"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

(Friedrich Nietzsche)

Life among the Quakers.


In the middle of my second year, at Sheffield University, I became very ill. This is how it happened. One of my room mates, Louise was a medical student and she was asking for volunteers to take part in an experiment which had to do with the common cold. We were told that we might or might not develop a cold. My other room mates refused, bit I unwisely agreed. I think I thought I was contributing to science. I went over to the Medical School and was given an injection. A few days later I felt unwell and thought I must be developing the cold, which was a nuisance as I had lectures to attend. Instead I developed a high fever (over 103 degrees). A doctor was summoned and he diagnosed 'flu. I recovered from the 'flu, after a week or two, but was left very depressed. A darkness hung over me continually. It was almost like a presence.

Sheffield University had a counselling service. I cannot remember whether I went there myself, or someone else sent me. They referred me to a psychiatrist. He was Irish and a Freudian. His method was free asoociation. I was to talk and he was to listen, but not intervene.

I saw at once that he was wrong for me. Maybe he thought that too for he was always late, sometimes very late, for our appointments. It made me angry. I thought it implied that I was not important. After a while he said we were getting nowhere and he recommended ECT (electro-convulsive therapy).

As he represented it in a very positive light, I agreed. Above all I wanted to get better. It was given on an out-patient basis. When I regained consciousness I walked back to my Hall of Residence. I had 10 treatments without any improvement. By then it was the end of the Summer Term and every one was going home for the vacation.

I cleared my room at Endcliffe Vale Hall and took a train to Carlisle. I was confused and had some memory loss from all the ECT, but above all I was very disappointed that it hadn't cured me. ECT is quite terrifying as, in those days, it was given without an anaesthetic. It had all been for nothing. If anything I felt worse.

When I arrived back at Cumwhitton I said I needed a doctor and my father took me to the local GP. He in turn sent me to a psychiatrist in Carlisle. My father stayed in the waiting room. Presently, the psychiatrist came out and told my father that I needed to be hospitalised. He suggested either the Retreat in York or a hospital in Scotland, the name of which I cannot remember. I said I would go to the Retreat. A good move! I always fall on my feet. In the end!


William Tuke (1732-1822): Founder of the Retreat

Of course I met lots of people in the Retreat, doctors, nurses, support staff etc., but these are the ones I remember best.

The Quaker Physician Superintendent of the Retreat, in my time, was a Scotsman from Aberdeenshire called Dr. Alfred Torrie. He had had a varied career. During WW1 he served in the mercantile marines and the Gordon Highlanders. He had extensive experience in General Practice before he specialised in psychiatry.

Dr. Torrie lived in a house in the grounds with his wife Margaret Torrie and two children, a boy and a girl. One was their natural child and the other adopted. I think it was the girl who was adopted. I never knew their names. They lived a life apart from the rest of us. I suppose it was to make sure they were safe. Margaret Torrie was a trained social worker, who was later to become the founder of Cruse. She was awarded an OBE for her work in that field.

There was an art therapist called Bruce Godward. I think his appointment was something of an experiment. They had not tried art therapy before. He would collect us from the West Centre against a certain amount of resistence, particularly from me. I have practically no artistic talent. Under pressure, I began to produce abstracts in bright colours, which I blotted out with black paint. Perhaps it was symbolic. Maybe it reflected the blackness inside me. He often asked me why I didn't talk. It was a question to which I gave no answer.

Bruce was a New Zealander from Invercargill. He lived in the Retreat and was paid a minimal amount. He did it for altruistic reasons, under a conviction that art would help us. He had an expensive hobby though - book collecting. He would disappear at intervals in search of rare editions. It was his idea of an exciting holiday. Occasionally he was lucky and arrived back triumphant,displaying his prize. Bruce then was a very likable eccentric. He died in 1992 of motor neurone disease, back in his native Invercargill.

George Fox (1624-1691): Founder of the Quakers.

I was intrigued by the Quakers. I asked if I could attend the Quaker Meeting House on Sundays. It was in the centre of York, within easy walking distance of the Retreat. We sat in silence. It has been described as "a living silence". It lasted an hour. I think the aim was unity, unity through the Spirit. As such, it was meant to be a group experience rather than individual meditation. Occasionally someone rose to speak. These utterances, which were quite short, seemed to be propelled from within the speaker. I knew nothing about mysticism, or inner experience, or the spiritual life. I was a one dimension person. It was all very strange, but interesting. I attended for quite a long time towards the end of my stay in the Retreat.

Miss Didsbury was my psychotherapist. I never knew her first name. People were not addressed by their Christian names in those days. At Sheffield, to all my lecturers, tutors etc., I was Miss Robley.

