Chapter 7  -  Full Blown

Break-downs; wall painting; energy vampires; killing his guitar; mission to Stansted.

Complete with multi-media....

Back from 3 months in the USA with a poncho and a head full of crazy. After missing the previous flight home (“I’m not ready to come back, I haven’t finished here”), we’d managed to get him another ticket a week later. He begged the money to get a bus to the airport, leaving his home under the bridge with a tramp in Baton Rouge near New Orleans. We knew he’d got to the airport as he’d talked a businessman in the lounge into letting him send an email from his laptop. Tenterhooks, a late night, an early morning, flight times off the internet…

Ross walks out of arrivals at Heathrow terminal 3 on Friday 16th November at 7am. Back from destitution in New York. Back from living as a troll under a bridge near New Orleans. Back from the worst of our night terrors riding a wave of relief.

At least he’s not dead.

He’s hairy and smelly.

Unsurprisingly, his looks and behaviour are feral, he constantly glances round as though expecting a band of white coats to materialise and take him away. He smiles when he sees us, but is still wary as we converge into a huddle of arms, jumpers, beards and emotions.

“Hi Ross.” He pulls back and stares intently into my eyes. “Dad, if you try to have me sectioned, you’ll never see me again”. His first words. First impressions are so important. For a moment, I’m totally thrown by the contrast between the feelings coursing through me and the blunt reality of his words. I believe him. Then he’s my son again and long-held tension relaxes into relief and exhaustion.

We drive home (only 20 minutes) chatting inconsequentially, an unspoken compact keeping things light and superficial. He’s safe in the back of the car, an experience overlaid with past memories of family outings. I keep looking at him him in the rear view mirror whilst pretending to stretch.

For a few days, there’s a honeymoon period – he sleeps a lot, like a hippy hedgehog hibernating under the duvet. We know that psychosis has been spreading through his mind like metastatic cells, but, for the moment, we just want to feel him here, to hear him, smell him. Simple, physical, experiences. We try to ignore everything else, a willing suspension of knowledge for a moment of relief. Soaking-in our son and watching him and Owen brothering each other like guitar wielding puppies.

Ross needed familiarity (in the true sense of family-arity) and reassurance that he wouldn’t be sectioned or arrested. As the familiar became familiar again, he began to relax, to take the changes in his life for granted - and to swing increasingly wildly between brief moments of lucidity and fully blown delusions. Much later, we sat in the garden one Friday afternoon shortly before Ross was sectioned. The sun was shining and I’d gone home early, utterly exhausted. Ross showed up (hadn’t seen him for a while), and we just sat and chatted, father and son. Told him I loved him, hugged him. An hour of simple connection (ignoring some of the slightly weird conversational gambits), talking about holidays and music, avoiding “everything”. I needed that. The sun was warm and my son was warm. An hour later, he was mad again, screaming at me in the kitchen.

It is difficult to describe just how stressful the oscillations between filial affection and “autistic” manipulation and delusion would become as my emotions were repeatedly, and sometimes violently, flipped between extremes. I felt like the copper conductor in a cable when you can’t find the pliers, being bent back and forth and back and forth: hope – despair, hope – despair, love – anger, love – anger. In the end, you run out of ductility, turn brittle and the cracks start to appear.

My own mental state deteriorated over the next several months, swinging between obsession and depression, between numbing apathy and exhaustion with the occasional freaked frenzy. Looking back, I’m both ashamed and quite proud of some aspects of my behaviour as I lived on the dividing line between functional and collapsed. I’d meet other carers (a term much used by the mental health services, but which I really, really dislike) who hadn’t made it (breakdowns, early retirement etc) and some who still managed to function under circumstances that left me humbled by their resilience. I slipped over the line several times as Ross had a major breakdown (emergency call-out of the crash team), killed his guitar, got picked-up at Stansted trying to leave the country, painted his room madness, threatened his mother and assaulted me….

Nothing, however, was as bad as the increasing sense of loss I felt as I watched Ross gradually losing himself, piece by piece. It was like watching an eagle, planing high with the world beneath his wings turning into a battery chicken, dreaming mad eagle dreams and convincing himself that scratching about in a square foot of earth was a meaningful life. Little by little, it felt as though his soul was eroding away.

Ross’ case worker was brilliant. She saw him quite regularly, even hunting him down when he went elsewhere. Despite his mental state, Ross seemed to build-up a begrudging respect for her as she was experienced enough not to take any shit and to be honest with him. We had a very strong sense that she was on our side, doing her best to build a case for sectioning.

Sadly however, the rest of the mental health services appeared unable or unwilling to act. It seems that under the Mental Health Act, everyone had to stand-by and watch as Ross self-destructed. “Everyone” being the early intervention and crash teams, doctors, psychiatrists, case worker, us, friends et al. They all knew, admitted and discussed the fact that he was seriously psychotic and that his chances of a full recovery were deteriorating every day that went by without treatment. But “…there’s nothing we can do. He’s too articulate, and wouldn’t necessarily break-down during a sectioning interview. Not only that, but if we did succeed, he’d be out on appeal within a couple of weeks. We just have to wait (if only he was thick)….” Whilst this was utterly obscene and morally repugnant, apparently, it was impossible to do anything about it.

So I started to record things. I had this mad idea that, if I could put together enough incontrovertible and independent evidence of his mental state, somehow it might be taken into account, be taken seriously and some action would be triggered. Utterly naïve: Peter against the system. But I had to try something, anything. I couldn’t just stand by and watch it happen, watch Ross losing more of himself every day. Despite having built up a case that would have stood up in a court of law, it seems that evidence counts for nothing when it comes to interpreting the Act.

Losing Faith

When my grandmother died in hospital when I was 19, it was an obscenity. They had forcibly kept her alive for weeks and weeks after she had given up and decided that she didn’t want to go on. From my granny to a husk in a score of days. I hated visiting her. I didn’t want to see her like that, to be forced remember her as what she had become. And I hated myself for feeling that way. I wanted to remember her as she had been, not the way she had become. Faced with the day-to-day reality of coping with him, I began to find it more and more difficult to remember him and to keep faith with the essential Ross. Unless drugged, I’d wake in the low hours of the night, the hours when everything is hopeless and there are still 173 long minutes to endure before the alarm goes off. The hours when the mind-loops come for you.

Sometimes, with images of the previous day projected on the screen of night and with worries about where he was and if he was OK endlessly in my head, I’d try to play “Don’t Fade” (his song for me) in my mind or to imagine Ross and Owen playing guitar or burrowing on the beach together. Wanting and needing to hold him whole in my head, to remember him, to beat down the fear that he’ll never be able to come back. Tears I’m too tired to wipe. It’s 03:53am.

Months later, after Ross had come out of hospital, I wrote about these feelings in a poem, Dis-Chord, hoping that he would turn them into a song. This was a blatant attempt at occupational therapy on the family holiday a few days after he came home. We sat in the shade under a tree in France with his guitar and turned the words into the (somewhat different) lyrics of “Song of Sickness” whilst Ross wrote the music.


All the music that's in you    

It sang through my mind every day

Both our feelings entwined with the rhythms

That won't go away    

Then the harmony you'd found

Was turned to dischord in your head

Your beautiful sound it was muted

And then it was dead


I feared I'd forget you    

As echoes of you fade away    

A cacophony of voices destroying  

The beat of your day    

Your music had gone from you

You de-composing your head

As you scream in my face I remember

Your lyrics instead


Awake in the night, I am    

Listening for something that's gone  

I strain with my ears for the ghost of  

A hint of your song    

I cling to the memory

Of your rhythm that beats in my heart

Your violent assault just reminds me

How gentle you are

Peter Wilson August 2008. For my son, Ross, suffering from psychosis. He is a very talented musician, but at one point, he killed his guitar...

