© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Henry's Demons': Mental Illness From The Inside

On a snowy February day in 2002, British journalist Patrick Cockburn was in Kabul, Afghanistan, covering the fall of the Taliban. He picked up his satellite phone to call his wife, Jan, back in Canterbury, England. Even over that shaky, hollow telephone line, Jan sounded anxious.

"I could not make out the details, but I grasped that Henry, our 20-year-old son, had nearly died when he swam Newhaven Estuary, fully clothed, and was rescued by fishermen as he left the near-freezing water," Cockburn writes.

Henry was taken first to a regular emergency room, and then to a mental hospital, where doctors diagnosed him as being in the first stages of schizophrenia. Now, almost 10 years later, Henry is beginning to recover, and he and his father have collaborated on a memoir of his experiences, Henry's Demons: Living With Schizophrenia, a Father and Son's Story.

Patrick Cockburn tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz he had no idea of the trouble his son was sliding into when he saw Henry at Christmas, before leaving for Kabul. "I asked him how he was. He'd started at art college a few weeks earlier, and he said he'd never been happier in his life."

Henry didn't think anything was actually wrong.

"I thought there was something more to the world that I hadn't seen before," he tells Raz. "I found it revelatory, these experiences, talking to trees. It was like a hidden world." He had jumped into that freezing estuary because he felt an unseen force beckoning him in.

After years of hospitalization and medication, Henry is living on his own, and he recognizes that he has an illness. But, he says, that doesn't mean his visions and voices weren't real.

"It's still real. I'm never going to believe that it wasn't. It's as real as me talking now."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.