I had my 21st birthday in a psychiatric hospital

20th June 1973, Ward 15, Friern Barnet Hospital to be precise. It took 20 years but the experience changed my life.

The journey to my birthday party had begun apace on the evening of Friday 13th April 1973, when Jim, Phil and I had dropped some acid, something of a weekly occurrence at the time. However I'd become a bit bored with our usual location, the attic room at Phil's house, a novelty in itself as everyone else lived in council flats. Consequently in the early hours of Saturday morning Jim and Phil, probably reluctantly agreed to my request to venture out, a proposition almost unheard of whilst tripping, the outside!

From nearby Holloway Prison we ended up at Highbury Fields and I thought it appropriate to sing 'Strawberry Fields Forever' at the top of my voice. Soon afterwards we attracted the attention of the police, arrested for possession of cannabis and spent the rest of the night in Blackstock Road nick. During the course of which a police doctor was called to examine me because my vocal renditions continued in the lovely echo chamber of the cells. Following the doctors call to check me out the desk sergeant said, "If you don't stop your F...ing noise I'm going to kick you in the B..locks!" At which point I stopped singing.

Following our parents being informed we were released from the cells on Saturday morning. But unlike other trips I didn't gradually parachute back to normality but remained high, to the extent of warranting a 10 day admission to Friern towards the end of April during the course of which I must’ve convinced staff I was ‘normal’ but on discharge I rapidly relapsed into psychosis, leading to a 10 weeks admission that incorporated my 21st Birthday.

Fast forward 20 years, early 1993, following marriage, children, mortgage, almost as if my time in hospital had been a bad dream, which is what psychosis was like for me. I had reached a low ebb whereby I didn't know what career path to take after incurring massive debts from a failed business venture. Me and business was a ridiculous notion to begin with but after working in t.v. for 11 years earning bucket loads as an unskilled worker I was virtually unemployable in the ‘real world.

Step forward Robert Dellar, the City & Hackney MIND advocacy project coordinator who placed a piece in my local paper the Hackney Gazette asking for volunteer advocates. What struck me about the request was the statement, "experience of using Mental Health services would be a positive advantage." Here was my experience that everyone bar me had chosen to forget about and an opportunity to properly process and re-claim it, hopefully for the benefit of others.

I had no idea at the time that Robert's advocacy project would lead to helping form Hackney Patients Council the following year, when I also commenced returning to education after 27 years, starting a Diploma in Social Work course at North London University. Qualifying in 1996 I've now been working as a Social Worker for 20 years, working mainly in Mental Health, including over 10 years in Medium Secure hospitals.

Dedicated to Robert Dellar 16th December 1964 - 17th December 2016 who helped change and transform many lives through tireless campaigning against the status quo in the Mental Health system.

By Terry Conway