Hey Holly, so glad you have found this forum. There are many here who are in a similar situation and I expect we each wonder how we came to be here. Thank you for writing, and encouraging me to share.
I find it so hard seeing my much loved son change from a loving, caring, thoughtful child who was interested in learning and planning for happy relationships and to be a great dad, to a vulnerable young man who is isolated even when well, paranoid when unwell, and finds it difficult keeping friends because they cannot cope with his bouts of instability. Although 34, he's emotionally about 22 and really feels low about the lack of future choices he now has. Like your son, in the early years he had little insight into his illness and would self-medicate or be non-compliant which, now years (and dozens of hospital admissions) later, means his recovery level is less complete than it might have been if he'd been able to work with the medical team when first diagnosed at 17. I am sad at the loss of the man who might have been and grieve for him still.
For a long time I thought I could have prevented his illness, fixed it, made it disappear, if..., if only, and being my only child, it's been difficult to step back from worrying, mothering, protecting him, rescuing him and I still have to work on consciously. I admire that you learned to let go but still listen and try to understand without passing comment. Only in the past 18 months I realised that much of what my son talks about is quite symbolic, so trying hard to understand keeps me more silent than previously which is good.
These years have been quite a learning experience for me. I'm more critical of treatment preferences advocated by the medical team of the moment (public health system) and know my way about the mental health legislation, what support systems and resources are available in his area, and keep in touch with his team. The furniture dumped on the verge, new clothes bartered, and continuous smell of tobacco, at his place don't phase me too much anymore - they're just things and, practically, can be replaced/cleaned etc. Looking inward is quite different and being practical is my way of numbing the emotions that could be overwhelming at times. I do find connecting with others who have mental health concerns often easier than connecting with those without - empathy perhaps, or insight from experience. Oftentimes these others help me understand, or learn, something that helps me relate better to my son, and this is oh so rewarding.
There is always more to look forward to, experiences that I learn from, hope for better quality of life for him, and for me. Giving up is not an option, but those who have or do, are missing out on depths of humanity. Doing what's possible whenever possible in the kindest way I can is my aim. I will forgive others their ignorance and inability to understand but justifying nastiness is ignored. There's so much more loving to be done.