Monday, 13 October 2008

The Sunday Telegraph, Stella magazine and The Dark Side of the Son

The following article appeared in The Sunday Telegraph Stella magazine at the end of June. I can now publish it again here. Thought that those of you who follow the blog may be interested in seeing it.

'The Dark Side of the Son'

"The first time I noticed that there was something different with Zach was when my husband, Sam, and I returned from India. The charming teenage boy we had left on the front porch, the dog lead grasped in one palm, the other sweaty hand patting me on my back telling me 'not to worry' and to 'have the best time', was now in the midst of a protracted argument with the man in the video shop.

"I looked around me, puzzled, noting with astonishment the faces of the other customers. Was I the mother of this skinny 18-year old who spewed venom when the man demanded that Zach hand over more late fees than Zach felt was his due? I brusquely shoved my son out of the way, slammed a £20 note down on the counter and marched him out of the shop.

"This was the first, but certainly not the last time that I wished the ground would gobble me up. I have lost count of the occasions when, over the past 11 years, Zach has put me in a position where his manic moods have led to the overwhelming desire to be anywhere but within his orbit. His form of bipolar disorder, with its attendant drug abuse, shows us no mercy. No one in the family has been unaffected, but I'm the one at whom the most poisonous behaviour is directed. From being a happy and bright-eyed teen, Zach was transformed unrecognisably by the illness. Between the highs and lows he would resurface and we would attempt to rebuild our relationship.

"One summer, when I was compelled at short notice to travel to Athens and bring him back home - out of the fetid hospital where he had been shackled by the ankle to a rusting metal bed - he leaped around the airport, darting from one passenger to the next, demanding Coca-Cola, sandwiches and cigarettes. I scuttled after him, calling him back as if he were a rebellious toddler. The accompanying psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse were themselves caught up in this insanity, with no recourse but to batten him down and administer more medication. Back in London and sectioned under the Mental Health Act, Zach retaliated by dying his hair blue and styling it into a mohican, the viscous dye running in rivulets around his face and shoulders.

"The war of attrition between us only abates when he returns to normality - a precurser to the period before he takes another journey, when, inevitably, police or mental-health experts are called in to restrain and incarcerate him. Then the wild goose-chase repeats itself and I'm off on a mission to save him and repatriate him to London's crisis teams and medications, and away from the crack, heroin or ketamine hits.

"For four years we endured the onslaught to our senses. My husband avoided confrontation by immersing himself in his work, but our daughter, Beth, idolised her big brother, and the manner of his breakdowns terrified her. Their relationship suffered - especially when we finally made the heart-rending decision to throw him out.

"My tears, my despair, my enduring love for my son were irrelevant. He had to go. The never-ending nights accompanied by crashing doors, incessant shouting, drug binges and a pathalogical refusal to deal with his issues almost destroyed us. For some weeks he had lived on the streets or in squalid bedsits until, racked with remorse, we bought him a flat - only for him to destroy it. So we threw him out again and now he lives nearby, benefit-aided, turning up for frequent visits, long-haired, bearded and hungry.

"Zach demonstrates no wish for our patronage other than for the financial opportunities it offers him. He refutes his diagnosis. He refuses medication. His illness seems linked to the seasons. He gets sick in the spring and autumn. Inevitably, I am drawn in to his mood and the hostilities recommence.

"From time to time clarity resurfaces. Zach tells me that he cares about his future. He recently said he's sick of the drugs spiral and, of course, I can only support him in his endeavours, hopeful for the day that he turns up, bright-eyed and smiling: 'I'm on the meds!' "

Right click on the article to see it in full.

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