Ann and her son, Leon. Manchester

My name is Ann and I’ve been caring for my son, Leon, who has a dual diagnosis; paranoid schizophrenia and a heroin addiction for 30 years.

He has severe bouts of depression and gets very psychotic sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes. When that happens he has to be admitted to the hospital for a few days until they stabilise him. It’s necessary, but he hates it.

Part of his schizophrenia is that he sees three figures: they don’t have faces, but they are dressed in religious habits and call him racist names. When this happens, Leon becomes distressed and aggressive. It’s difficult being a carer, especially when caring for someone with such a heavy addition.

Apart from all this, he’s an intelligent boy, he’s an avid reader and a great artist.

One morning he woke up very, very psychotic and he agreed to go with me to the hospital and have the psychiatrist assess him. I left when I felt he was in good hands on the ward, returning the following day to find that he was wasn’t around. I found out at the nurse’s station that he had been aggressive throughout the night and that they had needed to sedate him. He’s quite a big guy and it takes three or four men to hold him down.

Once they inject patients, they become calm and can go to their rooms, where they get into a safety position and are monitored. I had a look in Leon’s room, and he was fast asleep, so I left, returning the day after.

He was up and awake when I arrived, I asked him if he had felt poorly yesterday and he replied saying that the voices were very strong and he didn’t know how to control them. We have been using different methodologies to try and control these voices, saying to them that they are uninvited, not welcome and that he, Leon, is in control. We’ve tried and tried. Sometimes it works.

A few days later, he told me; ‘I have a gift for you.’ I said that was really lovely, not knowing what to expect. What he had done was brought a plain white cup and plate and painted them with all my favourite shapes; triangles, circles, arches in all my favourite colours; reds, oranges and a violet blue, during an art session. For me.

He did this about eight years ago. When I’m feeling resentful towards him because of his behaviour or his language, when I think I just can’t cope, I get the cup and the plate and I sit there and make a brew. Then I think, you know, when he did that and or said those things, he was ill, really ill. When he gave me his present, he told me he appreciated everything I did for him and that ‘you have your boundaries mum, but the love never stops.’

I remember all that and it brings me back down to reality. It’s like, come on, you’re allowed to feel those negative feelings. You’re allowed, just not out loud. I work through it, and get the cup and get the plate, put something on the plate and drink from the cup, and I’m alright.

That just works for me, it’s what keeps me going.

I’m sat in the house a lot, me and Leon. But I need to get out sometimes, to a place where I’m not with him, where I don’t have to talk about him or think about him. That’s why I walk with Stepping Out. Because I need to be with likeminded people, I need nature – nature heals me. It’s just my time where I can walk and walk and walk.

It makes me feel that by the time I get home, I’m ready for him, to give him a good service again, because he’s my son. I don’t feel resentment or anger, I don’t get that when I’ve been out, because I’ve had my time – because you don’t get time, you don’t get time when you’re a carer.

“As told to Amy Stevens”