'The lived past is never really past; it endures in us in more ways than we understand. Sometimes it doesn't even feel like the past; it just feels like life itself, like the way things have always been and always will be, now as before, then and forever.'
In July 1988, Barbara Taylor, then an acclaimed young historian, was admitted to what had once been England's largest psychiatric institution: Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, later known as Friern Hospital. The journey that took her there began with anxiety and ended in complete breakdown. Over the next four years she lost her home and her career, as her world inexorably contracted around her illness.
The corridor of Friern - the longest in Europe - reduced visiting friends to tears, but Barbara Taylor's experience was not without hope. Helped by an undaunted psychoanalyst as well as loyal friends, she found a way to recovery. Formally discharged from the mental health system in 1992 - a year before Friern closed - she ended the decade with a job at a London university, a partner and a family, and a life she wanted to lead.
This searingly honest, thought-provoking and beautifully written memoir is the story of the author's madness years, set inside the wider story of the death of the asylum system in the twentieth century. It is a meditation on her own experience of breakdown and healing, but also that of the millions of other people who have suffered, are suffering, will suffer mental illness.