I can no longer call the date ‘Half Term’ because half-terms were over for Bink, long before half-term itself was. That night we took her to the Florence Nightingale and were told we couldn’t take her home again, school became history.
That night, the Police were called to the Unit, a common occurrence: a member of staff had assaulted a patient. (By way of poetic symmetry, the day she finally left they were there as well: one patient had attempted to rape another, and almost succeeded.)
That night too, we were informed that the nurses sat with the patients for every meal. We could rest assured she would be well looked after, and certainly fed. Presumably a necessary precaution, since they must sometimes have had anorexic patients.
The next time we saw her, a week later, I was stopped in my tracks. I could have sworn she’d lost half a stone. Always slight, Bink now seemed breakably thin. Having been told, so specifically, that every meal was monitored, I must be imagining it.
It was months before she told me that for the first ten days, apart from water she consumed one cup of tea and a biscuit. Nothing else. At all. For a week and a half.
A pointless protest, since not a single member of the staff noticed. Presumably, if she had indeed been anorexic she could have died before they did.
Her room was neat and clean but stifling. No windows were allowed to be opened. Anywhere in the building. Suicide risk.
It didn’t take Bink long to learn the only way to be allowed fresh air. Smokers were released into the street for ten minutes in every hour. An addiction Bink still has – and hates – to this day. One of the first things she asked the Priory is to help her quit nicotine, as well as all the other mind-altering substances she acquired in there. It has jeopardised her sleeping ever since.
Our children were brought up in your archetypal draughty Victorian vicarage: lots of cracks and crannies, no heating upstairs and the windows wide to the stars every night. Naturally she couldn’t sleep, in her overheated airless room.
I turned to Yellow Pages and spent a morning searching for a gym. After many fruitless calls I rang the Florence Nightingale reception.
“You’ll know the answer to this,” I said. “I’m looking for the nearest gym to the hospital, so Bink can get some exercise.”
“There’s a gym right here inside the hospital.”
“Oh. Brilliant! Thank you. How does she use it, please?”
“I’m sorry?” This seemed incomprehensible. “Why is that?”
“She’d need supervision.”
I was momentarily speechless. “She’s very keen. Isn’t there anyone who could be with her? I could come over myself every afternoon.”
“Wouldn’t make any difference. The gym shuts at four.”
“Well, why doesn't she use it before four, then?”
“She has therapy till half past three. She wouldn’t get there in time.”
Defeated as I was, I tried one more time.
“Is there anything you can suggest, please? She’s not able to sleep at night.”
“That’s her own fault. She’s won’t take the medication.”
Despite all my despair at that dreadful place over the next weeks and months, I have always believed in trying to understand something I don't agree with.
“Please, explain it to me,” I begged a friend whose husband worked in mental healthcare. “There must be some logic to it: I can’t for the life of me see what. They have thirteen teenagers cooped up in that Unit. All mentally ill. All physically fit. Why don’t they take them to the park every afternoon for a couple of hours of football? Or for a walk? Or cross-country running? Or anything. Surely that would be more beneficial than therapy. And then drugging them all to make them sleep. What’s the reasoning behind it? It seems completely insane to me.”
“It’s cheaper,” she said simply.