This Life: A pool of ignorance

One afternoon my son Christian said to me: “Mum, while I was swimming today one of the lifeguards called me over and said, ‘You’re in here a lot, mate’. I told him the truth and said, ‘I’m recovering from a mental illness’.

I explained I’d stayed in bed all day for year, but was feeling better now and wanted to build up my muscles”. Alarm bells went off in my head.

When I voiced my concerns to his father he assured me the lifeguard was just being friendly.

The following morning, Chris went swimming while I was at work. My phone rang. When I answered, the line was silent. Then I heard heavy sobs. It was hard to understand what Chris was saying because his teeth were chattering.

“The police were asking horrible questions. I was so cold – they called me out of the pool in front of everybody. They asked me why I was in there while there were children in there, but I didn’t understand what they meant.

Do you know what they meant?”

I was enraged because of the injustice, and repulsed by the fact that anyone would suggest such a thing. I couldn’t believe this had happened. But most of all, I was sad because my son was so shocked and upset.His father and I went straight to the pool and spoke to the manager, who appeared to have no idea what all the fuss was about.

I’ll never forget the tears on my husband’s face as he spoke: “I would trust my son with children more than I would trust myself, and I can assure you I would never harm a child. How dare you suggest that my son had an ulterior motive!

Chris’s only mistake was telling a member of your staff that he was recovering from a mental illness.”

Next stop was the police station. The young sergeant seemed genuinely sorry, and told us that he didn’t know anything about schizophrenia. Unbelievable, considering these are the people who look into incidents and deal with young people who are having psychotic episodes.

Despite our problems, compared with another carer we met recently, we know we are lucky. After being sectioned and spending two years in rehab, her son moved into his own flat. That same week, while he was out buying a pizza, someone put a lighted torch through the letter box. He came home to a flat that was burned and gutted. He ended up back in hospital.

A few weeks after the swimming pool incident, my son received a letter of apology and two free swimming vouchers, which the people at the pool seemed to think made everything ok. It was nine months before Chris plucked up the courage to go swimming again. He kept saying that he felt ashamed. His shame was borne out of their ignorance.

Having been raised to be open and honest, Chris will have to learn to change his ways and tell lies due to the lack of education and understanding of others. And the hardest part for us as his parents? The injustice of it all.

Georgina Wakefield is a carer for her son who is diagnosed with schizophrenia

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