Link: Song of Sickness.

Recorded live on World Mental Health Day, October 2008 - first time on stage post hospitalisation.

The Breakdown

I’d persuaded Ross to come down the gym with me, in the naïve hope that the exercise would improve his mood. He was very chatty in the car – it just felt so normal, a little male bonding. At the gym, he spent some time on the rolling road, but then got distracted and disappeared, later to be discovered staring in fascination at pictures on the walls.

Ross commentary 2010

There was always some strange logic to my behaviour, mostly it consisted of linking together various disparate ideas and memories and believing that they meant something highly significant. For example, when I was down the gym getting lost among the pictures that hung on the corridor walls, I believed that I was attracting my ex-band members back into my life because (now bear with me on this one...) I'd painted some pictures of them during an A-level art project and I'd linked the predominant colours of the pictures to represent their spirits. Therefore, when I was looking at certain colours in other pictures, I believed I was communicating with their spirits and drawing them (through the hidden mystical connections in the universe) back into my life. Interesting...

More father-son repartee on the way back home in the car. Pulled up on the drive and then….

…sudden screams, “…someone is telling me I’m not well”, tears, shouting, head on my lap in the car, “…dad, dad, dad, help me, I’m evil… I’m not well”

Link to: Ross “pretends” to have a break-down

Harrowing recording of the above…

I get him indoors and it’s as though a switch has been thrown when Owen comes down the stairs. “What’s up?” “Nothing dude”. But then he breaks down again in the lounge, sobbing, screaming – “not well, evil….”, lying on the couch with Gillian, Owen and myself hugging him, holding him, trying to reassure him, to comfort him. We call the emergency number for the Early Intervention crash team.

It’s deeply disturbing to experience so much anguish in your son, in your brother. Such fear and pain. The sounds, sobbing, screaming. The words “…someone keeps saying I’m not well, I’m evil, evil…”. It goes on and on and you just hold him. You say such simple, trite things, but with such feeling, as though you could create aural amulets that will ward-off the delusions and ease the suffering. After an age (but which was probably only 15 minutes in the real world outside our heads), Ross gradually subsides. We sit and hug and get him a drink, as though he is once more a five year old waking from night terrors.

The “breakdown” – Ross writing post hospital

I did it on purpose. That’s what I said anyway, whether or not it was true of course was another story. But, no I genuinely do believe that I had a reason at the time to go so extreme. The whole idea was that I was trying to show my Dad the impact he was having on me by continuing to call me “unwell”. I basically acted out breaking down to try to show him what a negative effect he was having on me. Because I was not happy with being called “unwell”, it had so much stigma attached to it, it made me feel like I was going crazy, not that I was going through something that happens to many people of all ages. So I started shouting and screaming things like “someone keeps saying  I’m evil, someone keeps saying I’m NOT WELL, I’m evil, I’m evil, who keeps saying I’m not well, who is it?”.

I did this in the full knowledge that at any point I could stop and just say, “look what you’re saying is really beginning to annoy me” – but whether in reality I actually could is another matter entirely. I remember alternating between screaming and shouting to being very calm when Owen came down the stairs, which kind of showed to me that I did still have some element of control. So, well, who knows! It all gets a little bit weird when you go through mental illness.

The crash team arrives only half-an-hour after our call. Eventually, we will have cause to get to know the whole team, but this is the first time and we have no idea what to expect. The two of them come in, bringing with them a reassuringly bracing blast of reality and professional pragmatism. They get the history and talk to Ross, asking him about the experience, how he feels, whether he understands what is happening. They don’t pull any punches, but calmly and matter-of-factly discuss his symptoms and the options. They get him to agree to take something to calm him down plus an anti-psychotic to help him regain some control of his feelings and mind, to damp-down the random thoughts and impulses. He agrees, and one of them disappears into the night to raid a local pharmacy. Ross takes the tablets and we talk with the team. It is massively reassuring to discuss what has happened with them. Whilst it is new and frightening for us, it is part of their regular experience, one that is familiar and which can be turned from a helplessly emotive event into something that can gradually be evaluated more objectively.

They arrange a regular schedule of visits (starting the next day) to talk to Ross about the help and treatment options at home as he is disinclined to go to the New Horizons (mental health) centre. Our expressions of gratitude as they leave are heartfelt. Peace descends. A bath and then onto our bed for more hugs and quiet talking. Owen goes to his room whilst Ross lies across our bed in his fluffy dressing gown, sleepy and cuddly. There’s a feeling of closeness and a hope that, finally, we may have made some kind of breakthrough.

No chance.

And it’s all the more stressful and painful to feel some hope, and then to have it thoroughly shredded.

Drug Phobia

They came in pairs, at arranged times. I’d come home from work to attend the meetings and Ross would sometimes be up – whatever the time of day. They are called the Early Intervention Team, no matter what time they arrive.

The day after that first breakdown, there was a long family discussion with the team and Ross, with him being only intermittently communicative. They discussed his situation, behaviour and feelings, being quite blunt about what was likely to happen if he didn’t get treatment. That ultimately he would end up being sectioned against his will and that he would be treated anyway, with no control over what happened to him – and that the longer this went on, the lower the chances of a full recovery. So, a choice: voluntarily start the process of treatment and have some control over what happens, or end up with no choices and no control and much less likelihood of making a full recovery.

Despite his insistence that the problem lay with the behaviour and thoughts of everyone else, in the end he promised to engage in the process and to take medication. He was, of course, lying. That evening he said he would take his medication and supposedly took one pill, but then refused anything else. After all, why should he take powerful drugs when he was developing a higher consciousness and all the mental issues were ours and others. Given that’s how he felt, he had a good point. However, his reaction to the suggestion of taking medication, as he had promised he would, was extreme, almost phobic.    

Link to: Drug Phobia recording 14/12/07

He pretended to take tablets when supervised and hid them when unsupervised. Other than during the team home visits, he refused to engage at all. Being psychotic doesn’t mean you’re stupid or lack cunning.

Ah there were moments when I thought I was controlling the universe too… Once I was playing with the dinner table arrangements… I was trying to get my Dad to stop drinking red wine. At the time I thought it symbolised blood and that it was feeding their energy vampirism. I firmly believed that they were energy vampires and that they were literally sucking the energy out of me and making me depressed. Boy did I believe some weird things at that time…

The Phoenix

I remember this painting that I downloaded from the internet that was of a Phoenix. The giant bird was just flying free of a mud/tar pit full of brown sludgy monsters. To me, the bird symbolised myself and the monsters were my parents and the mental health team which were all the people who were trying to pull me down into the black sludge of doom. That’s genuinely how I felt at the time too. I really felt that everyone had turned against me and that they were all trying to stop me from becoming the highest person I could be.

I also remember making some crazy little cartoons that technically were quite amazing, I remember being very proud and very fascinated by the drawings I was making and I was totally absorbed in every tiny little detail. I made a cartoon for a device that I thought would revolutionise family communications. Basically, I called it the Phoenix (at the time I was obsessed with the Phoenix), it symbolised my dissolution of my old identity and my rebirth as a spiritual being, a butterfly that had transformed by the light of consciousness.

If you don’t understand what I’m going on about, it’s okay, I think I’m the only one that did, and I’m not too sure if even I do now…).

