Here I am in the drama club. I haven’t been for three months. This is a drama club for people with mental issues. We meet twice a week. The hall is big and empty. We organise some chairs and a table at the bottom of the hall. I look round the table. These are faces I know and I imagine each person as a snapshot illustrating my past in mental hospitals and half-way houses in north-east Kent.
There is Jane: She wears a cross around her neck. I knew her from back in Anselm ward when I was first in St Martin’s Hospital, Canterbury. She was there when I was first sectioned in 2003. The main thing I can remember about her is her coming into my room naked at 10 in the morning. A nurse dragged her out.
Katie: I knew Katie when I was at The Grove rehabilitation centre in Ramsgate. She is someone I would class as a friend. She lives in Whitstable now above her dad’s shop.
Willie: I think I know Willie from Ethelbert Road rehabilitation centre. He is always smiling. He can play the clarinet like a diamond, but he keeps forgetting to bring it.
Fritz: I know him from St Martin’s Hospital. He used to have more than 200 body piercings but he’s taken them all out and now has a lot of holes in his face.
Mark: He looks a bit like God and has 12 cats. He said the other day that three kittens were born on his lap. I told him that I had read that a cat had been shot in Herne Bay. This was tactless of me.
James: He is quietly spoken. He mumbles a lot but is a good actor and is best suited for being part of our Dennis the Menace sketch.
Anna: Quiet Anna has the softest voice you ever heard. And I would be surprised if anybody had ever said a bad word about her. She is not here today so somebody else has to get the milk for our tea.
Andrew: He is a godfather and enjoys singing old ditties. He’s got a lot of old songs that we perform.
Teresa: She lives in a rehab centre with Willie and James. She is passionate about horses and is forever shaking her right arm. It’s quite disconcerting to watch.
Daisy: She is older than the rest of us. She wears dashing clothes and is usually accompanied by a carer. No one quite knows what Daisy thinks. I first met her in art therapy class group when I was in rehab. She has a voice a bit like Mr Bean and she introduces each of the plays.
My point is that most of these people at my drama group I’ve met in mental hospitals, rehab or art and drama therapy in Canterbury, Ramsgate, Herne Bay and Whitstable, and they are innately good people and none of us is violent. We tell jokes and Fritz, with his big fat belly, chews Nicorette. He says he has given up cigarettes for 12 weeks.
These are my friends now. I am a different person from the one I was before I was hospitalised for eight years. Before that I was in an art college in Brighton. I met many people there whom I thought were my friends. But when I went into hospital none of them tried to contact me. I wonder what they thought. Perhaps “Henry became weird” or “he must have screwed up on acid”. Since then I’ve got in contact with a few old faces, but it’s all one way and none of them tried to get in touch with me.
I go to art therapy and did some good drawings. When we were talking about the pictures I started clicking my knuckles. One of the other patients flipped. I thought he was going to hit me. He told me I was “ignorant” and rude. Every week I seem to make him angry. I think he really doesn’t like me. It’s really on my mind. I really do not like not being liked. Little things like this tip the balance for me.