Feature Writing Assignment One- Human Interest Story and Rationale

Annie’s Story- My Son with Psychosis

Written by Sam Morris

‘I really love you mum, but the police are after me. I’ll try to keep in touch as much as I can.’ That was the message left for Annie Day by her son. For over two years, they were the only words that she had from him.

Annie describes her 39 year old son Matthew as “one of the most artistic people on the planet, passionate and sensitive,” but for the last decade he has been living on the streets, never staying in one place too long, constantly on the run because the police are after him – or that’s what he believes. In reality, Matthew suffers from psychosis, a mental disorder which has manifested itself into a paranoid fantasy that Matthew lives in fear of.

Annie has been aware of Matthew’s mental health from an early age. For Annie, recognising signs of troubling mental health has been something ingrained from her throughout her life. Her mother’s and her sister’s ill mental health meant that she often cared for the both of them, but it also meant that when Matthew was a teenager, she had started to fear the worst.

She said, “It was heart-breaking beyond measures. I was shocked, I didn’t want to believe it, but signs of what was happening to my son I had seen before because of my mum and my younger sister.”

Annie knew that as Matthew started to go through puberty, his mental health started to deteriorate. The Village Behavioural Health website, a psychiatric residential treatment centre for teenagers, suggests commonly, symptoms of a psychotic disorder begin between the ages of 18 and 24. However, in some cases symptoms can start much earlier.

The website states, “5% of adults who experience psychosis, experienced the early-onset signs of a psychotic disorder was before the age of 15 years.”

 

This was the case the Matthew: growing up he would often hear voices and see images.

Annie said, “I would hear him talking to people and when I’d enter the room there wouldn’t be anyone there. But to him they were there and he couldn’t believe otherwise. He would see invisible things that were giving him regular dark messages. I never knew exactly what they were but Matthew described them as really dark and scary with a really evil sense of energy.”

Annie would reassure Matthew that nothing was there, trying to dismiss voices and images that plagued Matthew. Unfortunately, this is a part of living with psychosis. For him, these things weren’t imaginary but reality, and something he was forced to live with.

Matthew eventually became paranoid about the law.

Annie explained, “He became convinced the police were after him and wanted to put him in jail. I would say ‘Matthew you haven’t done anything wrong’, or ‘The police aren’t after you’, but the thing with psychosis is everyone that tries to help you becomes part of a fantasy. So he would always say ‘Oh mum, they got to you too.”

Eventually Matthew was diagnosed with psychosis, and Annie spent the years helping Matthew cope the best that she could. However, ten years ago, things had developed to a devastating point.

Annie and her husband at the time had been on holiday to Southern Ireland. Annie couldn’t have predicted that anything unusual was about to happen; she had been in contact with Matthew throughout her holiday, but when she got back, she was left with a shocking message.

“Matthew had a nervous breakdown while doing his degree. When I got back there was a note in the kitchen saying ‘I really love you mum, but the police are after me. I’ll try to keep in touch as much as I can.’ But he didn’t.

“Paranoia is very much like a sea saw. There was no identification that he was feeling this way. I received texts asking me to swim with the dolphins and to have a lovely time. He even said ‘I would really love to go some time’, and we would have loved to take him”

She had no idea where Matthew had gone. Nobody did. Annie was left in the dark, worried and fearful that no one knew where her son was- and she remained this way for over two years.

In those years, Annie had never heard a word from her son. Not a call. Not a letter. She was devastated, left only with the note of her son’s goodbye. However, in that time she knew that her son was still alive, out there on the streets.

“Honestly, the first time the police came down I thought they would tell me that Matthew had died. It was heart-breaking.”

The police appeared with bailiffs on Annie’s doorstep, because she had a large fine to pay. A fine created by Matthew. With no money to fund a life away from home, but terrified that police are after him, Matthew boards trains around the country to keep on the move.

Annie explained, “When he has to pay for a ticket and he has no funds, he gives them his last address and it gets billed to us. The train service applies interest for every day. What starts off as £5 can become £2000. I remember once it was something ridiculous like £12,000.”

Hoping that in some way it helped Matthew, Annie paid the fines. However, this not only caused her financial stress, but continued to have a “strenuous” emotional impact on her.

“It was just massively disruptive of my life. We were getting bailiffs and police turning up all the time which was so difficult to manage emotionally. Even if you intellectualise it, when you see two policemen coming down the path you think the worst. As soon as I’d see them I would just feel dread, whether it’s because bailiffs are saying that there are fines to pay, or whether they may have found him dead.

“We wrongly thought that if we paid all Matthew’s fines off that we would be helping him but really all we were doing was helping the train companies get money.”

After two and a half years from when he first disappeared, Annie had finally seen her son again. He came home to see his family, but in turn they learnt about the harsh life that Matthew was living, alone and homeless.

Annie said that when her son returned, “We were elated that he was back but heartbroken because he looked so poorly. His clothes were dirty, his beard was so long, he was malnourished, and his feet was so sore because his shoes were on the whole time. He said if he took them off they would be stolen.”

However, Matthew didn’t stay at home permanently. Tormented by his anxieties of the police, he left again after a few days.

Over the next three years, Matthew came home a “handful” of times. Each time out of the blue, only for a few days. Nevertheless, his family would cherish the time they had, for they never knew how long it would last.

Whenever he leaves, they are left unknowing if it will be weeks or years till they next see him. They worry, now knowing how Matthew gets by whilst homeless.

Annie said, “Matthew often sleeps in the woods. When he sleeps on the streets people will kick and shout at him. So he’ll get loads of coats and blankets from the Salvation Army to keep him warm and find woods.

“It’s so difficult whenever it gets to this time of year. My dad always worries then he gets up in the morning and he can feel how cold it is, and he thinks ‘Oh god, my grandson is out in this.”

Most recently was the longest wait Annie had endured until she saw her son. After four and a half years not knowing where he was, Annie had been contacted by St. George’s- a mental health hospital.

 

Matthew had been sectioned there. Infant, the hospital informed Annie that he had been sectioned for the sixth time that year. His records showed that he had visits with various hospitals, but not staying at any of them for long.

“He had been sectioned by the NHS because he couldn’t make decisions for himself. I don’t like him being incarcerated and sectioned against his will, but once he starts taking antipsychotics we get our son back.”

Matthew was supposed to stay at St. Georges for six months. He was three weeks into his treatment, with regular visits from Annie, when she received a distressing message.

Annie remembered, “He went for a cigarette outside just after I had been to visit him. He was fine when I left him. No one fully knows what went on, but he disappeared over an 18 ft. wall.

“I was bereaved. I’m not over it, especially now because it was only just Matthew’s birthday. We were going to do so many lovely things together.”

Homelessness has always been something dear to Annie’s heart. Over the last two years, she has donated a combined amount of £3000 to The Big Issue Foundation, by holding various fundraiser events for the charity.

She said, “It was lovely because we received letters from people that the money had helped. You never realise how far the money can go, but we were getting letters saying things like ‘because of the money you donated, I bought shoes to go to a job interview.’ They were really appreciative”

Matthew is still living rough, scared and alone.

Annie confessed, “It’s hard to say I’m hopeful because I never know when I’m going to see him again. It could be weeks, it could be years. Treatment is definitely a journey and it’s so difficult for many, but I would love to see Matthew finish his treatment and see him so much happier.”

 

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