So, I called this device the Phoenix and the idea was that basically it was a Dictaphone that I sellotaped to my door and would record messages on to communicate with my family. I thought this would revolutionise family communication because you could leave voice messages for people which would include the added value of being able to hear the tone of voice of the person recording it, thus giving it an emotional edge over just a plainly written note. God knows how or why I came up with that! I was full of ingenious but pretty useless ideas like this during that time. I spent pretty much all of my time coming up with new ideas for things I could do and then writing them down in one of my many little books. Oh, everything made sense to me at that time.

Everything I did was full of purpose and meaning and I absolutely knew what I was doing all the time. Do you see what I mean about the fun aspect of it? It was a highly creative time for me, although I did not actually produce very much in the way of works, (a lot of journal entries, some cartoons, some small pictures) I was constantly coming up with new ideas about cool things to do. I was loving every minute of it.

My dad was particularly upset with my obsession with the Phoenix. He thought that I thought that I was the Phoenix, that I had created an alter ego for myself. He listed such qualities as “distant,” “no empathy”, “no compassion” “isolated” as compared to my other ego “Ross” which he described as “helpful”, “compassionate”, “creative,” “empathetic” and so on. Little did he know that it was not an alter ego I had created for myself, but a power I thought actually existed within myself! I even began calling my powers of healing “phoenix powers” as can be seen from some of my cartoonised journal entries.

A Complete (and Desperate) Idiot Attempting to Appeal to Rationality

At one point, because Ross was making so much effort to rationalise his behaviour and beliefs, and was constantly writing everything down, I thought I’d try to plug-in to his obsessions with a written diatribe of my own that I gave him. I’d try anything, including clutching at really stupid straws which I’d then try to thrust into his hands.

Looking back, whilst I know I thought I was trying to understand, it was probably much more for my benefit than for his. It was a stress induced displacement activity and an attempt to make sense of the circumstances in my own head. I didn’t know what I was doing and behaved like a combination of dad and utter dick (this with the more relaxed wisdom of hindsight and much new understanding). Don’t do this if you ever find yourself in my position, just don’t…

Link to: Philosophy in the Kitchen.

Ross felt that our worries about him were sending waves through the ceiling – or across the Atlantic – that made him feel ill, that were sucking the life out of him….


Dad: 29/12/07

Hi Ross

You spend so much time writing - trying to nail your cognitive and spiritual jelly to the wall - so I decided to take a leaf out of your book(!) and embrace this form of communication as well. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and watching and trying to understand. So these are my thoughts, arranged in 2 parts - the first to cover the objective cognitive issues, and the second the more difficult emotional and personal interpretations.

Part 1: Objective Cognition

My Research

Current Cannabis is very high in the psycho-active chemical, THC. THC causes reduced activity in the inferior frontal cortex (via brain scans), which keeps inappropriate thoughts and behaviour in check (such as swearing, paranoia). Even at relatively low doses, they found 50% of healthy volunteers began to show symptoms of psychosis. Volunteers who already had a history of psychotic symptoms appeared to be particularly vulnerable. Professor Murray - "If something has an active effect in inducing the symptoms of psychosis after one dose, then it would not be at all surprising if repeated use induced the chronic condition."

THC replaces dopamine at receptors, causing an imbalance in various neurotransmitters, including in the inferior frontal cortex (also linked with Tourettes and phonic “tics”). This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behaviors, personality expression, and moderating correct social behavior. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals. (Wikipedia).

The most typical neurologic term for functions carried out by the pre-frontal cortex area is Executive Function. Executive Function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social "control" (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially-unacceptable outcomes). Many authors have indicated an integral link between a person's personality and the functions of the prefrontal cortex.

The classic case of earlier studies of prefrontal cortex function involved a railroad construction supervisor, Phineas Gage, who, in 1848, had a metal rod pierce his left cheek and exit the top of his head. After the event, he had normal memory and abilities to walk and talk, but, because of the injury to the prefrontal cortex, his personality and work ability completely changed. Friends described him as a completely new person and whereas he previously was able to begin and complete work-based goals, after the injury he was unable to complete the multiple tasks that he started. He was described as more irritable, quick tempered, and impatient- all characteristics that he previously did not exhibit.

Subsequent studies, on patients with prefrontal injuries, have shown that the patients verbalized what the most appropriate social responses would be under certain circumstances, yet, when actually performing, they instead pursued behavior that is aimed at immediate gratification despite knowing the longer-term results would be self-defeating.

The interpretation of this data indicates that not only are skills of comparison and understanding of eventual outcomes harbored in the prefrontal cortex but the prefrontal cortex (when functioning correctly) controls the mental option to delay immediate gratification for a better or more rewarding longer-term gratification result. This ability to wait for a reward is one of the key pieces that define optimal executive function of the human brain.


The objective analyses above fit very well with the observed behaviour of Ross Wilson over the past year. And it is getting worse as the neurons adapt to cope with unnatural levels of neuro-transmitters - cyclic ups and downs, but always a downward trend. All the evidence is that this is what invariably happens without treatment. Invariably.

Part 2: I’m trying to understand what it’s like in your head

This where objectivity goes out of the window, because I love you so much it hurts (literally) and it has been agonising to watch what has happened to you over the last year. I’ve read extensively over the last few months and I’ve had my own “cow in the ward” moments caused by extreme stress (no hallucinations, but uncontrollable thoughts and reactions that have dropped me in my tracks). So, here goes.

Epileptic fits occur when neurons “charge-up” to such an extent that they cause a cascading avalanche across the brain - destructively disabling all cognitive and physical function. Medication allows the charge to leak away so that catastrophic discharge doesn’t happen. I imaging that it must be a little similar in your brain - dopamine and other neural chemicals at unnatural levels across parts of the brain and a stress or event or memory or reaction to a thought causing a spike in a neurotransmitter that kicks-off a cascade of neural discharges, slashing through thoughts and feelings - shredding them.

Thoughts and feelings triggered by these cascades suddenly burst through your consciousness from nowhere and you try to rationalise them - because it’s not possible to tell the difference between “real” thoughts and chemically triggered brain activity, they appear as your thoughts. It must be like the waking dream moments when a phone goes off and you incorporate it into your dream - but constantly, desperately, trying to incorporate all these chemically imposed thoughts and feelings into your consciousness.

You write and you write, trying to give form to yourself: feelings, interpretations and re- interpretations and re-re-interpretations - a never ending, recursive loop as you fight as hard and as courageously as you can against what is happening to you. And all the time, you feel your abilities and potential achievements degrading and slipping away from you. It would scare the shit out of me - amorphous fear, other people must be sucking the life out of you, other people must be putting you down. You look at Sam and feel envy (he’s better than me at everything - despite the fact that you are one of the most talented and intelligent people any of us have ever met, but not at the moment - your talent and intelligence is constantly shredded and turned inward in desperate rationalisation). I’ve no doubt that you’ll probably extend this to Owen - perhaps re-interpreting his abilities as being at the expense of your own - despite that fact that you’ve been his inspiration and mentor.

As for me: we have a remarkable bond. You know that dad will never let you down, he’s always there for you and loves you unconditionally. And pisses you off by telling the truth (I love you so much, but it doesn’t make me wise or necessarily good at saying the right thing - all I can do is my best and with all my heart). So you seek reassurance - sometimes violently, testing, testing, testing.....

