What to expect when you arrive at the Priory? I had no idea. Particularly when it came to the other inpatients. They really were a mixed bag. There were shopaholics, narcissists, coke heads, winos, burned out executives and plenty, plenty of despair. That’s what really pervades. The misery. It seeps along the corridors and permeates the walls. It soaks into the carpets and clings to the ceiling. Like nicotine stains from decades of heavy smoke, you can almost see it sticking there.
This aura of despair isn’t exactly conducive to wellbeing. But I’m not sure much there is conducive to being well. Patients are encouraged to sit still all day in airless rooms full of emotions. They fly around, pointy-edged and abrasive, so you leave the group session feeling like you’re full of splinters.
It’s really surreal, going from these warm, feeling-filled bubbles out into the bright light for lunch breaks or coffee. Imagine listening to some of the most horrible stories, people’s innermost demons being unleashed, and then just sitting down to lunch and making small talk with the same people. It’s so fucked up. I honestly can’t describe how bizarre. You bare your soul one moment, and talk about the weather the next.
But pain is the one thing we all had in common. It bound us together. We may have arrived by different paths; drinking, getting high or attempting suicide, but we were all looking to escape something. And then we found ourselves there, staring whatever we’d been running from in the face. And this meant we had a sense of camaraderie. Everyone there was doing impossibly difficult, frightening work.
Whether they were someone I would normally get to know out in the real world or not, I felt for them, and they me. I willed them to fight and to be OK and I wanted to help them in any way I could. What emerges from this? Friendship of course.