I was just well enough in hospital to appreciate fully what was
going on and it was not fun. Many others inside were either dumb or
strangely articulate: this for a year and a half. I longed for the
sanity of society.
Or so I thought. As soon as I got out, the madhouse of London
engulfed me. Passers-by who might be on another planet, media that
screamed in all directions, chaotic traffic, employers who fled
like startled rabbits from the dreaded word “schizophrenia”. Far
too much bad temper, accusations of rudeness at every turn,
domination by machines, impersonal unhelpfulness – none of the old
It is a common fallacy that you are the only sane person left on
Earth and everyone else has gone mad. Some say it is the first sign
of madness. But who is to blame you?
The one thing I did learn in hospital was sanity. That and a
certain mental toughness. You are being held inside against your
will for no crime at all. If Tony Blair has his way in the Mental
Health Bill, this could be for a lifetime: not for what you have
done but for who you are: your mother’s pride and joy given a life
sentence for nothing.
And being inside is no joke. It is unpleasant in itself and it
ruins your chances for the rest of your life. I started my life
with the best intentions and singular successes: choral scholar of
Winchester Cathedral for five years, scholar of Winchester College
for five years, platoon commander in the Queen’s Own Cameron
Highlanders regiment, seeing active service in Aden, Roberts Gawen
scholar at Magdelen College, Oxford, president of the university
experimental theatre club. Everything I could wish for was coming
true. Then along came this perishing schizophrenia.
It is a bitter pill to swallow, but it has to be swallowed. It is
one of God’s accidents over which he seems to have no control and
I’m the Charlie who cops it, though I don’t want to scrape my
violin too much because I’m really very comfortable and very happy
even so. I have no career, but I have made a life for myself.
I returned to London eight times in the 1960s with almost no help
from anyone. I found myself a menial job and did it. The vast
welfare organisation that is community care did not exist. But the
ninth time was different. Atkinson Morley’s hospital in Wimbledon
sorted me out, got me commuting to the job I found from the
hospital for three months before releasing me. I have not looked
back for 28 years.
Everything in the mental health field has improved since and I have
been learning a few lessons. My original, glittering plan was to
become a star of stage and television like my good friends, Esther
Rantzen and Peter Snow. But method acting madness put paid to that.
A different life has brought a fulfilled life in different ways.
And I still have my writing and my magic. The madhouse of London
contains a lot of good things, particularly freedom, which I hope
to hold on to like a precious jewel.
Richard Jameson is a mental health service user.