I imagine having no centre, no “Chi”, constantly at the mercy of bursting thoughts like cancer cells popping into existence throughout your brain. Remember building huge sand-castle complexes to hold back the sea? You are the castle, constantly being washed away - all the details fading and rounding - as the waves of neuronal activity wash across you. You rush from place to place, building and re-building, shoring-up, writing yourself down to try to remember who you are. Every castle we ever built was washed away. You struggle and struggle but feel yourself washing away and I watch you washing away and I cry. No centre, no centre to hold and no hope that you won’t be washed away unless the waves can be stopped. There’s a team ready to build a break-water to stop the waves so that you can re-build yourself in calm water - but you believe they’ll kick sand in your face.

I imagine what it’s like to be on a slowly moving snow slope stream of consciousness. Ice axes of philosophy, pitons of intellect, crampons of spirit. Being carried steadily downwards towards the abyss. Your friends and family standing at the top of the slope, encouraging you to grab the line that snakes all the way down the slope and into the abyss, dangling near your hand. You’re fighting, dragging yourself up - away from the abyss. Fighting, struggling with everything you have - a surge that carries you away from the abyss. But you get tired and have to rest, and every moment you rest, you get carried towards the abyss. And you’re losing ground. A year ago, you were near the crest. Now you’re near the lip. Two weeks ago, you slipped over the edge and would have fallen but for a frenzied, adrenaline fueled effort amidst the desperate cries from your family. You pulled just clear, but you are weary and slipping back. The line is still there, and will always be there until you slip over the edge.

I’ve climbed down as far as I know how. I’m cold and I ache, but I cannot ever give up. Hoping and hoping you’ll take the line before you disappear. I’ll shovel sand for your castle until my hands are raw, hoping and hoping you’ll turn round and ask for the break-water before there is nothing left of you. Please stay.

That’s my best shot at putting myself in your shoes. It’s the best I can do at the moment. Whilst this is from me, Ross, there’s the rest of your family and a host of friends who all love you.

xxxx dad


Dad Behaving Badly: 2

I was not a quick learner. One day, after a very difficult week, I spent an hour talking with Ross where he just simply denied that he had any problems, that it was all other people and not him and that everyone was wrong about their interpretations of his behaviour and attitude. It was like talking to a Jehovas’ witness at the door: Someone blindly following a fixed set of beliefs into an intellectual cul-de-sac with no hope of injecting any facts, reality or an alternative point of view. Perfectly intelligent, articulate and educated, right up to the point where a key belief is triggered and then –

- discontinuity -

– and it all breaks down. When it’s a stranger and just an intellectual exercise (I invite Witnesses and Mormons in for tea as a hobby, they’re fascinating), it’s an interesting and fun experiment in practical psychology. However, when it’s your son and these are the symptoms of his increasing madness, it is very different. You can’t remain detached and so it screws both with your mind and with your hormones (cortisol in particular).

So I did a stupid thing again. I tried to find a lever to prise open his mind. By writing a list of questions for him to answer, trying to highlight where his beliefs clashed with reality. Our reality. Everyone else’s reality. But not his reality – so fuck off dad…


12/1/8 Questions for Ross

He has written that he wants to take a break - give himself some me time - a constant spiritual battle and talking to Budda....

Why do I have difficulty relating to others now?

Why do I abuse my family?

Why does my bedroom furniture disrupt my thoughts?

Why am I obsessive about writing myself down - all the time?

Why can’t I get a job?

Why do I get all these abnormal and disturbing thoughts that I have to write on the walls?

Why do I feel I am involved in a constant spiritual battle with myself?

Why did I kill my guitar?

Why do I spend my days achieving nothing?

Why can’t I use my amazing talents any more?

Why do I abuse the trust of others?

Why are all these questions so hard for me to answer?

Why cannot I be honest with myself over all this?

Why can I not see the answers?


I left the list in his room, written in felt tip on a large sheet of A3 paper. Later I went in to talk to him about it. We ended up shouting. And I ended up fucking off to have a cry.

Of course I look back at those things now and struggle to understand what the hell I was going on about. It all made perfect sense at the time! But then it does when you’re psychotic. I think that maybe that should be one of the assessment points, that you’re absolutely convinced that your version of reality is the right one. But then again, many religious people could be described as such too.

Back to my existential question. Was my illness actually an illness or just a kind of religious fundamentalism. Or was it a mixture of the two. The line between sanity and insanity is becoming blurrier and blurrier as I write! I could quite easily say to a deeply religious Christian that they are actually insane and hold delusional beliefs to believe in God because there’s no evidence for it and everyone else doesn’t believe that it’s true. So we end up with the statement that sanity is just what the majority hold to be true at the time. Just because one person looks at a wall and sees a dove that they’re making move with their mind doesn’t mean that they’re not actually doing it does it?! Who knows!? True belief. How do we know?

The Fear

At some points I had a terrible fear of what was going to happen next. I realised that I was not in control of myself or my actions and so I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

Wall Writing and Painting

Ross began to write more and more on the walls of his bedroom – both on pieces of paper and on the walls themselves. They say this is quite common. No it isn’t. It’s only common when you have psychosis or some other mental illnesses. The process was worrying enough, but the content changed over time and became very deeply disturbing.

When we talked to him about it, about some of the “nasty” thoughts such as wanting to kill us and hating himself, he rationalised by saying it was a way to externalise his feelings, to get them outside himself so he could look at them. So he could get control over them. I asked him where the thoughts came from, why did he have them? He vacillated between implying that everyone has them all the time, but won’t admit it and saying that it was part of his spiritual quest, to seek out the feelings, to rid himself of them (with a sprinkling of fatuous Eckhart Tolle quotes about “pain body” and “ego death”).

We went away for the weekend and Ross was left alone in the house. We did feel somewhat nervous

about that at this point, which is a horrible feeling, admitting that you no longer trust your son.

However, he had been reasonably compos mentis for a few days, so we left.

He decided to take the opportunity to paint his bedroom. Dark random colours. Scrawls. He also

Decided to video himself doing it, as part of the compulsive documentation of his journey. God it was

horrible to walk into that room on that Sunday evening. But by this time, Ross had decided that it

was a mistake and wanted to paint it all white… He showed us the video – which, in just a few

minutes, graphically demonstrates the ebb and flow of the psychotic mind. From madness to sanity

and a moment of rare insight. Living with those swings made it virtually impossible to adapt, to come

to terms with the situation or to evolve any kind of immunity to the effects.

Link to: Wall painting video.

From psychosis to sanity…

“I want to kill my parents”

What’s the big deal about writing on the walls anyway? It’s just as easy to write on the walls as it is to write on paper – and you get the added benefit of being able to read it whenever you like as the words are all around you! My whole idea with the writing on the wall thing was that I would write big things on pieces of paper (so I didn’t actually write on the wall this time – the first time I did write straight onto the wall – it was a symptom of my carefree, no boundaries “dis-inhibited behaviour” I think).

The things I wrote on the pieces of paper were either things that I was thinking at the time for example “Helen, Helen, Helen (not her real name)” or “I want to kill my parents” and “I hate love and affection” stuff like that. They were all apparently what my ego was saying and to me, writing these thoughts out on the paper on the wall would expose their nonsensicalness and thereby dissolve their force within me. It was a good idea, not sure whether it worked – and it definitely freaked the whole family out. I remember they all came into my room once and tried to ask me why I had done it. I tried explaining to them, but they wouldn’t listen, so in the end I just went into “being” (uncommunicative mode) and eventually they left, one by one.

Only Owen remained and I tried to explain it to him again, but he wasn’t buying my story either. To be honest, with the things I was writing, it would be hard to explain them away to anyone at all! I’m surprised I managed to convince myself in fact. To me they were a bit like a joke, funny thoughts I’d had that were insignificant and not to be taken seriously, but to everyone else, they were highly serious and were a symbol of the deterioration of my mental state. At the time I would have argued that I’m perfectly fine and that I could handle everything perfectly. As I say, everything made perfect sense to me at the time.

