Tag Archives: Lillian Board

What happened when I was admitted to a mental asylum when I was newly 18

I was born on Friday 28th July.

Just after my 18th birthday, on Friday 11th October, I tried to kill myself because of a girl. I have blogged about it before.

Obviously I failed and after I got out of hospital – as was not uncommon then – it was suggested I should go into a mental asylum. It was at Goodmayes, Ilford, in East London.

On Saturday 19th October, I wrote to a friend in Wales about it:

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I never was any good at chemistry in school – I think I once managed to come next-to-bottom instead of bottom. I got out of King George’s Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. My underpants and one black sock had disappeared mysteriously while I was in there.

On Wednesday evening, I went in voluntarily to Goodmayes Hospital (the nuthouse) because I knew I wanted a rest and they thought I wanted help.

I was only there for one day because, on Thursday evening, I discharged myself, much to the annoyance of a point-nosed grey-haired man – a charge nurse – slightly balding, who filled in all sorts of forms and kept muttering about the extra work.

There was a secretary to the point-nosed grey-haired charge nurse – tall, thin and always reading intently – who laughed nervously at anything. He laughed loudly and shrilly. A really shrill laugh. He seemed like a patient, but he was one of the staff. The difference between the staff and the patients was that the patients walked slower.

Anyway, this charge nurse bloke was giving me what sounded like a prepared and rehearsed lecture on how I should not discharge myself and, at the same time, he was rolling a cigarette, looking down at it while he rolled it.

“You’re not reading it from the cigarette paper, are you?” I asked.

“Now why do you say that?”

“Hallucinations?”

“Well, it could be…”

I think that was why he was not too keen on letting me out.

He thought I might be seeing little green point-capped and grinning goblins crawling out of cracks in the walls.

When I had arrived at Goodmayes Hospital on Wednesday night, I had been very depressed. Very in the pits. They gave me a pill which gave me a surge into emotional elation. I did not really want to be elated but I had no choice. It was like a rocket taking off inside my body after I took the pill. Phwoeeeeeeehhh! Mindless happiness. I had trouble getting to sleep so they gave me two sleeping pills. The difference between the staff and the patients was that the patients walked slower.

The next morning, a doctor interviewed me at his desk in his room.

“You seem to explain it very well,” he told me. “I am talking to some students tomorrow. You can come and talk about your feelings to them so they can understand how someone like you thinks.”

The last thing I wanted to do was to talk to a room full of students like some academic lecturer. I wanted a rest. I did not want an audience. I wanted to be away from people. I realised they were not going to let me alone. I wanted a rest and they thought I wanted help.

I was in a ward with about ten people.

There was a queer bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes who had not had a shave that day. He kept going on about masturbation and had I ever let anyone do it to me and how good it would be. He was one of the nurses. He had started as a nurse in Goodmayes Hospital seven years ago, then left and been a clerk and a book-keeper and all sorts of things but then he came back.

“I came back to take care of people like you,” he told me.

When he heard I was discharging myself, he looked me deep in my eyes and told me:

“You’ll be back. People always come back. They think they won’t. But they come back.”

Also in the ward, there was an Irishman who read books about three inches from his nose and held them tightly with both hands and never looked at anyone, avoiding any eye contact with anyone else.

Then there was the hairy man with a torn pyjama jacket who lived in a triangular padded room at the back of the ward. They let him out for meals. He walked oddly, like he was doing it in slow motion. He would say: “Charles the First said it would happen,” and “Charles the First said he would never indulge it. He said he would never indulge it,” and “Harold Wilson Harold Wilson Harold Wilson Harold Wilson.”

And then there was the 20 year-old boy in the wheelchair who said he had a jaw disease.

“I’m in here because I have a jaw disease,” he told me.

He looked backward but I don’t think he was.

He kept talking about how he used to go mountain climbing and bog exploring.

“I used to like to go to quiet places and old ruins where I was completely alone,” he told me. “When I was outside. Before I came in here.”

He told me how he wanted to go camping and hiking. How told me how he threw cups and plates and bottles up in the air and liked to see things destroyed.

“I like to see things destroyed,” he told me.

He did nothing but cut out pictures of the athlete Lillian Board.

He was making a large Olympic chart backed by hardboard, covered with pictures of Lillian Board.

When I told him I was leaving that night, his eyes were like the sea without waves. He told me his girlfriend Evie, who used to live in Chingford, could not visit him very often.

“She has gone to live in Exeter,” he told me.

I gave him my address. I told him to write to me and promised to visit him.

When I left, the queer bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes was telling him about an isolated shed in the gardens outside the ward.

“You will be in here for a long time,” the bloke with glasses and smiling, intent eyes was saying to the 20 year-old boy looking up at him from the wheelchair, “And I will be in here too.”

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After I got out, I never wrote to the boy in the wheelchair. He never wrote to me. Other things happened.

Two years later, the athlete Lillian Board died of bowel cancer, 13 days after her birthday. She was 22.

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