My Son Goes off the Deep End


When Gabi Coatsworth’s son was arrested, she soon learned that the law was the least of his problems.

Part of me had been expecting this phone call. “It’s about Jason.” Something bad, for sure. My stomach did a somersault.

“Who’s speaking?” Don’t overreact, I told myself. Maybe it’s nothing.

“Just a friend of his,” said the voice. “The name’s not important.”

I’d heard about Jason’s friends. There was the double amputee who kept live snakes in his apartment. There was the psychotic former lover who kept Jason in indentured servitude by telling him that he owed her more money than he could ever hope to repay. This called sounded like he might be Jason’s smoking buddy. Right now, his name didn’t matter.

“Jason’s been arrested for drug possession,” he announced.

“Okay,” I said, my British voice nonchalant, my mother’s heart pounding. “Where is he?”

“Main Police station in Hartford. I think he’s going to court tomorrow at 9am.”

“Right,” I said. “I’ll be there.”

“One thing,” said the friend. “He seems to be acting weird. Got to go.” And he hung up.


I drove to the court in Hartford the next day, raging inwardly about the damage drugs had done to my son. “Acting weird” didn’t begin to cover it. Jason had phoned me just a week ago, excited about a great new plan he had for making money. Could I come and see him?

I didn’t expect that his idea would be any good, but I was pleased that he sounded happy, and I arranged to meet him for lunch at a little café near his house. When he walked in, he looked as though he hadn’t slept for days. But he seemed full of energy. Maybe he just needed a shower and a hairbrush for his long, tangled hair.

“I’ve got this great idea,” he began. “I’m going to get the drug dealers in Hartford to make money without dealing and then they won’t have to mess up people’s lives by supplying them with drugs.”

I stared, lost for words. Jason barely paused for breath.

“Here’s the thing. It’s brilliant. The dealers pay me to give advice to poor people, their customers and such, and those people pay $100 for my advice and I tell them how to improve their life. I’ve been studying psychology so I can solve all their problems, see?”

“But Jason,” I ventured, “How could poor people afford $100?”

He frowned in irritation.

“You’ve never had any faith in me,” he said. “I’m going to be Mayor of Hartford, and then I’m going to legalize pot so it won’t be a crime any more. That’ll convince you.”

Legalizing pot was not a new idea of his. Anytime he wanted to wind me up, he’d drag out this dead cat of an argument and taunt me with it. So I knew better than to respond, but I was worried. I looked intently at his eyes, trying to determine if he was stoned. I’d never been good at this—way too gullible.

“Jason,” I said, “Are you on something?”

“Yup,” he said, “Cloud 9. And I’ve got this great idea. I’m going to get the drug dealers in Hartford to make money without dealing and then they won’t have to mess up people’s lives by supplying them with drugs.”

Wait, I thought. He’s already told me that, word for word. I masked my increasing consternation as he started the tape for a third time. He had to be on something. What kind of drug would produce this effect? I was pretty sure he’d tried hallucinogens and maybe even some cocaine, but these symptoms were something I’d never seen before. After lunch, I dropped him off at his house.

“You’re the best, Mum,” he said as I drove off, my mind racing.

I knew I wasn’t the best. If I’d been the best, Jason wouldn’t be in this mess. Now 33, Jason was supposed to be finishing a degree he’d started seven years before. In spite of his off-the-scale IQ, his studies never went very well. I blamed it on pot—it made Jason apathetic to the point where he couldn’t get out of bed to go to class.

And a couple of years before his leg had been broken. He’d been mugged, he said, but the story didn’t ring true. Reluctantly, he told me that the drug dealers who lived on the corner of his street had mistaken him for someone else and broken his leg. There hadn’t been any mistake, but I didn’t know that then.

Jason and his broken leg came back to our house. He stayed there for several weeks while his leg healed. Then he was gone again, saying he had to go back to school to catch up. He never did catch up.


I reached the courtroom and checked the lists of cases. Jason’s name wasn’t on any of them. He’d been sentenced to community service the day before and was now working in a park somewhere. I headed to the community service office and tried to explain the problem.

“There’s something really wrong with him,” I said to the bored woman at the information desk. I had to get him into rehab, I explained. This might be my only chance to get him off whatever he was on before he destroyed himself completely.

“That’s nothing to do with us.”

“You don’t understand. He’s on drugs and needs help.”

“They’re all on drugs,” she said impatiently. “That’s why they’ve been arrested.”

I tried not to act frantic. I wanted to throttle her.

“He’s likely to get himself killed.” I said. She sat up straighter.


“He’s going round saying that drug dealers can make money by letting him give advice to poor people. And he won’t stop. If he says it to their face, they’ll kill him.”

Reluctantly, she agreed to see what she could do. When the Jason came back at noon, she went to talk to him. He was surprised but seemed pleased. Her reaction was something else. “He just propositioned me,” she told me. “I’m calling the cops.”

They took him to Hartford Hospital, where he explained that he was going to be Mayor of Hartford one day, and then proposed to the woman doctor who was checking him over.

“If you marry me, I’ll show you the best sex you’ve ever had,” he told her.

“Restraints!” she yelled. And before Jason or I could react, two burly male nurses strapped him, struggling, to the gurney. The doctor gave him a shot.

I saw a terrified pleading in his baby-blue eyes just before he passed out.

The doctor came over to me. “He needs to be admitted to a mental hospital,” she said.

At last, I thought. “For rehab, right?” I said.

“Well, that’s part of it. But the main thing is, he’s bipolar.” I was about to find out what that meant.

About Gabi Coatsworth

Gabi Coatsworth is a British-born writer who has spent half her life living in the United States. She lives in New Hampshire and Connecticut, with her husband, three sons, and a dog. The dog is sane.


  1. I appreciate your story and thank you for sharing it. I hope people do not walk away thinking bipolar is schizophrenia. Properly diagnosed, bipolar is very treatable and manageable. It may have been a long road to a diagnosis, but it was caught in time and together you will weather this storm. You are both very lucky to have one another.

  2. Young adulthood is when bipolar disease usually manifests, but many kids self-medicate the depressive states and/or control the anxiety aspect of mania with pot for a long time before it does. Good that he was properly diagnosed; naming his problem and educating yourself about it is the right way to mediate your own anxiety and understand if, how and when you can help him and when you can’t.

    Jane Adams Ph.D. coaches parents ofadult children and is the author of “When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us.”

  3. Emily Stutz says:

    Gabi, what a good description of the tangle of bipolar symptoms combined with everything else! Your honesty is searing. Please keep writing.

  4. Ina Chadwick says:

    Gabi has made it possible for me and for others to accept and deal with bipolars as best as we can. Through her gentle and accepting ministrations, Gabi’s work has helped me to step back and weep for the few moments of peace these cursed and gifted people often have, not for myself.

    What I have learned from reading Gabi”s work is that no matter how much you know intuitively that someone you love is behaving insanely, the behavior is so confusing that you figure some foreign thing has to be making this happen. Drugs, guilt, bad parenting. Everything we can label. Oh dear, it must be a heartbreaking sight to watch your pride an joy , brilliant boy, be felled by his DNA. Writing this is a gift to all of those other parents. Thank you, Gabi. If Jason had to have another mother, he wouldn’t have fared as well.

  5. Roger Durham says:

    Gabi, Thanks for telling your story. My family is still writing the next chapters of our story of a bi-polar brother. As you are learning, there are few good options available, no easy ones, and more heartache than a family can easily endure. My heart goes out to you and your son.


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