The psychiatric ward

     It was surprising to discover that there was such a thing as a ‘Psychiatric Ward’ and that I was to be a ‘patient’. It meant I was therefore ‘ill’ and there may even be a ‘cure’, although I couldn’t imagine what the cure might be.

     I knew all about mental hospitals. They were known colloquially as ‘loony bins’. You were incarcerated in one of these if you were a loony, and you never came out.
     There was one near where I lived, Hatton Hospital. A hideous, gothic pile set half a mile back from a road leading out of Warwick. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Hammer House of Horror film. One of its wings was an Ear Nose & Throat Unit, a reassuringly prosaic addition which rescued the place from being an outpost of Hell.
     But a ‘Psychiatric Ward’! That sounded benign by comparison.

     Up until this moment, I hadn’t entertained the possibility that I might be mentally unwell. My actions had been completely rational and scientific. I had proved myself to be grossly deformed, unfit for purpose.
     It got me thinking. If I was ill, the problem organ would have to be my brain. Could a brain actually go wrong? Could it, say, distort my reflection in the mirror? Perhaps I was stuck at the centre of some kind of mental labyrinth and the doctors were here to show me the way to the exit. Although that didn’t work as an analogy. It wasn’t as if they could leave a trail of breadcrumbs, was it?
     I was prepared to suspend disbelief. If psychiatry couldn’t sort this kind of thing out, there wouldn’t be any point in having psychiatrists.
     I had arrived at a temporary plateau of calm. I’d been handed a failsafe – my own mind wasn’t to be trusted. This concept was bizarrely comforting.


{other patients…Mike…the kleptomaniac…difficulty in being honest with psychiatrists…occupational therapy}


     My parents attended a consultation with the doctors, and were told I would need to spend a few months in hospital. This was unacceptable to mum. ‘O’ levels (GCSEs) were only a year away, and she was determined my education shouldn’t be interrupted.
     So I was peremptorily removed from hospital and brought home. On the journey back, she was all incandescent outrage:
     “They said they wanted to keep him there for a few more months!”
     And, as if that weren’t bad enough:
     “They said it was all our fault!”
     I happened to mention how I still wanted to kill myself.
     “Just shut up about that.” said dad.

     I don’t believe for a moment that the doctors had been so gauche as to imply parental culpability. Mum was able to take even the most innocuous of remarks and extrapolate it in any number of ways. If just one of these hypothetical avenues led to a potential criticism of her, then the speaker automatically became the accuser.

One thought on “The psychiatric ward

  1. Bill, I’m shocked but not surprised. I saw you many times while I was a pupil, you never noticed us it seemed. You always had your head down avoiding eye contact. Now I know why. All of us girls thought you were a legend, a rebel, we whispered about you down in the cellar
    (Our changing room) where we used to sneak down and hide to listen to Simon Bates ‘Our Tunes.’
    We were all very wary of your dad for various reasons . Your blog made me cry and brought back so many memories, not all great, to do with New College. I am so sorry for what you went through and I hope your writing it down helps to heal you in some way.


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