It was agonising, knowing school was starting again after half term and Bink wasn’t allowed to attend.
She urgently needed proper help. If the appropriate treatment for OCD had been made available – say, as an outpatient at the Maudsley Hospital – it might have saved her decades of future agony and disablement. (And eventually the taxpayer, megalithic expense.) Indeed, if it had been provided when she was first diagnosed a year earlier, she need never have been admitted to hospital.
But how could it address her illness to make her drop out of school, lose touch with all her friends, abandon her A levels, be deprived of contact with her home and forget all structure and intellectual challenge? Simply to be locked out of the way? In an extremely toxic and dangerous environment...
I knew it was wrong and damaging. And yet we’d been stripped of our right to rescue her.
This alone was bad enough. Of course there would be worse to come.
The previous Christmas, when Bink was fifteen, she had chosen the most beautiful, apt and costly presents for each one of us. She says now that her display of generosity was down to nothing more than having access to her Post Office savings for the first time. (My kind mother had given each of them a nest egg of £200 when they were children.)
It was far more.
Most of the presents were ordered from Past Times. For my mother, a beautiful, opal-coloured, glazed butterfly broach, which she loved and wore continuously... until dementia stripped her of it and lost it for her, near the end. For my father, a chunky half pint glass tankard, with the King’s Shilling in the base.
Serena’s, Shaun’s and my presents have slipped away from memory over the years, but for Alexander and Benjamin she had reserved the most expensive of all: solid gold cufflinks engraved with their initials. They were exquisite. We couldn’t find their little boxes on Boxing Day, and on 27th December, just to be sure, I went through every scrap of wrapping paper in two wheelie bins before collection, only to find them safely put away.
We later had so many disruptive moves that, despite months of searching, I couldn’t find them for Serena’s wedding in 2013. It was with a whoop of joy and delighted call to Alex at work, last year, that I unearthed them (along with Shaun’s love letters to me from university) when clearing out the summerhouse.
Bink had taken endless trouble for each of us, as well as all her savings. I’m not sure when it was that I realised this was her goodbye, to everyone precious to her. She knew her daemons were coming for her, and before the next Christmas too...
She wanted us to know that she loved us, before she was taken away.
And boys: did they come!
Within a fortnight of entering the Unit, she was unrecognisable. From our ill and troubled but kind and considerate, dearest Bink, she became... well, horrible. Cruel; spiteful; cunning. I can say this without any disloyalty to the Bink I adore. She was no longer herself. And it was no more her fault than if she’d been suffering from shell shock in 1916. She was painfully ill; far younger than her years; isolated from any kind influence; and bombarded.
I have witnessed many times a type of therapy which turns patients against their loved ones. I’ve even experienced its attempt myself more than once. (Our couples-counsellors, for instance, suggesting how difficult my parents made my life, by being “perfect”. It only needs the subtlest of pointers, to make us feel angrily entitled; specially when we are already low.)
Bink’s family might be denied access to her, and soon we were. But our influence would still be protecting her. If those “treating” her wanted unfettered access to her mind, they had to break down all loyalty. And love.
With the accuracy of an Exocet, she soon homed in on what would hurt each of us most.
Shaun, she attacked with vicious vitriol. He came home from the Unit blistering with smarting fury. I could have coped with overt nastiness: he was pained to the core.
Me, she completely blanked out. She wouldn’t even see me. Again, this would have been water off Shaun’s back: I was desperate with grief.
She learnt overnight how to divide us, too. She gave Shaun secrets he was not to pass on. Had she offered me confidences I would have said, straight up, tell me nothing I can’t tell your father. Our togetherness, I knew, was more important to Bink herself than anything she wanted to share.
But enjoining the priest in the family to keep her confessional silent hit its mark. Shaun was caught. And I, more hurt.
They were destroying Bink from the inside out. Every week would do her more damage. And drive her illness deeper under the skin.
The next was the worst blow of all.