Dad comments: 13 jan 08

After writing on the walls, we had a family meeting in his room - wouldn't leave till we'd finished, he threatened to call the police. Openly says that he is using us (money, accommodation, food etc).

Ross called me to ask me to take him to an open mic evening that evening. Gillian and I decided any such help should be conditional on him getting a job... No sign of that. He gave me a hard time when I got home, but an hour later he was all sweetness and light for one evening, helping cook and wash-up. Next day, gave me a very hard time when I got home (usual not believing in him, being judgmental etc).

He has also taken Owen's super bike (his pride and joy) and been playing Owen's guitar without permission - which upset Owen. We can no longer trust Ross at all - depressing contrast with the "old days".

Over the weekend, he seems to have gone downhill: Saturday am he'd left a note "don't wake me up, I need a break, some "me" time" to chill". I left a set of questions for him (Why obsessive about writing himself down, why did he kill his guitar etc). Quiet and spaced out all day - his writing shows that he defines himself as an Eckhart Tolle (E.T.) and is in constant spiritual battle plus talking to Buddah... Any references to Eckhart Tolle trigger anger (it really bothers him if there are any challenges to his guru). He constantly reads and re-reads E.T. (almost literally all the time between writing about himself). This was a very depressing day.

There are 2 big issues: one is the E.T. cult and the other is his psychosis. Given the nature of E.T. teachings (enlightenment via cognitive suicide) I feel that the combination is dangerous - I've found several references on the web to young people going missing and/or committing suicide who were reportedly really into E.T. beforehand. Parts of his so called "philosophy" are very dark and negative - which would usually be ignored by healthy minds, but which feed Ross's psychosis (hence the attraction I suppose - particularly to depressed people and potential suicides).

Today, he has been a little manic - but he seems to be losing the ability (or desire) to relate to us - talking in riddles. It is a trial being with him at all... It seems that all we can do is just watch him destroying himself with an increasing sense of desperation.

We are planning to tell him that he must get a job or go on benefit - but have yet to work out what sort of effective sanction we have (he openly says that we could always chuck him out if we don't like him sponging). Whatever we say, we would have to go through with it...

The time I went round slough proclaiming I was god

Deepak Chopra inspired….we’re all god…why don’t you talk to me…I do talk to you…I pray every day….you, you god. No, I’m not god. Am I god?

I went round slough telling people that I was God today.

Leaving and Disappearing

Ross kept deciding to leave, kept disappearing for days or even weeks at a time, staying with a friend (down to only one or two), flat sitting in Reading, sleeping rough… Left us a letter the first time. I sent him a text after he left, followed by a letter.

Txt: 19/01/08

Aww thanks dad! Tis much appreciated. I know u all dont mean any harm, but i just had to go. I'm at marks at the mo, u can come round anytime if u want, but i'm not coming home. At least not for a while. Cash is always welcome although i really cant afford any more debt! X



Dear Ross

We’ve been re-reading the letter you left - when you left on Friday night - and, basically, want to try to make you understand how we feel and to make sure that you know just how much we love you. What you’ve said in the letter shows us that, at the moment, you don’t seem to have any understanding of the way we feel and the way you feel seems to change dramatically from moment to moment.

You wrote that you have left because your family “don’t know what real love is, distracting themselves from the suffering they feel (TV, reading, games, drinking..) all to escape the pain of living.” You also wrote that “ ..when I attempt to be myself, this appears to be unbearable to them and I no longer feel they are being helped by my staying with them. Also.. repeatedly mis-diagnose me with a mental illness that does not exist and use this to explain away behavioral patterns they see in me that are threatening scary etc and that my very existence has become offensive to them.”

You then added that “they also try to blame their intense emotional reactions on me as a way to avoid having to take responsibility for their own emotional states, beliefs, perceptions and suffering and I don’t see why I should have to take such violent emotional blackmail any more.... incidentally, none of this is your fault, but I suggest you take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself “How have I contributed to the creation of this situation?” Own up to your own fears and feelings and things will become much clearer.”

Ross, we don’t recognise the feelings, motivations and perceptions that you seem to be projecting onto us - “..suffering, pain of living, emotional blackmail..”. They are something that you seem to need to feel that we feel rather than anything we actually experience ourselves (other than in relation to some of your behaviour). Is that what is really going on here; that for some reason you desperately need us to feel these things so are trying to bring it about by behaving in a more and more extreme and manipulative way? Using our love for you as a lever that you can exploit?

And you have been exploiting us and our feelings. On Friday night, you lulled mum into thinking you cared about her and her feelings, holding her hand - and then turned on her, scorning her trust and love with emotional violence. You said then (and repeated in your letter), that her reaction, all our reactions, are our own responsibilities and not triggered by your behaviour. Yet you didn’t like it when dad stood nose to nose with you and asked how it felt - you had to leave. Last February you apologised and were extremely distraught when you eventually gained an insight into they way you were behaving.

People aren’t like that. We are not like that. You are not like that. We are a social species, with a need and finely honed abilities to divine and respond to the feelings and sensibilities of others - especially people we are close to, especially people we love. Remember the joy and emotional reward that comes from the closeness of a friend or a lover; the high from the feeling of emotional trust, closeness and oneness. You seem largely to have lost the ability to relate to, and empathise with, other people - the ability to show love and mean it, to respond to the love of others other than by rejecting it. There’s a paradox in that you ask for love and attention, and when it is given, react with emotional violence, driving people away -- many of your old friends, Charlie(?),  Francie ... and us. You seem to be isolating yourself..... and yet feel the need for love and attention.

You said that you feel that it was OK to have abused the love and trust of your family by feigning a break-down, deliberately causing us all extreme mental and emotional stress (because we love you). You obviously have no real feeling for what your behaviour did to us or you wouldn’t have been able to go through with it.

It is curious that you are so vehemently critical of us reading .. “ .. they feel a deep sense of dis-ease ... reading book after book after book...”. Why is that? Is it because it is in such contrast with your life, where you read just the one book, over and over and over again? And you write - journals, files, notes and walls - everywhere. Thoughts and feelings that you feel you need to get rid of, to externalise so that you can remember that they are not true. Thoughts that others see as a reflection of a disturbance and unquiet. And you killed your guitar - a very, very violent act for Ross.

We remember a Ross full of love, caring for everyone, involved, actively trying to improve the world. We remember the closeness, the trust, the blazing talents changing peoples’ perceptions. We remember a Ross bringing laughter and joy to others and putting music in their souls.

Yes, we look into the mirror and see that we have made mistakes and errors of judgement, said and done things that, with hindsight, we maybe should not. But we look in the mirror and see a family that has done, and will continue to do, everything it can for you, for love of you. All we can do is our best - to try and try and to keep reaching out to you, to show our love for you, no matter how painful on occasions. When you need us, we will be there.

We love you forever.

All our love

mum, dad and owen






I loved to find sanctuaries. When I was younger, I would dream of finding a special little place, like this place described in Joseph Cambell’s Lord of the Flies, it was a special place where Simon, the “spiritual” character would go to rest and be peaceful. I also wanted to find a place that was really high so that I could sit and look down on the world. I haven’t really found that place, I’ve stopped searching for it too. But, during my adventures into finding “no places” I came across many cool little sanctuaries, one in particular down by the bus station in Slough. I’m thinking of possibly going there again now, but somehow they’ve lost their attraction. I think you have to be in a certain mood of exploration and discovery to find them exciting, and I’m just not interested at the moment, however, I could go and photograph all the no places that I’ve been to and make a map of them…oooh, I could go to that bridge in Maidenhead and take photos…yeah what a great idea!!

