Cosy Corners in Depression and War
Autobiography of Joan Hughes
The story of one person's nests

Extracts from my Goodmayes Hospital Diary 1972

I have kept a diary about my life in 1972... I was careful when keeping it not to make remarks about the staff, in case this was found, as I had to keep it in my hospital locker.

Saturday 22.1.1972.

I rose at 7 am; had breakfast at 8 am. (I am in Goodmayes Hospital). Sister gave me supplies of amitryptilline (an anti-depressant), librium (a tranquilliser) and mogadon (sleeping pills) for the week-end, which I am spending with my father in Lawford.

My father is also in a psychiatric hospital; he tells me he is suffering from "narcosis". I think this means falling asleep at odd times. However Dad came home for the week-end (Sat. morning until Mon. morning). I had lunch prepared by my father and played a game of chess with him,

Before going to bed, I packed a case with all my winter clothes to take back to Goodmayes Hospital with me. Mr Heath signed the treaty of Brussels for entry into the Common Market today.

Sunday 23.1.1972.

I rose at 8 am and took my father a cup of tea in bed. After breakfast I went to Mass in Manningtree. As is usual at the present time the Mass was in English and hymns were sung. Very enjoyable and consoling.

My father prepared the evening meal of chicken with vegetables. I typed a letter to Robert, a translator, thanking him for discussing the prospects of myself becoming a translator from Russian in the future. I was unable to do any Russian studying during the week-end, owing to having to devote myself to my father's needs. I helped him sort out his financial affairs. To bed at 11 pm.

Monday 24.1.1972.

Said good-bye to my father and caught the 9.30 am train back to London, and arrived back at Goodmayes Hospital just before the 12 mid-day lunch. Meanwhile my father also returned to hospital in Colchester.

After lunch I took part in the usual physical training lesson given on Monday afternoons at the hospital. Had tea as usual at 4.30 pm. Did a little knitting and studied Russian for about three hours in the evening.

Tuesday 25.1.1972.

A typical day at Goodmayes Hospital. Rose at 6.30 am, did housework between 7 am and 7.30 am. Breakfast at 8 am. Then helped to wash up.

At breakfast the conversation was about Carol who has now been transferred to another ward. Carol is always going up to people and saying, "I'm sorry. Have I offended you?" People get tired of her continual worrying. When she came up to me and said this, I simply answered, "No, Carol, you have not." But some people lose their patience with her and tell her off.

Occupational Therapy between 9 am and 12 noon. As usual on Tuesday mornings I had to do painting. This week I painted a poster advertising a jumble sale.

Saw the doctor during the morning, who seemed pleased with my progress. Lunch at 12 noon, uneventful. Walked to shop after lunch to buy my daily papers and scanned them for possible situations vacant. Nothing doing.

Occupational Therapy in the afternoon 1.30 - 4.30 pm.

Most people play bingo for the first hour on Tuesday afternoons, but I have refused to do this. But painting and physical training are compulsory. Did not enjoy painting - which I used to enjoy, because the painting materials are poor quality, and we are not allowed to buy any extras for ourselves. However, I have been excused from Bingo.

During Occupational Therapy I wrote one letter applying for a job as a chemist, and spent the rest of the afternoon knitting.

During the afternoon I saw Mr W. the Employment Officer, who had contacted my last employer to try to persuade him to take me back. The employer refused to do so, but said he would give me a reference, but would have to state that I had left because of a nervous breakdown. This seems very unsatisfactory.

Tea at 4.30 pm.

In the evening I went up to my bedroom and sorted my personal documents out and put them away in an orderly fashion. Then I washed out some clothes.

At about 7 pm I went downstairs to the sitting-room and studied Russian until 9 pm. Then, feeling tired, I sat and continued knitting a pullover for my father until bedtime at 11 pm.

Wednesday 26.1.1972.

At Occupation Therapy in the morning I studied Russian. At dinner-time I asked permission from the sister to go out for the afternoon. This was granted. Reasonable requests were rarely refused. I went to see my old employer and collected my thesis which I had left there. My employer said he would give me a reference but would have to say I left through illness.

