Henrys Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Sons Story by Patrick CockburnOn a cold February day two months after his twentieth birthday, Henry Cockburn waded into the Newhaven estuary outside Brighton, England, and nearly drowned. Voices, he said, had urged him to do it. Nearly halfway around the world in Afghanistan, journalist Patrick Cockburn learned from his wife, Jan, that his son had suffered a breakdown and had been admitted to a hospital. Ten days later, Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Narrated by both Patrick and Henry, this is the extraordinary story of the eight years since Henry’s descent into schizophrenia—years he has spent almost entirely in hospitals—and his family’s struggle to help him recover.
With remarkable frankness, Patrick writes of Henry’s transformation from art student to mental patient and of the agonizing and difficult task of helping his son get well. Any hope of recovery lies in medication, yet Henry, who does not believe he is ill, secretly stops taking it and frequently runs away. Hopeful periods of stability are followed by frightening disappearances, then relapses that bleed into one another, until at last there is the promise of real improvement. In Henry’s own raw, beautiful chapters, he describes his psychosis from the inside. He vividly relates what it is like to hear trees and bushes speaking to him, voices compelling him to wander the countryside or live in the streets, the loneliness of life within hospital walls, harrowing “polka dot days” that incapacitate him, and finally, his steps towards recovery.
Patrick’s and Henry’s parallel stories reveal the complex intersections of sanity, madness, and identity; the vagaries of mental illness and its treatment; and a family’s steadfast response to a bewildering condition. Haunting, intimate, and profoundly moving, their unique narrative will resonate with every parent and anyone who has been touched by mental illness.
Symphony of Pain in Two Accounts of Schizophrenia
Buy Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia. Share on:. While he was there he called his wife Jan at home in England, and was shocked to learn that their year-old elder son Henry had been rescued by fishermen after coming close to death while swimming, fully clothed, in the icy waters of the Newhaven estuary. The police had decided that he was a danger to himself, and he was now in a mental hospital. It was the beginning of the realisation that his artistic, gifted yet strange son had a severe mental illness. Patrick returned to England as soon as he could, to learn from his wife Jan that Henry had just had a breakdown, had been arrested only a few days before as a potential suicide after climbing the wall of a railway viaduct in order to get a better view of Brighton.
Every book is born alone, but sometimes a pair will surface in accidental synchrony, a single theme creating an impromptu pas de deux. Such is the case with two new memoirs of schizophrenia. There is hardly a shortage of such books, but Mira Bartok and Patrick Cockburn have created mirror-image story arcs, one by the daughter of a schizophrenic mother, the other by the father of a schizophrenic son. Each is a model of narrative restraint, but in combination they combust, conveying the intensely painful experience of this disease in the literary equivalent of quadraphonic sound. A foreign correspondent for the British press, Patrick Cockburn was on assignment in Afghanistan in the winter of when his son Henry, 20, was fished fully clothed out of an icy river back home. He was taken to a mental hospital and since then has never lived unsupervised or entirely free of disease.
Memoir has become in recent years a kind of hard-luck lit, and at first glance Henry Cockburn is just another young man dropped into trouble, as the sparks fly upward. At 20, Cockburn hears a few trees request that he dance in some frostbiting February water. Confident, detached reportage joins a private, moving, ragged account of schizophrenia. His inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees. Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme. And where is the place of understanding?
By Patrick Cockburn , Henry Cockburn. On a cold February day two months after his twentieth birthday, Henry Cockburn waded into the Newhaven estuary outside Brighton, England, and nearly drowned. Voices, he said, had urged him to do it. Nearly halfway around the world in Afghanistan, journalist Patrick Cockburn learned from his wife, Jan, that his son had suffered a breakdown and had been admitted to a hospital. Ten days later, Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia.