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3. A Young Man's Psychotic Breakdown

Smith, Barbara Fletchman Karnac Books ePub

The Murderer, a novel by Roy Heath, was first published in 1978. It tells the story of the progress of a young man through a psychotic illness whom—whilst in an extremely paranoid state— commits murder.

The author is Guyanese. Guyana is a country with slavery in its history, as well as violent resistance to slavery, and a vibrant pre-slavery heritage. Indeed, Amerindians survive in the interior of the country to this day.

Guyana has a small population for its size. Large parts of the country are unfamiliar to its inhabitants, except in the form of stories and myths. The country is situated below sea-level and is subject to periodic flooding, which perhaps has a bearing on the name of the hero of Heath’s novel—Galton Flood.

Heath presents a graphic account of a young man going mad, and I shall use features of the story to explore various ideas on the developmental factors which facilitate paranoia. I am interested especially in how psychotic breakdown assumes its shape, and how it is handled by the people around the person who experiences it.

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8. Parental Distress and Childhood Disturbance

Smith, Barbara Fletchman Karnac Books ePub

At thirteen-months-old, Little S, and his family, were referred to child guidance by a doctor at a mother and baby clinic. Both parents had visited the clinic at the father’s insistence. He was concerned about Little S’s behaviour: he was throwing food around, rocking, and head-banging against the side of his cot. The referring doctor mentioned that—physically—Little S was developing satisfactorily, and seemed well-cared for.

The family—father, mother, S the older son, and Little S— arrived for their first appointment half-an-hour late. Father was very reluctant to come in and see me, and only came in when Older S asked him to do so. I was struck by how extremely unhappy both the parents looked. Mother was thirty-five years old. She looked young for her age, and wore her hair in a girlish style. Father, however, looked all of his forty-one years.

Father began by telling me that he thought his son had a medical problem and should see a doctor. At this, mother gave father a look of contempt and pointed out that S had already been to the doctor. However, they were both worried about their child and agreed that his behaviour was growing worse. They described how S was rocking and banging his head first on one end, and then at the other end of his cot. He was also covering his ears, as if he had earache. When he rocked the noise he made travelled throughout their house.

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5. On a Male Baby's Earliest Vicissitudes

Smith, Barbara Fletchman Karnac Books ePub

Much of Galton Flood’s fictional babyhood is not made available to us. However, in this chapter I shall present more detailed observations on what passes between a young male baby and his parents—in particular his mother—by referring to actual case material. I hope to demonstrate the ways in which the child sometimes learns fear from his parents, and the ways in which this makes it difficult for him to resolve the Oedipus complex.

* * *

Baby G was born in the United Kingdom. His mother emigrated to the UK when she was eleven-years-old, in order to rejoin her mother after some years of separation. During this time Baby G’s mother had been cared for by a maternal aunt and grandmother. My understanding of the situation is that there were no men actively involved in her care, and that Baby G’s grandmother had migrated to the UK entirely on her own.

Baby G’s mother became pregnant for the first time during her teens. The father of this first child wanted to marry her. She refused this offer and eventually he married another woman, but he maintained an interest in their child, Baby G’s half-brother. He also provided some voluntary financial support, and their son went to him for regular weekend visits.

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7. Masculinity in Crisis

Smith, Barbara Fletchman Karnac Books ePub

The neuroses of women of Caribbean origin cannot be considered in isolation from the troubles of the men. However, it seems to me that the difficulties which men and women experience in relating to one another are external as well as internal.

For instance, externally there are the difficulties presented by the effects of slavery, migration, racial prejudice, and discrimination. These lead to disruption of the established systems for social intercourse, and entail that alternative systems have to be built instead. For young adults there are the additional external difficulties of leaving home and living independently, which are exacerbated by unemployment and the lack of an adequate income. Freud himself was quite clear on the importance of work (Freud 1930: 101), yet independent research has revealed the heavy burden of unemployment which young black people—especially men—have to bear. Figures for the UK in May 1996 indicate that 36 per cent of black men aged 16-24-years were unemployed, compared with 17 per cent of white men (Institute of Race Relations 1999).

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6. A Little Girl's Story

Smith, Barbara Fletchman Karnac Books ePub

Although people of Caribbean origin—and other African people—have lived in the UK for centuries, there is a shared belief among the British (of all colours) that blacks are newly arrived.14

The Caribbean people who arrived in the UK in the 1950s and in the early 1960s—that is, during the height of post-Second World War migration—entered a world of full employment. They left behind countries which had recently become independent, or were in the process of becoming so. Like most immigrants, they came in search of a better life—economically speaking. They had a set of priorities and values different from those of the English working class, alongside whom most of them lived. Even to this day, the professionals with whom people of Caribbean origin come into contact—that is, teachers, social workers, careers officers—sometimes regard the desires and aspirations of these children and their parents as crazy and unrealistic. To such professionals, people of Caribbean origin sometimes appear not to know ‘their place’. For instance, Caribbean parents were complaining bitterly and vociferously about the education their children were receiving some thirty years before their indigenous neighbours protested and action was finally taken to improve standards. A defeatist attitude prevailed amongst the indigenous working class: that poverty-stricken neighbourhoods should be expected to contain hopeless schools, and that this is one’s lot in life.

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