On the surface, Zack Hix is like many 18-year-olds.
The Simpsonville, S.C., teen's favorite foods are cheeseburgers and pizza. He listens to rock and punk music. He loves to race mountain bikes, play video games, watch Georgia Bulldogs football with his dad and -- perhaps most importantly -- draw.
But Zack also suffers from a laundry list of mental health issues, including both intermittent explosive- and obsessive-compulsive disorders, which make him different from other kids his age and threaten to inhibit his ability to function as an independent adult.
Zack is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, in addition to the IED and OCD. He also has Tourette syndrome and tics that are the result of a Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infection in the fifth grade.
Artistic self-expression through drawing helps to balance Zack's struggles. Together, the Hix family is on a journey to turn a series of Zack's characters into a career as a cartoonist.
"If we can make a go of this and he can work for himself doing what he loves to do -- chances are he is not going to be able to work in a traditional setting; they're so up and down with how they function -- maybe he can support himself after high school and not have to sit back and collect disability as a person who cannot hold a job," his mother, Kim Hix, said.
The Good Boy Roy crew -- including Roy, Zman and Rocker Rick -- are charismatic, athletic and musically talented. They are likenesses of Zack and those close to him. Life's joys and tribulations also inspire Zack's art, whether it's expressing his faith in God, standing up to bullies or maintaining a positive outlook on life.
"The images come to my head," he says. "I just capture them and put them on paper."
'I know that it is the illness'
Kim Hix, 46, is the president of Good Boy Roy, in addition to her roles as part-time personal trainer, an advocate for children in court proceedings and, of course, full-time mother.
"When Zack does awful things, I know that is the illness," she says. "He is so loving and sweet and thinks of others."
She knew early on that Zack was different, she says. He wouldn't sleep alone, screamed to the point where she thought he was going to hurt himself and had trouble processing the reasons he was disciplined.
The family had no history of mental disorders, so Kim Hix started taking Zack to doctors.
"We didn't know what to think," she says. "We were kind of bewildered."
Zack's father, Doug Hix, says it sometimes feels like they are isolated and on an island, but points out that many people have it worse.
Kim Hix says Zack's struggles continue to affect the family, especially Kelsie, 14.
"None of this is in your control really," says Kim. "You can't fix these things. If it's a bad day, if it's chaotic, you pray a lot and when you wake up you hope the next day is better."
No broad brush on his symptoms
Zack has seen psychiatrist Dr. Robert Richards since elementary school.
Richards doesn't use a broad brush to describe Zack's symptoms, he says, because the disorders manifest themselves differently according to the individual, the responsiveness to treatment and the resources available. But Richards did classify Zack's problems as severe.
Still, the teen has a "high-level of sensitivity and intuitiveness," Richards said. His drawings could be a way for him to express his view that people should be treated with kindness.
"If you look at other aspects of personality growth and development, he has a strong capacity for empathy," says Richards.
Dr. Ken Duckworth, a psychiatrist and the medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, says the two most important variables in treating mental disorders and illness are family support and the patient's willingness to accept help from loved ones.
Kim says Zack is family-oriented, always wanting to be near and spend time with his parents.
"I can't tell them how much I love them in words," says Zack.