For the first weekend of their twelve-week period of treatment in the Royal Bethlem Hospital Severe Anxieties Unit, patients were not allowed out.
Which meant that Bink’s first home leave, twelve and a half years ago, was on Maundy Thursday, for four days.
I can still feel my utter astonishment at the Bink who walked back into our little cottage, for that long Easter weekend, after just ten days of treatment.
She sat in chairs she had never been able to sit in. Drank out of glasses instead of mugs. Used the telephone.
It was like beginning to wake up after a long, tortured nightmare and daring to believe that this, after all, might be reality...
We didn’t all have to play musical chairs at the beginning of every meal, to work out where Bink could sit. Or dance a quadrille every time she wanted to get up.
I noticed with wide-eyed astonishment that she herself no longer had to dodge out of the way whenever I drew near; or make a firewall of several feet between us so I didn’t contaminate the air around my own daughter.
I hadn’t fully realised, until it stopped, how endemic this behaviour had become.
How demoralising had this been for me, month after month, year after year? That my own flesh and bone, whom I had given birth to in such a wash of pain and tears and blood twenty-one years earlier, was so revolted at the thought of merely brushing against her mother by mistake that she flinched away in terror.
I hadn’t been able to bear how hurtful it had been, until she didn’t any more.
She told us she had been tasked, in hospital, with washing up. Was this the first time in her life? I can’t remember her ever doing it before.
First she had simply had to do this for herself. Four plates, four mugs, a little cutlery.
One and a half hours.
(Pretty extreme, I’d say. I won’t do this: washing-up without gloves. Your hands would end up like withered prunes for the rest of the day. Almost at the rubbing-faeces-on-your-face end of the spectrum, to my mind...)
Then she was put on the rota for the house, and washed up for five others. Two hours, with gloves.
She said this was pretty good going: some of them are up all night.
It was quietly noticeable that she could do a little to help. Not much, it was true. But at the end of a meal, instead of sitting incapable, she was able to carry a used plate into the little kitchen. Tidy away the salt. Remove some other item.
It was almost like starting to have four grown up children, rather than three and an invalid.
I could begin to imagine what life could be like...
Bink had been asking for treatment for six agonisingly terrifying and lonely years. Since she had been fifteen. Begging, and longing, and so desperate for medical help that she took a token overdose aged sixteen, to get attention for her condition. And then attracted the wrong kind of attention altogether, which catapulted her into an extremely abusive hospital which brutally ended her schooling prematurely and made her addicted to destructive medication.
And yet the right kind of treatment had existed all along…
Which could have saved her over a quarter of her life. The rest of her family all that pain.
And – not that this compares in significance, though it does show the utter futility of the policy – saved the tax-payer, on Bink’s estimation, well over a million quid in subsequent piecemeal benefits and other stop-gap-aids to staying ill.