A mother tells of her shock at her son’s diagnosis and how she lives in fear of what he may do to her.
To an outsider she must seem extremely safety conscious. She even has a security gate in front of her bedroom door which she locks every night.
But it isn’t burglars Sonia* is worried about – she lives in constant fear that her eldest son will burst into her room while she’s sleeping and do something terrible to her.
For years Jayden* has made her life hell with his wild outbursts and violent behaviour. "Once he threatened me with a knife, telling me with a straight face, ‘I’ll stab you.’
"And that’s just because I’d asked him to clean his room," the 40-something-year-old mom from Johannesburg tells us.
Although she’s taken him to experts nobody could really get to the bottom of why Jayden behaves the way he does – until recently.
"I’m sorry to tell you this," a psychiatrist told her, "but your son is a psychopath." His words rocked her to the core but they made perfect sense.
"He’s a compulsive liar and master manipulator – and he’s unable to experience emotions," the psychiatrist explained.
Although it was a relief finally to have a diagnosis, Sonia felt sick to her stomach. "I cried for days on end," she says.
"How and where did things go wrong?" It’s been about a month since the specialist at a psychiatric clinic delivered this grim diagnosis.
Her problem child, Jayden, isn’t at their home when we visit. For the past few weeks he’s been living with friends.
Although Sonia is enjoying the peace, she never stops worrying about him and wonders what trouble he’s got himself into.
"What happens the day I get [a] call telling me my child has committed a horrific crime?" she asks. Sonia fondly remembers the little bundle she brought home from hospital.
Jayden was a healthy baby, the little boy she’d longed and prayed for after her first baby was stillborn, she says.
She and Jayden’s dad divorced and she’s been married to her second husband for more than a decade. They have a son, David*, together.
David listens attentively as his mom talks about his brother. Sonia tells us Jayden had a traumatic childhood. He was abused at his crèche, and later also by a close family member.
He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at a young age. Many times she was called to the principal’s office about her son being disruptive in class, ignoring his teachers and fighting with other kids.
Things weren’t any better at home. "He’d stomp on his toy cars and ignore you when you spoke to him. We tried giving him a hiding but it didn’t work. I’d send him to the bathroom for time out and he’d punch holes in the door."
"Nothing I did made any difference to his behaviour," she recalls. She took Jayden to a psychologist, an occupational therapist and a play therapist. He was put on medication for ADHD and she changed his diet – all to no avail.
He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 2016 and diagnosed with conduct disorder – a range of antisocial, often violent behaviours that usually manifest in childhood or adolescence. Later, Jayden dropped out of school and started working but he was often jobless.
He started smoking dagga and at one point was admitted to rehab for drug addiction. He moved around a lot, intermittently living with his mom, friends or a girlfriend.
"He’s handsome and athletic and makes friends easily. Adults take a liking to him because he’s friendly and well mannered. He also has a way with girls," Sonia says.
But when he’s with his family he’s an entirely different person. He has fits of rage, during which he carries on "like a wild beast", his mom says. Things finally got too much. Overwhelmed, Sonia took an overdose of her prescribed antidepressants last year.
She felt she just couldn’t go on, she recalls. Fortunately her husband found her in time. She was treated at a psychiatric hospital for two weeks.
But once she was back on her feet the problems with her son continued. Earlier this year Sonia, at her wits’ end, took Jayden to a psychiatric hospital where he completed a battery of tests. That’s how the psychiatrist came to the conclusion that he’s a psychopath.
But because his behaviour hasn’t been illegal or caused any physical damage, there’s little his mother can do to get help. "They can’t tell me where we can take him – there’s no place for him," she says.
A few weeks ago Sonia couldn’t take it anymore and she kicked Jayden out of the house. At the moment he’s living with the parents of a friend who’ve taken pity on him. Although it’s a relief that she no longer has to put up with his erratic behaviour, Sonia is worried about the future. She doesn’t know how she can help her child or herself.
And simmering beneath all of this are so many questions: was her son just born bad, or was it his traumatic childhood that made him this way? In parting, Sonia voices the dark thoughts that weigh heavily on her mind.
"I used to wonder why I was sympathetic to the perpetrators in cases such as the Griekwastad and Van Breda murders. Now I know: it’s because they remind me of my son."
*Not their real names
Image credit: Supplied