I came across this absolutely amazing no place in Maidenhead. I was out on a mission of discovery and I went looking around down by a bridge in downtown Maidenhead. I was not at all expecting to find what I did however! I found an archeological find of the millennium! Some people had set up a little fucking house underneath this bridge. It had everything, it had a double bed made out of duvets, it had a little area for cigarettes, a remote control car. It was absolutely fascinating. You can see pictures of it in the photograph section of the book. I couldn’t believe that people were actually living under there full-time (although they weren’t actually there at all when I was there. I’d picked up a metal bar I’d found just in case I was attacked. But, my goodness, what a find. I was so excited I went outside to document my findings in my little book of madness. And now I’m off out to find it again!

His grandmother, who lives round the corner, suggested he could stay there if home was too fraught.

Txt: 23/01/08

Thanks dad! Tis much appreciated! I'm in reading right now, so wont b attending t open mic. I will speak to granny about t'staying. I'm well and fed and warm. X

Txt: 24/01/08

Ah yes, i remember uranus vividly in addition to venus. I thought u werent into star signs tho?! It's ok, i only faked my death to avoid the fame. Lol. I'l b home to break into grannies house 2mow. Hopefully u'l b around to supply the blackbirdbar!? Lots of love and presents disguised as madness. X

The only “plan” I could think of was to just keep in contact, to maintain a connection. No matter how badly he behaved, how often he told us he hated us and felt judged by us, he kept coming back, he kept showing moments of affection. It felt as though, deep within, part of him was still emotionally linked to us, no matter how much he screamed and tore at the bonds.

So I texted him from work as I knew he was due back at the house, suggesting I come home and we have lunch together.

Txt: 29/02/08

Sounds cool, but can we get out of the house? Perhaps get something to eat in slough? I'm meeting someone there at 3 so it would b nice to get a lift in beforehand. I think it would be nice to get a change of scene. Can u make time? I'l buy u a coffee. It would mean a lot to me if u said yes. I'm quite hungry, so some time soon would b cool. I will meet u at the car park of ur choice if ur up for it? X

Subway Lunch….

We’d arranged to meet at the Subway café – had to be cheap as Ross had insisted on buying me lunch. He turns up, looking a little trampy, and we hug and queue. Sitting opposite each other over stuffed rolls, we indulged in “conversation lite”, determined to make the most of a brief outbreak of peace amidst the bustle. He was very much in temporary loony lull mode, making plans, talking, interacting. Whilst it still felt as though we were a breath away from Mr Hyde, I slipped-in some real stuff (“I love you Ross”) amongst the mouthfuls and inconsequentialities. After a while, he started to become restless, body language showing a gradual increase in tension.

We parted. He set off for his “appointment”. I watched him ambling off down the street through the lunchtime crowd in his hairy cardigan top, woolly hat and threadbare trainers. Then I went home to work – slowly and wearily.

Looking for Alanis Morisette in the bookshop

They had seen her. Where is she? I should try to track her down… Why did I think that I would be able to find her. The impact I had on that random guy I talked to in the shop. Apparently I stuck in his head for days after that. Well, anyone that screwed would do!

Living on the streets of London

I was picked up by another random person. He was a stylist and hairdresser for some very famous people. He was gay and he tried it on with me, but I wasn’t having any of it. I just am not gay! What can I say! He didn’t really trust me. And I didn’t get much sleep, if any while I was there because I was constantly afraid that he would try to fuck me while I was asleep. He let me use his shower though, which was a blessing. I can’t believe all that stuff really happened! It’s madness! Total and utter madness!

I remember having a habit of just saying whatever the hell was on my mind, even though It really wasn’t prudent to do so. I told a homeless guy in a homeless charity office to “fuck off” because he was taking up too much room on the chair.  I hadn’t slept all night by that point and was a bit focused on getting some sleep in that chair.  I think that was the night that I ended up staying outside the bus terminal playing guitar. I fucked up a guys plan to get a ticket home by saying “Come on man, who are  you trying to fool” as he was trying to persuade one of the ticket office staff to give him a ticket. Little did I know that A. He had just come out of prison and B, he would still be hanging around the terminal late at night when I showed up there again. He wasn’t very happy with me.

So to stop myself from getting killed I said that I would try and busk to make some money for him to get home to his children. To be fair, the whole “I’ve just come out of prison and I’m trying to get home” was probably just the same line he tells everyone he’s trying to hustle up drug money from. I’ve heard ‘em all. I’ve got to buy a train ticket to see my girlfriend, I’m just trying to make a phone call, I need 10p for the bus. The list goes on. The lies people come up with just to get some drugs. Being a stickler for honesty, I would ask them “Come on, what do you really want that money for” they would usually repeat their initial lie a few times before caving in and admitting that they wanted some weed or some cocaine or some heroine or whatever.

Sometimes, stupidly, I would reward them for their honesty and give them some money! As if that was going to make them more honest in the future. I kind of had the idea that If I can get them to be honest to me then I will have done a good thing for them somehow. I don’t know, it was all a bit crazy. Now I’ve just taken the standard approach to beggars, ie. pretend they don’t exist, which is pretty harsh I know. I used to go and sit down and talk to people on the street and offer them sympathy, and I still do go and talk to the lady selling the big issue.

I gave her a fiver the other day because I was feeling generous. She immediately packed up her chair and put the big issues in her bag and went “off to buy food for her children”. Now, this woman is the sweetest woman I’ve ever met, she hardly speaks any English at all, but she always says “Thank you velly much!” in great appreciative Romanianised lollopings. So I believe her when she says she’s off to feed her children, because I’ve seen her there for years and she doesn’t look like a druggie, or beg like a druggie either.

And boy have I been screwed over by druggies. I once gave £90 to a guy over a period of weeks because A. I was very generous, B. I was very naïve. C. I would believe whatever story someone came up with on face value. I was suckered in by this guy and I was very upset when I later found out he had been using my money to pay for drugs. I felt like such a sucker!

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Comes to Stay

A chicken. A battery chicken. That’s what Ross reminded me of in his room in the grip of increasing OCD. Spending ages looking at things, and then suddenly picking an object at random to inspect it closely. Someone who had had the world at his feet, someone with the ability to achieve anything he wanted to was reduced to picking over items in his bedroom, arranging and labeling them (with little stickers with little writing). Again and again. Little labels.

Everything took so long. Even compulsively tidying his room took an age as he’d constantly be distracted by the need to consider the implications and meaning of the picture on the back of a playing card. Why was that CD on the top of the pile and not another one? How to interpret the meaning of that title in his life? He even moved into the spare bedroom so that he’d have more space to lay things out on the floor by size, by colour, or by “meaning”.

He had a beige bag. A shoulder bag. It went with him everywhere and contained his journals and other paperwork (receipts for everything he bought, bits of cards with interesting pictures, pens…). He began to go to Starbucks in Slough every day to “sort things out”, to do his accounts. He’d sit there for much of the day over one or two drinks and just very slowly and repeatedly make simple lists and organize his receipts. Gradually, his life was becoming more and more curtailed as he became less and less capable of concentrating on anything for any length of time.

