The Last Asylum by Barbara Taylor – review
Imagine if, on top of all your other worries, you started to go mad. Lena Dunham in Girls conveyed this well, when Hannah started counting footsteps and digging into her ears. Thoughts you have lived with for as long as you can remember no longer cause mere anxiety, but intolerable agony. Tics speed up and take over. People do their best to help you, but they aren't strong enough, and you wear them out. Who or what might be able to hold you while you work your way through this crisis? Is there any point in even trying to help, or is it best for everyone if society simply locks you up?
In 1983, Barbara Taylor was a young activist and scholar, the author of the prizewinning Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the 19th Century and an editorial collective member at History Workshop Journal and the feminist paper Red Rag. But she was unhappy and self-destructive and felt herself becoming more so. And so she did what London intellectuals did in the 1980s and started on a course of full-on classical psychoanalysis with a Harley Street practitioner: the dreams, the leather couch, the works. She would not publish another book for 20 years.
To begin with, she writes, analysis only confirmed her sense of how special and unique she was: "I buzzed with my new-found status … I felt gorgeous," she writes. But then, childhood demons started to overwhelm her. She drank, she left her job, she necked pills "like a party drunk guzzling peanuts". She was admitted to Friern psychiatric hospital in north London in 1988 and was in and out of its revolving doors three times over the next few years. The late 1980s and early 1990s are now known to historians as "the twilight … of the Asylum Age", as the mental hospital went out of fashion and care in the community came in. Taylor moved from Friern to a hostel in 1992 and the hospital itself closed the year after.
The Last Asylum by Barbara Taylor