Later in the afternoon I called at Baker St. Lost Property Office to enquire about a brief-case I had lost recently. It had not been handed in. Then I went to a police station and reported my loss there. The police said they would let me know if it was found. I arrived back at Goodmayes at 7 o'clock, had a bath and studied a little Russian. Bed at 9 pm because I was tired.

Thursday 27.1.1972.

Had a good night's sleep. During the last few weeks I had only been sleeping three hours per night. In morning Occupational Therapy I studied Russian. In the afternoon practised touch-typing . Today I sent another letter applying for a position as a chemist (East Malling Research Station) for work on pesticides. Had to change the sheets on my bed.

There are only 5 patients on the ward at present. A general rearrangement is taking place in the hospital. Many of the wards are going to be mixed men and women. Until last weekend there were sixteen women patients here in Cherry Tree Ward. Some were discharged, others transferred to other wards.

Friday, 28.1.1972.

Still only 5 patients in the ward. At mid-day after lunch I bought my daily papers as usual. ...

Saturday 29.1.1972.

Rose at 6. Studied Russian until it was time to do my housework. Went to Ilford in the morning to try to buy new suit suitable for interviews. Could obtain nothing suitable. Commenced typing an article "The Analytical Chemist" which I wrote in October 1969. Tired by 9 o'clock, so went to bed.

Sunday 30.1.1972.

Now only 4 patients in Cherry Tree Villa.

Tuesday. 1.2.1972.

An interesting day. Sleepless night. Got up at 2 am and studied Russian for two hours in the washroom. Nicki, another girl who does not sleep was there. Last week-end my room-mate (Irene) was transferred to another ward, and for the last few nights have been sleeping alone.

Kay, an Irish Catholic has moved in. Had interesting talk with her in the early morning about religion and the troubles in Northern Ireland. Her husband was porter for the French Ambassador in Dublin.

During day went to town and studied chemistry. [In the Patent Office Library in Holborn] About 8 pm in the evening relaxed in sitting-room and discussed mental illness with other patients. Suicide and religion were discussed.

Wednesday 2.2.1972.

In the evening I had dinner with Robert and Elizabeth, and their friend Mr F. who has a degree in Russian. We discussed the possibility of my becoming a translator of Russian technical literature, and Mr F. advised me not to put too much hope into it. Although he has a degree in Russian, he gets very little work in Russian and had to learn Japanese in order to make a living.

Thursday. 3.2.1972.

I had an interview this morning for a position as Clerical Officer in the Ministry of Health and Social Security. They wanted to know why I wished to be a clerk, having been a chemist for twenty years. I had therefore to tell them about my latest nervous breakdown, and therefore don't think I'll be offered a job.

Friday 4.2.1972.

In the afternoon I had an interesting chat with the psychologist.

Saturday 5.2.1972.

Very quiet day. Only four patients in the ward. Read through my M.Sc. thesis in the morning in order to revise my chemistry for the interview on Tuesday.

Recently Bernadette Devlin made a physical attack on Mr Maudling, a Conservative Minister. I used to admire Bernadette Devlin and supported her left-wing views. Now she encourages violence. We need a socialist revolution, but it should be a peaceful one.

Personally, I can see no opposition between the basic tenet of communism "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", and Christianity.

Tuesday. 8.2.1972.

To-day I had an interview for a post as analyst. Unfortunately, the post entails a lot of microscopic work, of which I have had no experience, so I don't suppose I stand much chance of getting the job. Had to travel from Goodmayes to Chorley Wood which took over three hours. Had lunch out in Lyons and arrived back at the hospital in time for tea at 4.30 pm.

Wednesday 9.2.1972.

Spent the morning studying Russian. In the afternoon I did typing for an hour, joined the "keep fit" class for half an hour, and then had an interesting talk with Miss S, the psychologist. She thinks I am much improved. She says she is a Liberal Marxist. I went to my Russian class in the evening, could not understand a word of the dictation, although my reading and writing in Russian are going quite well.

Thursday 10.2.1972.

In the post, there came another letter refusing to offer me a clerical job. I decided to concentrate all day on trying to learn typing, even though I do not like it. I am doing this because it may be the only means by which I can get a job.

Tuesday 15.2.1972.

Had a frustrating and boring morning in the painting room. Feel annoyed about these compulsory activities. A better afternoon and evening studying Russian.

Thursday 17.2.1972.

Spent the whole day typing. Did Russian and some knitting in the evening. Feeling depressed but not psychologically depressed. Want to get out of this hospital.

Saturday 19.2.1972.

Had a letter from Aunt May. She is suffering from the power cuts caused by the miner's strike. In her all-electric flat, she is having a rough time. As I am in hospital, I do not have to suffer these power cuts.

Went out shopping this afternoon and spent £4, £2 on a new pair of shoes, the rest on odds and ends.

Tuesday 22.2.1972.

Went to have hair done at 9 o'clock. Because of a power cut, they could not do it at the shop. Returned to hospital, washed it myself, and Sister Mohammed put curlers in it. Dry at Off to have interview at 2.30 pm for a job as checker to typing pool for a firm of patent agents. Did badly at the interview owing to nerves.

Went on to Patents Office Library, where I read in English, (for the first time) my Russian references in my M.Sc. Thesis. I wish that I had been able to do this while I was engaged on research in analytical chemistry at Birmingham University in 1965. It would have speeded up my work considerably. Now I know that English translations are kept in the Patents Office Library, there seems no point in ordering photocopies of Russian originals for practice in translation. Arrived back at hospital at about 6 pm. feeling despondent, depressed, tired. Had a quick tea and went up to the bedroom for a little while. Returned to sitting-room at 8 pm, to chat with patients for the rest of the evening.

Wednesday 23.2.1972.

In the morning I had an interview for a post as analytical chemist with a Public Analyst. In my heart I feel I shall not get the job (there are sure to be younger applicants) but felt that I answered questions better in this, my own field, than when I went for a job as a clerk yesterday. The employer had bought new chromatographic equipment and admitted that he was "out-of-date" himself, as he did not personally work on the bench and wanted someone who understood the new equipment. In my answers to questions I told him that I could learn to operate new equipment from adequate instructions books, even if I had not previously used it.

In the afternoon I called at Carr's Agency in Fleet St, told them that I had had a nervous breakdown, but that I was now better and would like a job. They promised to help me, firstly in the field of chemistry, and if that failed would try to find me a clerical job. In the evening I attended my usual Russian class.

Friday 25.2.1972.

Yesterday was such a routine day that I did not write about it. Today is my birthday. In all I received four cards from relatives. I am 44 today. Spent all day typing. In the evening did some Russian and some knitting.

Saturday 26.2.1972.

I felt very tired all day. In the morning did some knitting and laid on the bed in the afternoon. I thought I had got out of the habit of lying on the bed during the day-time, but it seemed I was wrong.

Tuesday 29.2.1972.

I went to the usual art class in the morning, and at 11 am went to see the psychologist. We had a discussion about my three recent and most severe nervous breakdowns and came to the decision that they had all started off by my having a too dominating boss at work, dominating me at work in a similar way to that of my father as a child.

Monday 6.3.1972.

This morning we had a group therapy meeting lasting an hour. These meetings used to take place in this hospital before Christmas, but were discontinued as the wards were being re-organised. Our ward consists only of the patients of Dr. A. and Dr. E. I spoke quite a lot at this meeting, telling the doctors and others present about similar meetings I had attended at Rubery Hill Hospital and at Highams House. I commented that the meetings at this hospital were much quieter than those I had been to formerly. Patients did not shout at each other so much. I said that my mental illness had now disappeared and that I was only staying on in the hospital because I had not been able to get a job, but said that practical personal problems of this kind were unsuitable for discussion at such a meeting. I felt that the meetings were primarily for patients still experiencing mental illness who wished to get help from others.

Tuesday 7.3.1972.

At 11 o'clock I saw the psychologist, and I took her my article about working life at Cadbury's for her to read. We continued discussing my problems with bosses who dominated me. They were usually men, and the psychologist said, "Why not work for a woman boss?" I replied that there were few women bosses in my profession of chemistry.