Slough Starbucks. That was the place to see Ross, sat at a little table with a little pile of receipts and a notebook. We’d sometimes meet him there on a Sunday for a coffee. The staff were very tolerant of him, sitting for hours over one small drink. Although it wasn’t a “small” drink as Starbucks doesn’t do small. Rather like condom manufactures, their products only come in large, very large and truly magnificent.

I think the OCD behaviour was linked with a subconscious awareness that his thoughts were becoming less and less controllable and that their constant and increasing insistency and inconsistency was killing his ability to think or plan. It was heart rending to watch him trying, with all of him that he had left, to exert control over something, anything, no matter how trivial. To try to create for himself a small oasis of stability as a refuge against the chaos sleeting through his mind, day in and day out. I’d given up trying to convince him of anything. I just talked to him regularly, let him talk to me and tried to be consistent, telling him I loved him while trying to hide my distress as he deteriorated. And we looked after the practicalities of his life.

It was a bit like the old joke about watching your mother-in-law drive your new car over the cliff. We were watching our son (and brother) slipping further and further into insanity and therefore getting closer and closer to the point at which he would be unable to avoid forcible sectioning and treatment. On the other hand, our son was slipping further and further into insanity, and every slip down the slope meant that he was less likely to make a full recovery. Useless mental health bastards Mental Health Act crap interpretation bureaucratic nonsense do something for Christ’s sake you know how psychotic he is god it hurts it hurts all the time watching him dying inside look at his journals so tired yet can’t sleep pills help 2am 3am 4am angry angry god I’m pissed help him fucking help him I’d give anything bloody psychiatrists I love him so much I don’t know what to do with myself he may never come back PLEASE STOP VACILATING AND ACT TO HELP HIM YOU BASTARDS….

“Delay in treatment of the first episode is a major problem and is associated with poorer outcome.… Those taking longer than 1 year to access services revealed a higher relapse rate over the following 2 years than those with a briefer duration of untreated illness... also found poorer outcome associated with such treatment delay: longer illness duration before treatment was associated with longer time to remission of symptoms and a lesser degree of remission…. The connection between the delay in treatment of first-episode psychosis and poorer outcome is understandable. The process of becoming psychotic creates profound psychological changes…. As well as being frightening and difficult to comprehend, these experiences isolate the person from others. The consequent disruption of social networks, including family and peer relationships and schoolwork and occupation functioning, can be devastating…. and misunderstood psychosis may cause potentially life-threatening crises such as aggressive and suicidal behavior. Increased use of substances may all occur at this time. Effects are felt not only by the individual but by the family as well…. a theory of toxic effect of psychosis on the brain via pathophysiological changes in nervous tissue has also been suggested…clearly, minimizing the delay between onset of psychosis and treatment can reduce this psychological, social, and possibly biological disruption.” Abstracts, National Institute of Mental Health 1996.

Ross went for around 18 months between the first presentation of his symptoms and treatment in hospital. The first 3 months of the delay was down to neither Ross nor us recognising the signs. 15 months before treatment. 11 months between the first attempted sectioning (with an absolute diagnosis of psychosis) and a first (temporary) successful sectioning. Time for a change before more intelligent young people have to suffer the consequences of this crass, stupid and (short term) venal interpretation of the Mental Health Act. There was no intrinsic reason why he couldn’t have been sectioned under the act very much earlier. Better for him, better for us and a massive cost saving to society (police, doctors, nurses, support workers, hospitalisation etc).

Ross - The Book of Secrets

It’s an interesting book and has a few useful insights, however, the extremes to which I attempted to apply what I had learnt in the book rendered it completely barren of any usefulness. I took everything I read in there to the total extreme. I can remember taking one exercise out of there where you look around your room and ask yourself questions such as:

Do I see what I really want?

Do I see my own uniqueness?

Do I see order or chaos?

And it was the last of those questions which I once became highly intoxicated by. I went on a tidying rampage – I must have spent three weeks doing nothing but tidying my room. Literally, nothing but that! I would move things around, take them out of shelves, put labels on things, sort through things, put them in piles, then put them away. Basically, I would make a mess and then tidy it up over and over again day by day. At the time I also made the connection somehow between tidying my room and healing the relationship with my father. I remember thinking it was an amazing insight that I was trying to “tidy my father”. Again, what a load of nonsense. But when I was ill like that, I was seeing parallels and patterns everywhere. Everything I did had a deep meaning and was effecting the universe and the people around me in ways that were at once mysterious and perplexing but also highly awe-inspiring. When you see meaning in every little thing that happens, life becomes a whole lot more interesting! So, why did I spend so long tidying my room? I kept asking myself that question “Do I see order or chaos?” and it became like an obsession. At the time, it was perfectly logical to me and it seemed a perfectly worthwhile thing to do. However, I could have probably just asked the question once, had a bit of a clear up and be done with it. But no, I was ill remember and highly enthusiastic about the strangest of things!

A tacit belief in magic

When I was in hiding, I was reading The Book of Secrets a lot. At one point he writes “whatever you pay attention to will grow” this is a bit like what Paul Mckenna says in his book “I can make you rich” – he says, “whatever you focus on, you get more of”. Now, to some degree I can see how this is true, as in, the more you attend to focusing on money, the more likely you are going to come up with ideas that make you money! Similarly, if you focus on your relationships with others, then they are going to grow too.

At the moment I am focusing on recounting the tale of my experiences with mental illness, so presumably, the story will grow too (which it is) and also, my understanding of it will grow too I imagine. Now, how does this all relate to magic? Well, I had the idea that if I focused on money, it would grow in my life. So, I decided that my maths skills weren’t good enough. Oh my goodness me, this was during the period when I was absolutely obsessed with knowing my bank balance at all times! I would calculate it after every expenditure I made. I would organize my receipts by time order each day and highlight the date, time and location of each purchase. I would also write down the prices of things in a little book I’d bought especially.

Once I went into WH Smith’s and spent a whole morning just noting down the prices of stationary. My reasons were that I had read somewhere in a Deepak Chopra book that the more thought you put into your purchases, the better they will be. The security guard came over to me and asked “what are you going to do when you’ve noted them all down?”.

“I’ll buy some of them” I said.

I don’t know why I felt I had to note down the price of every single item of stationary I liked the look of. Oh yeah, it was so that I could take away the list, pore over it and then make a decision at a later date when I wasn’t under the pressure of having to buy something then and there. It was craziness. It’s like I couldn’t just be spontaneous with my decisions, I had to write everything down first! Madness!

I thought that doing maths would bring more money into my life! How ridiculous is that!? I thought that because I was focusing on my maths skills which related to money, then I would be bringing money into my life by practicing my maths skills.

The counting game

I was trying to revolutionize the way I counted money in my head. It was crazy. I was trying to count money on the spot using the traditional addition system. So for example by going I can’t be bothered to finish this story, I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to anything in particular!

Assault on Stansted Airport

Ross moved out without saying anything. Eventually it turned out he was staying at a room in a house for which he had just enough money to pay rent for a couple of weeks. I came home a week later to find Ross in the hall. The doorbell rings. It’s someone about the Marshall amp and guitar. They’d come to collect them. Ross had put all his stuff on Freecycle. Everything. His laptop, all but one of his remaining guitars (his first electric guitar, the one his grandmother had given him at 14 – so there was still the faintest glimmer of feeling in him). I tried to persuade him to think about it, standing in the hall. Think about what you’re doing, why now, why the things that mean so much to you. I leant back against the front door and quietly asked him to tell me the reasons before he left with his last remaining stock. Why? He shouts: “listen to me… these are my things… I’m freeing myself from attachment…”.

