Henry Cockburn: I was trying to listen to my shoes. I thought I was going to be put in a straitjacket

'I was completely introverted. I felt there was no one I could trust to tell them what was going on in my head'

I was in mental hospitals for about eight years. I still bear the scars but they are fading. Some people have never seen a mental hospital. To me this feels strange, like meeting someone who has never seen the sea. I made friends there and, in some ways, life remained the same with tea and coffee to drink, food on the table, a radio and a TV. But being institutionalised squashes your dreams and aspirations and you forget liberty.

I am 30 now and it feels like there is a big gap in my life. My twenties, where did they go to? The first time I was sectioned was in Canterbury. I was paranoid to the point of delusion. I thought everyone was playing a game and I was the centre of the game. I had become completely introverted. I felt there was no one I could trust to tell them what was going on in my head.

When I reached a mental hospital, called St Martin’s, I spent three hours walking around the lunch tables trying to listen to my shoes. I thought my shoes were talking to me. I thought the nurses were going to put me in a straitjacket. That night I was forcibly sedated. The same thing happened the next three nights and then my best friend, Jules, came over and the nurses talked to him. He persuaded me to take the medication voluntarily and the next night I slept well. Soon they let me out for short walks by myself. I wouldn’t talk to my mum. I blamed her for telling the police I was a schizophrenic.

I escaped so many times they sent me to the most secure ward in the hospital [St Martin’s, Canterbury], which was called Dudley Venables House or DVH. It has double doors and a 12ft fence around the yard outside. I felt nervous about going because if you behaved badly in the other wards they would threaten you with going to DVH.

On reflection DVH wasn’t so bad – it was more the fact of being locked up. Previous to me going there, there had been two suicides so we were locked out of our rooms from nine in the morning to 10 at night. I knew one of the people, a young mother, who had committed suicide.

I was baptised in DVH. There was a Rasta called Charlie who had been put in the seclusion room – basically solitary confinement. He had head-butted the doctor and had been given two weeks there with nothing to read but the Bible. He came out a fanatical Christian. The same night my friend Jules and his Madagascan girlfriend had come to visit me and we played music until late and Charlie baptised me.

Most of the social life in Dudley Venables revolved around the smoking area. I had given up smoking for about a year, but one day I was in the smoking room and I saw the tips of everyone’s cigarettes burning away and I thought they were holy fires. I tried one, and it was not long before I was back on 40 a day.

For the first week I was in DVH, I didn’t sleep. I would have waking dreams. I was suspicious of beds so I would sleep on the floor. Sometimes I got paranoid, feeling that we were being bugged because there was a loud bleeping sound coming from the smoke detectors. Though why somebody should want to bug a mental hospital, I don’t know. I escaped about 17 times in different ways. I would jump the fence or I would sit by the double doors and wait for them to be left open for a split second. But I never lasted long on the outside.

Eventually I was moved from DVH to the Maudsley Hospital in south London. They wouldn’t let me out for the first week, though by then the nurses at DVH had been letting me walk about Canterbury for most of the day. I ran away often. Once I walked right across London. I had abandoned my shoes, but someone in a car stopped and gave me another pair. I was walking down a motorway and it was bitterly cold. I stopped a police car and told them I had run away from hospital so they took me back. If they hadn’t stopped I think I would have frozen to death.

When I got back to the Maudsley, they told me that I was moving hospital to the Cygnet Hospital Beckton. I arrived in the morning and went into a small smoking room with a square table in the middle and metal benches like the kind you get in parks around the side. The hospital was a bleak place in the middle of a council estate.

Grim though it was, Beckton was where I really turned the corner. After a while my determination to run away disappeared. I was there for two years, though looking back it feels like a couple of months. They made sure I took my medication by crushing up the tablets and mixing them with water. From there I was moved to a halfway house in Lewisham and then to supported housing. It has been a long road but the illness is controlled and I can do more or less what I please.

Schizophrenia: The shame of silence, the relief of disclosure

Henry Cockburn: If I say I'm schizophrenic people reply, 'So you've got a split personality'

The stigma of the hidden schizophrenia epidemic

Editorial: We are failing sufferers of mental illness

Henry Cockburn: I like to be liked – and finally I’ve found friends who really like me

Is this the 'tobacco moment' for cannabis?

Henry Cockburn: 'I can hear what other people can't'

Fashion advice from the shrink’s sofa

The demise of the asylum and the rise of care in the community

Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

    £7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

    Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

    £26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003