SOMEHOW, through the thick fog of unimaginable despair, Karen Gudelj still hauls herself out of bed every morning with one positive thought - she is a day closer to finding her missing teenage son Zac Barnes.
Sunday will mark 20 weeks since the popular apprentice bricklayer jumped from a friend’s car near some Thornton bushland and ran into thin air.
Despite one organised search from authorities, and several others by family and friends, there has been no sign of the 18-year-old since - no social media contact, no phone calls, zero.
Mrs Gudelj says her mind - and that of Zac’s stepfather Mick and siblings - constantly wanders to think the worst.
“I can’t believe it has been five months,” Mrs Gudelj told Fairfax Media.
“I have been living in an absolute fog and my family is falling apart. They are all struggling.
“You think about what the past five months have been and whether you will still be going through this in 10 years time.
“You can go through all those emotions a couple of times a day. It is just torture.
“The only way I have been able to survive is by trying to think of the positives, of thinking that every morning I get up is a day closer to finding him.
“You can’t think of it any other way.”
It was November 13 and, according to friends, Zac had appeared fine before something triggered him to want to leave a friend’s house to get a train at Thornton railway station.
On the way, Zac asked his friend to stop the car before he got out and ran off near the intersection of Haussman Drive and Tripp Close.
He hasn’t been seen since.
A Facebook page called Help Find Zac Barnes, set up by Mrs Gudelj, has attracted nearly 17,000 followers.
And along with the support has also come the theories, the rumours and the nasty comments.
Mrs Gudelj has taken them head-on.
“Is there drugs involved? I don’t know. Was he an addict? No, he wasn’t. But he probably experimented, he is an 18-year-old. Did he drink? Yes,’’ she said.
“He did owe money, but it was only a small amount. And it wasn’t gambling.
“It was definitely not enough money to lose your life.’’
When asked what she thinks happened to her son, Mrs Gudelj pauses and her eyes well up as she battles between warm hope and cold reality.
Because she knows her son would not have willingly remained away from his family for so long.
“I will never lose hope, hope is always there but it is hard because I know my son, and I know he would not have just run off,’’ Mrs Gudelj said..
“So I fear he is being held against his will or has met with foul play or there has been an accident.
“I don’t think he could harm himself because he cared too much about what people thought.
“We had spoken about suicide, in a broad sense, in the past and he was well aware of the grief that it left behind.
“He even said to me once: “I wouldn’t do that. Everyone would hate me”.
“We just don’t know what to do. We go through so many emotions, from simply thinking where he is to hope he will come home, to fear about what has happened to him and even anger when you quietly think “how dare you, how could you do this to us’’.”
Information should be forwarded to Central Hunter detectives on 49340 200 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.