a senior in the hospital. Other members of my family have struggled with mental illness. I believe schizophrenia is a genetic illness.

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I would be very surprised if he had not done some kind of drugs.

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my first brush with it (that I know of) was smokey Joe. Rest in something Rus. I first heard of him as “the schizo” but quickly changed my mind about that. He had a very unusual case of Sz but always helped me out when I saw him.

It’s interesting though, I only knowingly met maybe two people with Sz prior to my age of onset. But I always admired the black sheep so to speak, the eccentric, so I just accepted them for who they were.

Wish Sz was more socially acceptable though…in a sane way you know.