She was middle aged and like Bruce she was a New Zealander. She was not a Quaker. I saw her several times a week, which was reassuring. She was never late! I cried a lot and struggled to talk. Neither of the shock treatments (ECT and insulin coma) had helped me. I thought I would never recover.

One day Miss Didsbury told me she was going away for a week or two.She was visiting another hospital to observe patients who had problems similar to mine. They were being treated with a new drug which had just been had just been introduced from the US. This drug was Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD).

A lot has been written about LSD, both positive and negative. I can only speak from my own experience. One of the things LSD did for me was to bring back episodes from the past and enable me to relive them. They are not like memories. It as if time has disappeared. I was in and out of the past, and each episode was relived as if it was happening for the first time. If it was a childhood memory I experienced the emotions of a child. I was a child.

I took LSD as a colourless liquid. "Drink it! It's just water", the nurses would say. But it didn't taste to me like water. It tasted like poison. I had great difficulty swallowing it.

After every session I had to write an account of what had happened. The next day I discussed it with Miss Didsbury.

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961).

It was around this time that I was introduced to the works of Carl Gustav Jung and his theories of the subconscious, unconscious and ancestral memory. I began with "Memories, Dreams, Reflections".

The Retreat in the Early 1950s.

The Retreat, York.

I have no memory of my journey to the Retreat. I suppose my father must have taken me in his car. When I first arrived, I was put in the Hospital wing which had locked doors. This was so that I could be assessed. I remember very little about those days. One memory that does come back to me is of 3 cubicles which contained a patient each. They were on deep narcosis. I was fascinated by them. I would like to have been put into a deep sleep - preferably forever.

After a few days I was given a treatment plan. I was to have ECT accompanied by modified insulin. I protested about the ECT because I had had it already and it hadn't worked. Modified insulin is where the patient is given a very large dose of insulin, but not quite enough to induce a coma. To my relief I only had 3 shocks. Then I was told it wasn't working. That was the end of the ECT, but I continued with the modified insulin until I left the Hospital wing.

I didn't spend very long in the Hospital Wing. Soon the doctor arrived with two pieces of news. Firstly, I was going to be moved to an open ward, West Centre and secondly, I was going on insulin coma treatment. I welcomed both. An open ward would give me a lot more freedom and I hoped that the insulin would cure me.

I liked the West Centre. There were lots of girls of my own age. Insulin shock treatment turned out not to be as bad as ECT. It was administered every day, except Sundays. There was a special treatment room. We all lay on beds and were injected with insulin. We needed varying amounts to send us into a coma. I needed very little while other paople needed a lot. I don't know how long the comas lasted , but we were wakened up by being given intravenous injections of glucose.As soon as we were conscious we had to drink more glucose. We all put on weight. I gained about a stone and could no longer zip up my skirts. Others gained much more. We all hated glucose!.

I had about 60 shocks, so I suppose the treatment lasted for about 10 weeks. I was no better.

It was ECT that really helped me.

It does need to be carefully supervised. Anything can happen with LSD.

I had one out of body experience. I left our planet altogether and was looking down on it, much as it is described today from a space station. It was both a good and bad trip. Fascinating, but frightening! Fascinating because I was overwhelmed by new and brilliant insights. However, I found that it was impossible afterwards to remember or record them. At one point I was overwhelmed by fear. How did I get back? Was I dead? It was with intense relief that I saw my body, still lying on the bed and I was able to re-enter it.

I think I may have had a very large dose of LSD that day, because I had a second unusual experience. I found myself entering a forest. It looked like Norway or maybe the North of Scotland. I remember proceeding with the utmost caution, because I was aware that there were wild animals in the forest. The girl I saw was me and yet it was not me. I have wondered since about ancestral memory, or even of a past life.

Under LSD I gained a new understanding of religion as an inner quest or a spiritual journey. Sayings and stories from the New Testament came into my mind laden with meaning. I was at the beginning of a journey and it was time to move on.

When I was a child I had read Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and found it very boring. I re-read it and suddenly understood it. Then I had a strange dream. I was standing at the beginning of a path with a bog on either side of it. In my dream I took my first few steps along the path.

John Bunyan (1628-1688).

A letter came from Sheffield University asking if I was coming back in October for my final year. I had lost interest in history and would have preferred to drop out. After a counselling session though we agreed that it would be sensible to complete my degree.

Miss Didsbury suggested that, as a supportive measure, I came back to York at the weekends and, as LSD was helping me, I continued to receive it once a week. After about 6 months I was discharged. It was an end, but also a new beginning.

I graduated that year with an Honours Degree in History 2.1. It was suggested to me at Sheffield that I take a post graduate Library Degree and aim to work in an academic library. I knew it was wrong for me.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one less travelled by

And that made all the difference".

(Robert Frost. The Road not Taken.)

Marian Foster. July 2016.