I told her about my lack of progress in typing, and said that I did not seem to have the necessary mechanical aptitude for it. We discussed my problems about finding work, and I said that I intended to visit some more employment agencies, but wished to wait until my cold and cough were better. In the afternoon I studied Russian, while most of the patients played Bingo. I detest Bingo, and have managed to get out of it.

Thursday 9.3.1972.

I spent the day typing. My cough was much worse, so in the evening Sister C. gave me some cough mixture and some hot linctus and I went to bed at about 8.30 pm. Sister C. advised me to stay indoors to-morrow.

Friday 10.3.1972.

Stayed in the ward, because my cough was so bad. In the morning studied some Russian, and Sister M. unkindly commented that I was only staying in the ward to do some studying and getting out of the typing in Occupational Therapy.

Saturday 11. 3 1972.

Sister C. was on duty in the early morning. She took my temperature and found it was back to normal, but said I must stay in bed. She brought my breakfast up to me. I got up for lunch and went back to bed for the afternoon, got up for tea at 4.40 pm and stayed up until 7.30pm, then went to bed again. Did very little Russian as I was too tired for it.

Wednesday 15.3.1972.

My study of Russian infuriated one of the nurses, who told me I should be socialising with others in the evenings. This was most unfair...People were not criticised for hobbies like knitting or playing records. And it is untrue that I never talked to people. I had long talks with Nicki, a young woman who was trying to settle down and was one of those who played records. In fact she was often restless very late at night, and I would often go and talk to her then.

Friday 17.3.1972.

Yesterday was a routine day. This morning was at typing class. In the afternoon, I had an interesting chat with the psychologist. She is reading my article "The Analytical Chemist", and intends to have it copied, so that she can send a copy to her uncle, who is an analytical chemist.

She gave me a "personality test". This consisted of making up a story about pictures (scenes including people) describing what happened to the characters in the picture, what they were thinking and feeling and what they intended to do in the future. The first picture was a farm scene, showing a middle-aged man leading a horse, a middle-aged woman leaning against a tree, and a young woman carrying books in the foreground. I said that the young woman was a teacher, and the older couple were man and wife running a farm. Next came a picture showing a little boy with a violin; then an elderly man together with a middle-aged man. I made up appropriate stories about them. In the evening I studied Russian.

Saturday 18.3.1972.

I spent a busy morning washing out all my winter woollies. Most of them had been packed away in a case, unused this winter. They had all been left in a dirty condition, having been worn in the winter of 1970 and left unwashed, owing to my deep depression. During the period November 1969 to November 29th, 1971, I had been in such a depressed state that I neglected everything.

Tuesday 21.3.1972.

I spent the whole day visiting employment agencies in Ilford.... . I went to Alfred Marks. The interviewer here, Gill Munro, was very pleasant. She promised to do her utmost to get me a job in my own profession when she learned that I was a chemist, but would resort to seeking clerical work if this failed

Wednesday 22.3.1972.

In the evening, I attended my usual Russian class. Activities outside the hospital are a relief; the class is poorly attended; but those who come are keen students. A young man is also learning Czech and Polish and visiting these countries for cheap holidays. He uses languages in his work which is concerned with transport.

Thursday 23.3.1972.

I attended the interview at Chemlab Instruments Ltd... When I arrived back at the hospital there was a letter for me from Alfred Marks Bureau, telling me to call at the office in order to fill in an application form for employment in the laboratory at Baird and Tatlock. I phoned up the bureau immediately, telling Gill Munro that I would call on Friday. I spent the afternoon typing, and in the evening studied Russian.

Friday 24.3.1972.

In the afternoon I saw the psychologist, and had four more pictures about which I had to make up stories. The first three were conventional scenes about which I made up conventional stories. The last was a blank sheet of paper which I had to imagine was a picture. I imagined a picture of a group of holiday-makers going to Spain.

[At this point, Joan started using her cousin's address instead of the hospital address in seeking work]

Monday 27.3.1972.

I phoned Leonard and found that another bureau (Brook St.) wished me to call. I attended the hospital group discussion meeting; after this had my hair set, and arrived at the bureau at about 2 pm. An interview with Spicer Cowan Ltd was arranged for Tuesday at 10 am for a clerical job.

