“I gave my wife a vasectomy for Christmas....”*
The first line of my first stand-up gig in a pub in
Eton (May 2010). I was there because Ross had
just completed a comedy course in London and
had encouraged me to give it a go. “You think
you’re funny, dad...”. In the end, both Ross and
Owen implied that I hadn’t been totally
embarrassing - quite a compliment from sons...
Ross went on too. When I watch him on show,
the very publicness of it makes me feel as
though the pawl has just dropped over the next
tooth of a ratchet that’s tightening his grip on
sanity. I bought everyone a drink to celebrate.
Two years previously, he’d been in hospital,
drugged against his will, a shambling shadow
of himself - and I was in Stafford, in my parked car, having forgotten how to drive...
“Dad” runs through me, like a stick of seaside rock. We’re a family of 4 (and a much missed ex-cat) that has survived a serious psychotic episode in our eldest son - probably brought on by marijuana and veganism. Episodes like this are very much family events - there were several occasions when stress turned me temporarily absolutely as mad as Ross. We’ve been released back into the wild as Ross recovers.
So here’s to hope...
* Completely true! My Christmas present to her was a vasectomy appointment card in a festive envelope (following a nasty ectopic pregnancy).
This is my personal story (presentations, website, fledgling book) and therapy. I find that I have a real need to gain something positive from the experience and a deep desire to change attitudes. If I’m honest, I’m also fuelled by a well of keenly felt anger augured by the worst kind of bureaucratic bullshit. Whilst some of the help we got was exemplary, we also encountered mindless “committees” (dark, bureaucratic black holes from which no hint of responsibility can ever escape), with a side order of trite (and, as it turned out, completely meaningless) quotes and mission statements about “patient centred care”. They nearly broke me.
I also feel the need to speak for some of the remarkable people I met on the trip. People who quietly care for members of their families or for friends. Because I can. Because I’m not awed by authority (I’ve had considerable experience of duelling with patronising doctors on my own account). Because I was bolshy (and desperate) enough to get myself interviewed on BBC radio to strong-arm the NHS to do right by my son - from “there’s absolutely nothing we can do” to “it’s all been a misunderstanding that’s now been resolved” in just 4 minutes of public broadcasting. The power of publicity - Andrew Peach and Fiona of BBC radio Berkshire, I still owe you a pint...
There’s also the reaction I’ve had from carers and others when I’ve talked in public. It’s as though the very fact of my being prepared to give our story a public airing has helped others to “come out” to remember, to talk and to refute the social stigma.
But maybe it’s also because I have two sons who write words and music from personal experience that have the power to rearrange your head and which could, just perhaps, help to promote the changes that are necessary.
The Book of the Story of the Song of the Show...
I wrote a poem for my best friend when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She told me I have a talent for writing and should do more. I considered whether she was just being my supportive friend (Ross was on the road to recovery at the time), but quickly decided that I might just as well go along with her opinion - particularly as it was what I wanted to do anyway (that’s confirmatory bias for you...).
Apart from being therapeutic for me, I don’t even have to write it all myself. Ross is a talented writer and wrote compulsively during his illness and he still writes now. I also wrote at the time and we have recordings and video of some of the events and traumas plus emails, letters and texts.
Based on the reactions to the live presentations Ross and I have given, I thought that it should be possible to bring all of this material together to create a digital multi-media book. A story that combines mine and Ross’ words when ill, during recovery and his comments on my words both then and now. A story that attempts to turn all these alternative viewpoints into an experience that provides a visceral experience of what it is really like for a family to go through a psychotic episode, to show how we coped and what we’ve learned.
Methinks my reach exceeds my grasp. But what’s the worst that can happen? Some embarrassment perhaps. On the other hand, someone, somewhere may just relate to a shared experience and be reassured (as I was when I met other sufferers) that someone else felt the same way. And perhaps the example of Ross’ remarkable courage and supremely healthy attitude to his traumatic psychotic episode (I was ill - of course I was weird! I couldn’t help the way I behaved, so why should I feel coy or stigmatised by it?) that’s allowed him to make his experiences public may help others to face down unwarranted attempts to stigmatise.
Do I ever need the help of an editor to cull the weaker baby seals in my first attempt...
break-down, the phoenix, lived rough in London, picked up at Stansted airport, assault, arrest...