What is it like to go mad? Not so much developing depression or having a panic attack — which is wearyingly familiar to many of us — but to go properly mad, the sort of madness that involves delusions and police officers and locked psychiatric wards? Horatio Clare didn’t have to imagine what that was like for his book Heavy Light. It’s a memoir, subtitled ‘A Journey Through Madness, Mania and Healing’, and is an unsparing tale not just of what it was like for him to succumb to a psychotic episode but also of what it did to his family.
The book starts with a skiing holiday in Italy with his partner Rebecca and the children. Already cracks are showing in Clare’s sanity: he is overworked, has been drinking heavily and smoking too much weed, and his family and friends are worried. Those friends circle him like moths, fluttering anxiously around his increasingly erratic behaviour, saying ‘I’m so worried about you, Horatio’, and repeatedly being dismissed. Clare is trying to behave normally while believing that he is in the middle of a secret military operation. He acts as the bodyguard to one of his friends, sends signals from his laptop to satellites, and drops heavy hints to those he suspects of being senior officers in the SAS.
Back in England, his frightened family tries to get him medical treatment. We are all familiar with the response: an overstretched NHS, and police trying to fill gaps they were never intended to occupy. Clare explains:
I found the crisis team very easy to deal with. You told them you were reducing your drug and alcohol intake, you told them you felt fine, you told them you were sleeping well, and on you went.
Even when he’s taken to hospital after another incident, he ends up being discharged and a policeman breaks the news to Rebecca: ‘I am so sorry, I am so sorry but they’ve let him go.