It is so long ago that I was a patient in Middlewood; nearly forty years. It was my first admission to a psychiatric hospital. I was a young, very immature, angst ridden student who had decided there was no point to life and that he wanted to die. And maybe I did but maybe I was just very lonely and lost or maybe these were the precursors to my eventual diagnosis of schizophrenia.
I find it hard to think that, in the past, I might have stayed in that hospital all my life; not got married, never sailed across oceans or stared fascinated at coral reefs or whales in a gale. Not had a job where I managed seven people, nor spoken at the United Nations or written my book START or started a new life with my new family in Argyll. It is strange how times change.
That first journey from the hospital to Middlewood; being so confused about where we were going, and why the nurses insisted I stay in the wheelchair, and then the arrival. My initial fear at the huge building and what awaited me, that eased when the nurses met me and said it was silly I was in a wheelchair; smiled and had no uniform.
It was a place that made me want to change the world but also a place where I got some rest and met people who became important to me.
I was shocked at the holes in the walls, the broken furniture, the beds crammed so close to each other, the snoring and noise at night. That bleak, echoing, empty room all of us patients on the ward were escorted into to shout questions at the psychiatrist who was surrounded by nurses. I was angry that I was told I was too young to feel despair and miserable when the women, who had lived in the ward above us for many years, escaped from their ward and would rush into our acute ward, desperate for the cigarette buts in the ashtrays, oblivious to everything else. The old man who came in around the same time as me and who was so skinny and who walked around holding his trousers up by his hands, who fellow patients got a belt for and who died an undignified death not long after I was discharged. I was desperately upset by the other young man who assaulted the sole nurse on duty and who was jumped on my about six burly nurses after we had pulled him off that nurse; who was injected and who screamed for the whole night until he was taken away, I had no idea where, in the morning.
But then I had some lovely conversations with other patients and nurses. I remember some of us would go to the pub up on the hill in the evening with the nurses (nowadays that would be unheard of). I remember the friend I made who had learning disabilities as well as mental health and addiction problems who I hung around with for some years after we were discharged and finally I remember coming back after I was discharged to give a book of poetry to my key nurse and how she came to visit me at home and how, for some months, I was no longer lonely; began to believe there might be something loveable about me after all.
And I remember being asked to write letters some months later, to some of the other patients. There was one who wanted me to tell him what Sheffield looked like now. He hadn’t been out of the hospital grounds for thirty years. The shame we should feel.
Graham Morgan has an MBE for services to mental health and is the author of START (by Fledgling Press) a memoir of compulsory treatment, love and the natural world. (Available from Amazon and Waterstones on line.) He can be found at @GrahamM23694298 on Twitter.