Tuesday 28.3.1972.

A great day. I was interviewed at 10 am by Mr Copperwaite and was offered a clerical job at £960 p.a. I accepted it gladly. Am starting next Tuesday, after the Easter holiday. I returned to the hospital for lunch and spent the afternoon typing.

Wednesday 29.3.1972.

Had a quiet day in the hospital. Spent the morning typing. I was supposed to attend physical exercises but "played truant" and sat in the quiet room talking to Kathy and studying Russian.

Tuesday 4.4.1972.

Started work to-day, my first day's work since last November. The work consisted of filing and checking typing, dull but unworrying.

In the evening had tea in the canteen at 6.15 pm and chatted with a young patient, who is a secretary. She has only just started work outside the hospital; previously she assisted in office work in the Occupational Therapy Department. She used to belong to the Young Communist League.

Wednesday 5.4.1972.

My second day at work. Dull work. My relations with others in the office I am keeping strictly impersonal, until I get to know them better.

Thursday 6.4.1972.

At work to-day I heard my boss swearing at someone on the phone, because he had not phoned back within twenty minutes as promised. This means I must be very wary of my boss, Mr C. His assistant, Mr Hopper seems very pleasant and has spoken kindly to me on several occasions.

Saturday 8.4.1972.

While I was downstairs, having breakfast Sister C. looked into my room and noticed the cat was lying on the bed. In the ward, I was always making a fuss of the cat whenever I saw it, and secretly was delighted that the cat had chosen my bed. But cats lying on beds are not allowed, because possibly the bed covers might become soiled

Sister C. tells me money should be handed in whenever I come in and locked in safe, but this is completely impossible because only the Sisters have the safe key which makes it impossible to get money early in the morning, when the Sister is seldom on duty.

In practice, a compromise was arranged. The nurse takes my money in notes when I come in, leaves it in drawer or medicine cupboard in her office and returns it to me when I go out. Unfortunately, owing to my having stated that I keep valuables in my locked case, the case room is now being kept locked all the time, making it impossible for me to get out clothes when I want them. I have to find a nurse and ask her. These are some of the inconveniences of hospital life.

Monday 10.4.1972.

"Go-slow" on the main line trains. Took another route by bus and underground to work. Dull day at work; however I was taught to use the letter-folding machine. In evening saw Marjorie, had tea and a chat and a pleasant walk through gardens in Islington.

Tuesday 11.4.1972.

Transport go-slow continues. I continue to avoid main line trains. A more interesting day at work. Mr C. began to teach me the statistical work. Spent nearly all the evening going through my notes on what I have learnt.

Wednesday 12.4.1972.

At my Russian lesson in the evening, one of the students spoke about his recent holiday in Russia. Unlike me he is not poor. He said that "He had made several middle-class boobs", and kept referring to the Iron Curtain, a term which I refuse to use. I don't know why he went to Russia. However he said he found it interesting, but he was glad to be back home. He referred to the difficulties Russians have in leaving their country.

Saturday 15.4.1972.

I stayed in the hospital, and worked for 12 hours solid, managing to translate a scientific article from Russian into English.

Sunday 16.4.1972.

After going to church, I talked to one of the patients. I told her some of the thoughts which had been going through my mind. Briefly that I had believed in communism, although not in atheistic communism. I wished to be a communist in matters of politics, economics and social justice, but remain a Roman Catholic, accept the teaching of the church in matters of faith and morals, but declined to accept the views of the former Popes on communism. In fact I think it the only truly Christian form of society would be a communist one, and that Jesus Christ and his disciples were the first communists. This patient was very sympathetic.

Monday 17.4.1972.

I had a splendid day at work. I did the work of the statistical clerk without supervision. I have ordered the "Morning Star" and will read it each day, though I must keep this secret from my employer, because I am sure that he would dismiss me immediately if he knew.

I am thinking about the life of Jesus Christ. I believe that in his agony in the garden he suffered chiefly for and with all those who are mentally ill, and that in his scourging at the pillar, crowning with thorns and carrying of the cross, he suffered especially for and with the physically sick, and in his death upon the cross, experiencing both physical and mental anguish he suffered and died for everyone.

