Josie Méndez-Negrete is a sociologist and associate professor of Mexican American studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her adult son, Robert Lopez, 47, is schizophrenic.
Her 2015 book, “A Life on Hold: Living with Schizophrenia,” recounts their efforts to cope and live with mental illness.
Josie Méndez-Negrete said schizophrenia is not a diagnosis anyone expects.
”I think every parent who confronts mental illness in their family — every parent, every mother — I don’t think it’s something they ever imagine for themselves,” she said.
Méndez-Negrete said science is getting wise to identifying markers for mental illness.
“Our genome, our DNA, they’ve begun to identify like 100 sites where there’s a possibility of connecting mental illness to the unbinding of the disease..”
In the book, Méndez-Negrete recounts the stories and memories Robert shares with her. Some of those stories are told in voices that are not his. Méndez-Negrete writes in “A Life on Hold” that he has eight “fictive communities” in his head.
“It’s like having eight television stations on at all times with different stories and different images and different decibels of sound for each of the different stories,” she said.
She explained that “people who are mentally ill are so dehumanized that they don’t want to be themselves.”
A couple of the voices in Robert’s mind are “Father Mateo,” an ethical character who could always get him out of a jam, and the “homeboy,” who spoke in the “language of the streets” to help get Robert out of potential trouble with gangbangers.
Méndez-Negrete added that not only does he have to deal with feeling like an outcast in society, “he also has to deal with the things he hears in his mind about himself,” who tell him he’s worthless and that he needs to kill himself.
Robert has been living in San Antonio with his parents since 2014.