Then he hit me. Open handed, but he hit me. Again. Again. I just keep talking, talking over the shock inside, talking to stop myself crying. He’s lost control, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. But I imagine I can see in his eyes that part of him knows what he’s done, causing yet more dissonance inside. In the background, Gillian phones the police. We’ve degenerated into a scenario where he shouts and I try to keep calm, waiting for the police.

The two policemen were very quick and disturbingly physical. They took a statement and dragged him off. I’m sure that there’s an atavistic evolutionary programme built into males that sends whispers through the older parts of your mind, “protect your offspring” and “defend them” whilst triggering a flush of adrenaline. Intellectually, I knew / hoped we were doing the right thing (consequences: don’t support the aberrant behaviour), but my instincts whispered “Judas”. They charged him with assault, and later called to say that they would be releasing him at 2am.

We wanted to meet him, but decided that, given the circumstances, it would be better if Gillian went alone. They walked and talked in the early hours before Ross made off to his temporary lodgings, apparently conveniently close to Slough police station. We had finally found out where he was living, which was somehow reassuring.

Ross then went missing again from his room. When we turned up and were let in by another inmate who told us which room was his, there was just a pile of stuff, paperwork in a bin-liner and no Ross. After searching everything for clues, for anything that might give us a lead, we thought he might be in London – or somewhere else, or anywhere. Or leaving the country (he’d been checking exchange rates for Australia and the USA). The latter really struck fear into us after his trip to the states. You become quite good at sleuthing when you have to deal with a mentally ill son. I trawled through our family computer and found out that he’d actually been checking flight costs to New York and got details about the visa waver scheme. Panic. He could actually be on his way within a few days.

I phoned the mental health services to find out if there was anything that could be done re contacting airlines (mentally ill passenger, bulletin at airports etc). Nothing. Not sectioned (and who’s fault was that?) so there was nothing they could do. The airlines quoted confidentiality as did BAA. I just sat there after being told by everyone that there was nothing I could do. But, to me, doing nothing was not an option I could countenance. The whole experience of his previous trip to the states, the stress, the anxiety. I could not survive that again. Ross couldn’t survive it again. We’d got him back, we couldn’t go through that again. Caught in a vice between the need to act and no way of acting. Between no way of acting and the memory of so much despair from his last trip.

Desperation led to inspiration. I couldn’t do anything at this end, but would the US customs and immigration be happy with someone arriving with every intent simply to disappear… After an hour on the internet, I tracked down a really nice guy in the right department in the states who said he might be able to help by circulating Ross’ details to the relevant authorities.


Subject: Visa Waiver Ross Wilson(UK)

Copies to: gill.Wilson

Date sent: Mon, 17 Mar 2008 18:40

Dear Richard,

Thanks for talking with me today regarding my son  Ross Alastair Wilson dob 30 11 1985. I have attached a scanned copy of his current UK passport. I have listed below details of his current state of mental health and our concerns:

Ross was diagnosed with First episode Psychosis in mid August2007 (probably brought on by heavy use of Marijuana in his late teens) and our Mental Health Early Intervention Team have been keeping an eye on him since then. He was arrested last night for assault which is completely out of character. The police released him after DNA and finger printing. We have discovered that he has been planning to fly to New York as soon as possible entering under the Visa Waiver programme. He does not have sufficient funds for anything other than a return ticket and we have good reason to believe that he has no intention of returning to the UK.

Last fall after the diagnosis of his condition he went to New York under the visa waiver scheme. He deliberately missed his return flight but we managed to persuade him to return just before his 90 day visa ran out in early December. During his stay in the US he went to Baton Rouge and was picked up by the police following complaints about his behaviour. He spent some time in New York and in Baton Rouge living on the streets and begging for money and food, having run out of cash.( He has a fixation about homelessness.)

As you may imagine we are very worried about him, his ability to take care of himself and his unpredictable behaviour. He is an extremely intelligent, erudite and  humorous young man who has shown that he is capable of creating an impression that he is in control and can behave rationally in order to get himself out of a tricky situation. This is the reason why our Mental Health services have been unable to commit him to hospital for treatment to date.

Our full contact details are below and we would be very grateful for any news of him if you pick him up trying to enter the country/state.  If you need further information or have any action you can suggest we can take please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards

Peter and Gillian Wilson


We reported him to the police as missing. This was the first time.

Several days later, I got home from work at around 5.30pm and went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea (it’s strange, the way certain events become engraved in memory in ridiculous detail). The house phone rang and it was Ross. “Hi dad. Can I ask you a favour?” “Of course, Ross. How are you? We’ve been worried about you. Where are you?” (- thank god he’s ok, and he’s called… Play it quietly, concentrate; concentrate on what you’re saying). “Could you collect me from Stansted airport? I’ve got no money.” “Of course, we’ll sort something. Give me your number.”

It was the number for the information desk. They had let him use the phone.

“It will probably take me about an hour and a half or so to drive to you at this time of day. Where will you be? I’ll put out a call when I get there. I’ll call you back shortly when I’m ready to set off. Are you sure you’re OK? I’ll see you soon.”

After putting the phone down, I began to consider that there had been something in the tone of his voice. I absolutely knew that when I showed up, he would play games, he would disappear. So I called Gillian who hadn’t yet set of from work up in town. If she went, Ross would be less likely to disappear. She set off for Stansted by train and I called Ross to tell him the plot.

On arrival, Gillian went to the information desk. No Ross. She put out a call. No Ross. Again. No Ross. Security started to look for him. Eventually he was picked up by the police a couple of miles away, trying to hike … somewhere. They deposited Ross back at the airport, into the care of his mum who let me know. Relief. However, on the train back to London, Ross was incommunicative and kept wondering off, which made Gillian very worried that he’d just get off at a random stop. They eventually arrived home late that evening. All very, very tired and Ross very, very mentally ill.

We later found out the story. Ross wanted to catch a flight to the States, so went to Stansted. He was convinced that something would happen. No flights. He spent two days in the concourse, the pilgrimage only coming to an end after he had repeatedly fed his card into the cash machine on the basis of a strange idea that this would somehow create more money. Eventually, he forgot the password and the ATM became continent. Hence the call to dad.

Writing writing writing

I remember going on a voyage of self-discovery in my notebooks. I was furiously writing and writing and writing, trying to achieve self-knowledge or to come to some miraculous piece of wisdom by continually foraging into the depths of my memories and thoughts. It never worked. I always felt like I was on the cusp of getting somewhere but really I was getting nowhere.

My mum asked me if I thought I was getting anywhere with it (as she obviously thought I wasn’t) and I said that yes I thought that it was helping me overcome my inhibitions and fears. And the reality? Well, who cares about reality when you’re psychotic eh!?

I’m just thinking, my mum came in the other night and she was worried that I was relapsing again. And I can see why, if I’m writing all day then it might seem like I’ve gone straight back to that time of soul searching. And it makes me think, well, if I was relapsing, how the hell would I know!? I didn’t see it happening to begin with anyway! And I virulently denied it throughout the whole time too, so again, how the hell would I know!?

Approaching Storm

After his return from Stansted, it became very evident that Ross was rapidly losing even a tenous grasp on reality. Despite his intellect, he was losing his ability to put on any kind of front. He was sinking deeper and deeper into a pool of madness, a haunting pool of uncontrollable thoughts and actions.  It called for a supreme effort on his part to struggle up to the surface, up to the interface between reality and madness to take even the smallest sip of sanity, like a sick goldfish sinking deeper and deeper before finally going belly-up.

At this point, we thought he was about as seriously psychotic as he could get. We thought wrong….