I have just found this email, the first of many I sent from that tiny little study in that sweet little cottage, twelve years ago:
‘Shaun and I have just dropped Bink off at the Bethlem Hospital, where she is due to stay for twelve weeks. The last thing she said as we said goodbye (having somehow managed to give me a hug for the first time since the last – disastrous – stay in hospital five years ago) was “please ask everyone to pray for me”, so this is what I am doing. Please forgive the round robin: I never send these things because they're so impersonal, but I hope you’ll allow it on this occasion.
‘This is what she has asked us to pray for:
That she gets better! It is possible to get 100% better from OCD. Rare, yes; unlikely, for someone who suffers from such a severe form of the disorder, perhaps... but still possible. A week ago (the weekend we moved into this cottage) Serena organised a 21st birthday dinner for Bink and a small handful of her few best friends (all men, naturally...); I had spent the day getting new clothes and a makeup lesson for her, and she looked absolutely stunning... just, I thought, as she would have looked if she had grown up never having got ill ten years ago. She was sparkling and funny and exuberant and joyful, and we laughed till our sides ached until the clocks sprang forward and way beyond, and perhaps for the first time since her childhood I could imagine what her life would be like if she really could get better. We will never redeem her childhood or recover anything from her wretched adolescence, but it is possible that she could enjoy her twenties and more. Please pray for this.
That she doesn't “freak out”. I think what she means by this is that the treatment is terrifying: a question of setting the most ghastly challenges possible (the equivalent, for the rest of us, of daily bungee jumps, eating live maggots and cockroaches, leaping into scalding water or frozen seas, being shouted at by Alan Sugar in front of a million viewers... imagine whatever you're most frightened of and would cause you most pain, and having to do it every day for 12 weeks) and she wants us to pray that she doesn't suffer awful panic attacks, or fail to cope without us there to catch the pieces.
‘I would like to add three prayers of my own, though they are much more trivial.
She has been offered a job to start in two and a half weeks, working in her old prep school. After the first two weeks, you are allowed to combine the hospital treatment with outside activities if you can. Obviously it's much more important to get better, but it is a super job: giving her responsibility, self-esteem and experience in the only career she's ever expressed an interest in, and a nest egg for university.
There is as yet no way forward for her to be able to take up her place at Cambridge next October (her college hasn't got appropriate accommodation for her). She had her disability assessment last week, and the Admissions Tutor, Disability Resource Centre and I are trying every avenue we can think of... but we've been doing this since January and we haven't yet found an answer. Please pray for a solution so she can take up the place.
Very distressingly (and inexplicably) the vendor of the church-owned cottage we are now in ignored all Bink's instructions and all the details they'd spent hours agreeing together, and her bathroom has been fitted up completely wrong and may be no use to her at all. At its worst, what this means is that if she doesn't get better she won't be able to live with us; at best (again assuming less than total recovery) she will find it very stressful and miserable. (If she does get better we won’t care what the bathroom is like! – though it will be useless because it’s only a shower and there’s a shower elsewhere in the house.) Having discovered recently that we’ve missed five years’ entitlement to Disability Living Allowance for Bink (and probably Alex too) and Carer’s Allowance for me, I’m going to see whether the council has any disability grants available to redo the bathroom.
’Thank you for caring enough to read this. Her address until the beginning of July will be: c/o The Inpatient Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Unit, Alexandra House, Bethlem Royal Hospital, Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham, Kent, BR3 3BX. [Here followed her telephone number and email address of the time.]
‘Thank you all,
I have felt so much, over the years, that it takes me a while to work out what I feel now.
It is a salutary lesson, reading one’s prayers from over a decade earlier. Perhaps it’s as well that we don’t often write them down.
She got to Cambridge, yes. And managed to use her shower.
I had forgotten how much worry there was about these two issues at the time. It’s true (I remember now) that I spent many months looking for suitable accommodation for her, so she could take up her university place. In the end her college gave her two rooms instead of one, so she didn’t have to share a bathroom.
And she told me the other day that the benefits from her treatment in the Bethlem are still with her today. She no longer eats all her meals wearing Marigolds, for instance.
But as for her twenties being less painful than her childhood and adolescence… oh! why did I have to read such a prayer, written at such a hopeful time?
Still, we can pray for her thirties, can’t we?
It’s not that old, for your life to start…