Henry Cockburn: 'I can hear what other people can't'

Henry Cockburn smoked joints daily for seven years. Does that explain what happened next?

Henry was first diagnosed with schizophrenia after he tried to swim Newhaven estuary fully clothed in the middle of winter. For eight years he was in and out of mental hospitals. On recovering, he wrote with his father, Patrick, an account of his experiences called Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, a Father and Son's Story. He has returned to art college and no longer smokes cannabis.

I first started smoking marijuana at the age of 13 or 14. At first I enjoyed it, but as the years went by the less I enjoyed the high. I was naturally quite shy around people my own age and smoking weed was an ice-breaker. Also, the music scene in Canterbury was closely linked to drugs and that had a part to play in me smoking it. I smoked five or six spliffs a day.

Cannabis ruled my life for a good seven years. I've met a lot of friends through smoking cannabis. It's a social thing – you meet people. But it wasn't a social activity. I'd have one or two joints, and then I'd just sit there not saying anything for hours and hours in a corner of someone's room.

In our little circle the bong seemed to be the common denominator. If you could take a bong you were in. A bong is a bit like a hubbly-bubbly pipe. The smoke goes through a bottle with water in the bottom of it, and you need strong lungs not to cough.

I went to a public school, but the kids I met outside school had a kind of freedom that you're kept away from in a public school community. We would hang out at people's houses – anyone whose parents let them smoke – and sometimes we went to parks to smoke. I was always scared that teachers from my school would see me smoking and I would be urine-tested.

I can still remember New Year's Eve 2000. I said to myself I would give up smoking cannabis. I was in Ireland at the time and I thought to myself this is the start of a new era. Stupidly, I got on a bus to go to a rave. I sat next to a friend from the village we were in, and the first thing she did was to skin up a joint. I was straight back on it. Anyone who says cannabis isn't habit-forming hasn't had to struggle with it.

I had a friend called Simon. Always a chirpy fellow, he got into dealing. He took ecstasy and speed and the next thing I heard that he had died from a heroin overdose.

I'm still good friends with his brother and his mother who I got to meet after he died. She visited me when I was in mental hospital.

My Psychosis

For me it was less of a psychosis than an awakening, a spiritual awakening. I would hear trees talking to me in the dead of night as I sat naked under them. For me it was oh-so real and for me, yes, it is still real. People talk about brain chemicals in my head being out of balance, but to me this sounds so impersonal. As I see it, I can hear what other people can't.

It all started in art college in Brighton in January 2002. I had been arrested for walking around town in bare feet, so I was wary of cops. I decided to walk around Brighton searching for clay. I decided I wouldn't consult a map or even ask anyone the way. I managed to find a shop called Evolution where I got some clay. I walked around picking up bits of metal and wood which I could use to make a drum for my brother Alex.

It seemed to me that black birds – ravens and crows – were trying to guide me back to the sea, and the white birds – the seagulls – were leading me out of town. I got to the top of a road leading to the railway tracks. I saw the letter H on a fire hydrant sign, and I saw what it meant. It meant H for Henry – I was in the right place.

I could feel the trees I was under telling me to take my shoes off, so I did. The next thing I knew I was by the railway tracks. The brambles around me seemed to tighten so I stayed still. Then a train went past – the brambles were protecting me. It happened again, but I got scared and jumped out and some one in the train must have seen me. I found myself under the roots of a tree. "You're not very good at this," I heard the tree say in my mind, and I heard a dog bark. So I held my breath until I soiled myself. That night I had a long conversation with the tree. The tree said that I could rap, that I was the best of rappers and a friend of mine loved me.

Since that day I have been sectioned at least eight times. I have had days when it seemed to me there was nothing anybody could do to help me. This inner torment – though actually it feels external – I call "the polka dots". I see rings like the rings you see in a jeweller's shop. I see them everywhere, every hollow, every piece of ivy, not a moment's peace. I feel I am being drained into a dark godless world and I ask the Almighty to make it stop. Once I thought I had turned into Gollum from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I thought I was being tricked into looking for the dark ring and had it on my finger and I was invisible. I thought that I was a sinner. I'll never really come to terms with what I see as real and what other people see as delusions, though these are now less frequent and are controlled by medication.

Schizophrenia: The shame of silence, the relief of disclosure

Henry Cockburn: If I say I'm schizophrenic people reply, 'So you've got a split personality'

The stigma of the hidden schizophrenia epidemic

Editorial: We are failing sufferers of mental illness

Henry Cockburn: I like to be liked – and finally I’ve found friends who really like me

Is this the 'tobacco moment' for cannabis?

Fashion advice from the shrink’s sofa

The demise of the asylum and the rise of care in the community

Henry Cockburn: I was trying to listen to my shoes. I thought I was going to be put in a straitjacket

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick