Our son, Ben, died from a growing wave of modern substance abuse issues which directly impacted his mental health on May 19, 2020.
Growing up Ben was full of energy, had a great sense of humor, loved basketball, gaming on his computer, cars and technology. His sister, brother and friends would always count on Ben to entertain and make things amusing. However, when Ben started to self-medicate his problems during his early years of high school, things started to spiral down quickly. A delayed growth spurt hurt him athletically and he then decided to put his energy into computer gaming around the clock. His dyslexia, ADHD, low self-esteem and anxiety seemed to be superficially fixed with gaming. As the gaming really sped up his brain, he started to self-medicate with weed to calm his mind and find an escape. As we later discovered, this led to weekly, sometimes daily, weed use for the next 3-4 years. Weed use, lying, and stealing led him to a wilderness development program for 78 days outside of Durango, CO. We had gone out as a family to pick him up, support him and celebrate his graduation. This was a happy time for us to see Ben healthy and weed free. After a 30 day stint in a therapeutic boarding school, Ben came home and gradually found his way back to prior issues, despite attending a new high school, he started smoking and dabbing high concentration THC weed again. As we are learning now, high THC and a developing brain do not go together and can re-wire the brain to impede connectivity, create serious frontal lobe issues, lower IQ scores 6-8 points, paranoia, delusions and eventually lead to psychosis and/or schizophrenia.
As Ben kept searching for the next best natural thing, he found psychedelic mushrooms his last year of life. We believe he had 1 or 2 psychotic breaks around the same time and ended up spontaneously driving out to California, from Ohio, to find his California dream of being rich and living by the ocean. His father and I went out to find him early this year and found a different Ben. A Ben living out of his wrecked car with no belongings. He gave them all away including his phone and wore a heavy parka jacket 24 hours a day. He looked homeless and unkempt and was having auditory delusions, paranoia, mania at times, and he was talking a lot about Satan. Our Ben was gone. We wanted to get him back to Ohio but he would not have it so we ended up getting him into a behavioral hospital in Laguna, CA for 3 weeks, a treatment center in Pasadena for another 3 weeks and lastly, a sober house his last 2 months. At 21 years of age, he was calling all the shots, and we did all what we could do to help him navigate him through a dysfunctional mental health support system. We didn’t want him to go homeless and lose him. COVID-19 hit in the middle of this and we are unable to go to CA to access him and celebrate his birthday in April, finally our youngest was going to be 21. Weeks pass by with little communication from him, but we found some comfort knowing he was clean, being regularly drug tested, staying in a home with a curfew and a house manager keeping watch on him pushing him to look for a sustainable job. We also began having talks with him to move him back to Ohio and he agreed. We were feeling relief and scared at the same time for we knew he needed some serious help but we wanted our son home. Our son would be home by the end of the week, we thought.
The next day we got the call. Ben was “running in the lanes” on Interstate 5 in Laguna Hills a little after midnight and was killed by semi trailer tractor. Our beloved son is gone forever.
Reprinted with permission of the To the Top Foundation which was founded by Ben’s family to promote mental health awareness.