love lay down beside me and we wept

By Helen Murray Taylor

A rare and lyrical memoir about the author's time in a psychiatric ward and her road to recovery

Autobiography | Mental health
38% funded
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Help Helen to fund this book. Pledge at this level and you will receive one of only two cloth-bound versions of love lay down beside me and we wept, made by artist and book binder Monique Wass, using traditional bookbinding techniques, including handsewing. You'll receive a beautiful bespoke cloth-bound version of the book, plus a signed, hardback version of the book. NB: the image below is of another of Monique's works. Only two available.

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love lay down before me and we wept sprang from an essay that was published a couple of years ago in Boundless magazine about my experience of being admitted to a psychiatric ward and sectioned under the Mental Health Act. An experience which, as you might imagine, was pretty grim. Amid the horror though, there were moments of pure comedy and unexpected comradeship. And of course, plenty of material for writing. Sadly, the ECT I had as treatment zapped holes in my memory. Happily, I kept notes. 

When I first wrote the essay (Inside Ferguson House), my Open University tutor encouraged me to share it. But I couldn’t. Not back then. I was too vulnerable. Still too unwell, even if I didn’t entirely realise it. Years later, I saw a Channel 4 news feature about proposed changes to the Mental Health Act in England. As I listened to the people who were interviewed, to their accounts of frustration and anger at their loss of agency and their sense of being treated as less than human, and even though all our circumstances varied widely, their experiences resonated so clearly with mine that I knew it was the time to send my essay out into the world. 

After Inside Ferguson House was published, I had loads of messages of support, and many of the people who contacted me were eager to hear the rest of the story. I wasn’t completely sure why. Mine isn’t an uplifting story. It is dark. Sad. Desperate. One I very nearly didn’t survive. But a week or so after the essay came out, a woman — I want to call her a friend but in truth we don’t know each other particularly well — stopped me in the carpark on my way to gym class. ‘Helen,’ she said. ‘That essay.’ She was crying. I hadn’t realised her partner had had severe depression and she and her family had been through hell. As she explained the details, she said that I was brave. An inspiration. ‘I wasn’t sure if I should…’ I said. ‘My story is not exactly redemptive.’ It was true that I had made a significant recovery, but at my lowest I had almost succeeded in taking my own life. How could that be inspirational? Or brave? What I learnt from her, however, was how profoundly beneficial she had found it simply to know that someone else could genuinely understand what she had been through. The depression that I suffered, like the one she witnessed in her family, isn’t the type of illness that you can conquer by going out for a walk or hugging a tree or looking on the bright side. It is physically and psychologically catastrophic and it can kill you. In reading my essay, she had felt seen and understood.

So, I ditched the novel I was working on and started writing the memoir. There were many moments along the way when I asked myself why I was doing it. What was the point in dredging up the past and reliving some of these awful events? And who would want to read about it, especially over these last few years, when so many people have had their own struggles with grief and loss and poor mental health? Do we really need another book about someone having a miserable time? But it wouldn’t let me go. Until I got the words down, I wouldn’t be able to write anything else.

Creative non-fiction is a strange beast. We use the same techniques as fiction to build a story and characters to make the story flow and hook our readers. The crucial difference, of course, is that the story is true (or as near to the true as someone whose memory is shot to bits can manage). It was a bizarre experience to write myself, my husband and friends as characters. (By the way, I changed everyone’s name except my own so don’t panic if you are reading this and you were there at the time!) But in all other ways it is my truth as I remember it. Good times, bad times, tears and laughter. And a long, long road to recovery. 

This is a book written for love. For the love of the child I never had whose ghost flits in and out of my life and still catches me unawares. For the love of all the amazing people who walked beside me, who supported and continue to support me, and without whom I would be floundering. And it is for the stranger, the reader who I haven’t met, who might find something in the words that brings comfort or understanding. As for me, I am glad to have survived. Glad to have written this book. I really, really hope we get it funded.

 

PRAISE FOR INSIDE FERGUSON HOUSE

‘It is among the best essays we've had in the past year - up there with Jay Bernard's and Ali Smith's for its power and honesty and excellent writing. It has stunned everyone I know who has read it. I'm not sure I could have written such a piece because I imagine it takes immense emotional courage to go back to a place in your past as bleak and horrifying (and infuriating!) as the one you describe.’ Arifa Akbar, Guardian critic and former editor of Boundless

PRAISE FOR BACKSTREETS OF PURGATORY

‘Fascinating and incredibly funny - this is a bold new voice in Scottish fiction.’ 17 Degrees

‘She has written a Scottish novel of significance and I can't recommend it enough.’ Scots Whay Hae

‘Memorable and intriguing.’ Undiscovered Scotland

 

Expected format: Demy hardback 

Images above: Helen at Conic Hill, overlooking Loch Lomond, a year after she was admitted to a psychiatric ward

Helen in Venice for her 40th birthday

Helen with her cat Mook in the garden of her house in Glasgow

 

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

 

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