Although the train strike makes my journey home long and tiring, my sympathies are with the strikers. Their basic wage is insufficient for a single person to live on if entirely self-supporting. God help those who have a family.

Saturday 22.4.1972.

Went out for the day, making lists of flat agencies in South.East and South London, obtained from classified directories borrowed from the Post Office. Unfortunately I left my note-book, containing a list of flat agencies in East London and also my translation of a Russian scientific article in the Post Office. Remembering it about half an hour later, I went back to the Post Office, but the note-book had gone. I am faced with doing that difficult Russian translation all over again.

Though tired in the evening, I attempted to study Russian. Eventually I hope to make my living by translating Russian scientific articles into English.

Wednesday 26.4.1972.

In the privacy of my room I read the "Morning Star" every evening. I also buy the "Daily Telegraph" in order to keep an eye on scientific vacancies. I am planning to visit my father this week-end. I had a letter from Aunt May expressing her anti-union views. When I have time I shall try to point out to her how much the unions have done for the working class.

Saturday 29.4.1972.

In the morning played chess with Dad. He won. After dinner went to Manningtree for shopping. In the evening started another game of chess.

Sunday 30.4.1972.

Had to get up early to attend the 8.30 am Mass in Manningtree. The Mass is early during the summer months. Finished chess game which Dad won, and caught the 5.30 pm train back to London. I had to get back to the hospital early in order to pack everything into cases as we are all transferring to another ward in the main building, called Scaulding Ward.

Monday 1.5.1972.

Left for work early at 7.15 am, had a busy day and returned to the hospital to the new ward in the hospital. It is a terrible place. Unlike the other ward, in which there were small bedrooms, there is one enormous dormitory, and one large sitting-room, in which the TV and gramophone are blaring forth all the time. No privacy for anything. Shall be glad to get out of here. It feels like a prison.

Thursday 4.5.1972.

Visited Astral Flat Agency in Camberwell Church Street. They sent me to view a flat, price £7 per week. I had to pay agency £10.50 fee before I could view the flat. The flat consisted of two very nice rooms, but the landlady told me that two young girls had already applied for it, and she was waiting for them to make up their minds. She said they would ring her at 7.30 pm Friday evening, and so I said I would ring later than that on Friday.

Saturday 6.5.1972.

I went out early flat-hunting. Before I left the hospital, at about 8.30 am, I again phoned that landlady, but still heard the engaged tone.

[An agent drove Joan to view some accommodation]

... We went over to a white car, and he tried to unlock it, but failed to do so. Then I noticed that my bags were not on the back seat, so it must be the wrong car! His mind must have been temporarily muddled - but don't we all get these lapses at times, even the most sane of us. Unfortunately, once we have had a definite illness, and afterwards exhibit some nervousness or absentmindedness, it is always put down to our mental state. In the public mind for the most part, we are never treated as normal. Even our closest relatives fail to understand. That is why I am keeping my past illness secret. I want to be treated as normal.

Well, he found his own car, and drove me to 46 Kellett Rd, Brixton and showed me a bed sitting room. As it contained a gas-cooker and a sink, and adequate storage space, I decided to take it. But it is no palace, and the rent, £6 per week is high. But I now feel like paying any price for my freedom, so tired am I of hospital restrictions. However kindly one is treated there, one must always ask permission for everything, so it is the nearest thing to being in prison that there is.

By the time I had viewed the flat it was 4 o'clock. I went back to the flat agency and paid £18, £6 fee for the agency, £6 deposit for the landlord, and £6 for the first week's rent.

I then returned to hospital and continued typing, after packing all my belongings away in cases.

Sunday 7.5.1972.

I have spent my last night in hospital. I spent the whole day in hospital typing (after going to church) and at eight o'clock was driven to Kellett Road by taxi together with my luggage. I had bought two sheets and two pillow-cases, so I made the bed and went straight to bed.

before after


home page for society  and
science read Joan's poems in the
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when she is not drinking tea?
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about Joan's work


Copyright Joan Hughes 1993-1997. Published with permission.