I recently finished reading “Pin Down” by Teresa Cooper. It is the account of a young woman, who through her involvement with “care services” ends up institutionalised. It is a historic account and refers to the mental health service as it was in the UK back in the late 70’s, early 80’s.  “Shocking” would be an understatement, but the book is sobering and certainly puts things (aka. my life) into perspective.

What really surprised me, (and I’m very good at getting “sucked into” the world that a book portrays) was how easy it was, from the authors writing, to experience her swaying doubt and questioning of her own mental health and perception of the world and what was actually going on. Was she really mentally ill or was she put into an institution because that was the most “convenient” place to put her for whatever reason? But why drug someone if they’re just there for convenience? Did she really need the drugs or was it to subdue the patients to co-operate ?

Throughout the book all sorts of questions are raised, like some of those I have mentioned above. What was a pleasant surprise was Ms Cooper’s reference to the way the cat that lived in the home she was staying in, helped her. How interacting with “Buttercup” helped her –

I felt that Buttercup was me in cat form. I identified with her because she was as lonely and scared as I was. It took months to win her over. I saw and talked to her endlessly until she got up the courage to poke her head through the hole in the wall. I was thrilled when eventually she ventured into the room. The biggest breakthrough came the first time I stroked her. She trembled with fear, but my patience had paid off. […] 

It meant a lot to me that she trusted me. She came when I called her, but no one else could tempt her out of hiding – apart from her owner Dot, of course. […]

Buttercup was therapy and therapist to me. When I wanted to die I’d go to her and tell her all about it, safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t look down on me for crying or expressing how sad I was. No matter how drugged up I was, she didn’t judge me. By loving me and making me feel wanted and needed, she was everything that the staff at Kendall House weren’t. What’s more, being with her and stroking her had a truly calming effect on me.

See for yourself. It’s an amazing book and certainly highlights how things were and how lucky we are that things are different (although I realise not everywhere). Let’s take Ms Cooper’s lessons and see what we can learn from them.

Teresa Cooper’s “Pin Down” is available from Amazon.

Pin Down by Teresa Cooper

Pin Down by Teresa Cooper