One family’s struggle against the ravages of schizophrenia.
Award-winning Independent Iraq correspondent Patrick Cockburn (Muqtada Al-Sadr and the Battle for the Future of Iraq, 2008, etc.) and his 26-year-old son Henry, a diagnosed schizophrenic, collaborate to tell the story of battling an acute mental illness. In 2002, Henry was a British college student who appeared to be happily launched on an artistic career until—without any obvious precipitating cause—he began to hear voices that prompted him to endanger his life by wandering naked in winter, plunging into icy water and engaging in other dangerous activities. Believing that he was undergoing an exhilarating religious experience, he avoided taking anti-psychotic medications and engineered daring escapes from the various mental institutions where he was being held in protective custody against his will. The author writes movingly about the harrowing times faced by the family as they awaited his recapture, fearful for his life and safety. Henry recounts his experiences on the run, hooking up with a variety of street people and sometimes simply wandering through fields getting battered and bruised, facing hunger and inclement weather. Although his grandmother suffered from depression, there is no known family history of schizophrenia. A heavy user of marijuana in his teens, he describes his life during adolescence as “a sort of haze.” His parents had tolerated his marijuana use, believing the drug to be “fairly harmless,” and only learned during his hospitalization of “its possible devastating impact on somebody genetically predisposed to schizophrenia.” By 2007, Henry had come to terms with the realities of his situation and accepted medication. In 2009, his condition had stabilized sufficiently to allow him to move to a rehabilitation unit in a London suburb, an institution that offered greater personal freedom, although he still contends with hallucinatory experiences.
A poignant account with an optimistic conclusion, if not a happy ending.