My Beloved Boy, Daniel Francis Montalbano

My Beloved Boy, Daniel Francis Montalbano Written by his devoted Mom, Barbara Theodosiou Daniel was a beautiful, chubby, newborn with huge brown eyes. I fell in love with him from the first moment I held him. He was a cute, curious toddler. He chased after his big brother, Peter. He adored his little sister, Nicole, when she joined our family. They all played together. The boys taught Nicole how to play video games, and they would laugh and have fun. Poor Nicole, she was out-numbered by boys! On the first day of school, as I watched him, so excited, go out the door in his new clothes, carrying his lunchbox, I had no idea of the tragic journey that he and I would share. School was not a happy experience for my boy. Although he was intellectually gifted, Daniel had poor social skills. He annoyed the other kids, repeating phrases and demands over and over. He was awkward at sports, always the last chosen to play on a team. He was bullied, and called ugly names. Nicole would tell me the horrible stories when the my three kids came home from school. One morning, while still in my pajamas, I ran out to the bus stop to confront a boy who was beating Daniel in the head. Once, when I went to school for a conference, I witnessed a boy throw Daniel against a wall. He annoyed the other students in class; he was disruptive. Parents complained about Daniel. Teachers placed Daniel in detention, or in isolation. There were no attempts made by the school personnel to intervene on Daniel’s behalf, instead, he was isolated and ostracized. By middle school, Daniel was sad, miserable, and becoming angry. This anger would grow and begin to be a problem. Daniel also developed very low self-esteem. At home, Daniel insisted on pouring the exact amount of shampoo every time he washed his hair; he obsessed over his personal hygiene. Daniel joined the Cub Scouts, but he had difficulty making friends. He didn’t feel welcome.   He sat on the bench during his team football games; he was never chosen by the coach to play. I took him to a Psychiatrist at the tender age of 12. There was no definitive diagnosis. Doctors are reluctant to label a young person with a disorder, and even more reluctant to offer medication as treatment. Psychiatric medications are not tested on children. Trial and error seems to be the only way to find an appropriate medication. Parents, myself included, are even more reluctant than physicians to experiment with our child’s mental health. The doctor did feel that Daniel had ADHD, and it seems likely that he also had OCD. Today, I know that these two disorders, along with inadequate social skills, are common in those diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. During high school, he spent more time in detention than he did in class. He started taking drugs. He hated his life. The drugs allowed him to escape from his emotional pain. He was expelled from school, so he finished at home. He was not a candidate for college, for, despite his brilliance, he lacked the social skills and coping strategies to be successful. Daniel spent his days taking drugs, and writing poetry and stories. He read his stories to the homeless. Generous and kind to a fault, he would give his last dollar to a homeless person. His poetry developed from his inner soul. The messages were dark and depressing. He painted self-portraits that revealed his internal demons. So, he entered the dreaded, yet inevitable cycle of those suffering from the Co-Occurring Disorders of Mental Illness and Substance Use: Overdosed often as a cry for help, taken to the ER, moved to the Psychiatric Unit, held under Civil Commitment Laws, sent to treatment, left his treatment center because the other people bothered him, arrested for shoplifting, for loitering, and for trespassing, taken to jail and housed with violent felons. He was assaulted and placed in isolation for his own protection. His mental condition worsened without treatment. Once he was released from jail, the cycle began again. Daniel was never truly drug-free despite hundreds of hours spent in treatment. Daniel repeated this endless cycle over and over again for 9 long years, until the last time he left treatment in April of 2015. That evening, he drank alcohol, took pills, and tragically drowned in an Inter-coastal waterway. My Daniel was only 23 years old. His was a tormented, heart-breaking life. In retrospect, I believe that our community mental health system, coupled with the criminal justice system, failed my Daniel. He was never identified and treated effectively as a young person with a mental illness. And while in jail, he was assaulted, isolated and denied access to therapy, medication, or physicians to treat either his mental illness or his substance use. The system is broken for people like Daniel. It is my wish that his life was not a life lived in vain. That I, through “The Addict’s Mom,” will persevere in Daniel’s name to bring awareness to and facilitate significant improvements in the fields of mental illness and addiction.