Where is the Key?


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175 in stock


By Sheila Brook

ISBN: 978-1-84991-043-9
Published: 2009
Pages: 248
Key Themes: autobiography, social history



This book follows on from when the story of my childhood, told in ‘Child of the Thirties,’ ended. I begin this memoir in the summer holidays after I left school in 1945; free time in those days is very different from free time today! My mother was still in a psychiatric hospital. I have tried to contract the events of over sixty years into a single book, giving a personal view of some the many changes that have occurred in society, together with some incidents in my personal life. I discuss a number of issues concerning the changes in care of the mentally ill. There are many contrasts made between aspects of life during the past sixty years with expectations and aspirations of today.

Constancy is a theme that occurs throughout the book. The constancy of my father’s concern for my mother; his regular visiting, and unsuccessful attempt to have her living at home again; his lonely life was impressed upon me as I wrote. In 1959 I met m mother again, and saw her for the first time in twenty years. From then on I kept in constant touch my mother, visiting her regularly until she died in 1992

About the Author

Sheila Brook was born in 1931 and lived in Middlesex for many years. Long periods of her early childhood were spent living in other people’s homes owing to her mother’s recurrent episodes of mental illness. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War her mother was again admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Twenty years passed before she and her mother met again.

Sheila has lived in Hertfordshire for over forty years, and when her children were older she began a new career as a primary school teacher. Severe, long-standing, facial neuralgia forced her to take early retirement after some years of teaching, and the satisfaction she had in her chosen career made this hard to bear. Her first book, ‘Child of the Thirties’, covered the first fourteen years of her life, and her story now continues in ‘Where is the Key’, as she describes many of the changes that have occurred in her own life and in society in general through the second half of the twentieth century. Sheila has suffered from various forms of severe neuralgic pain but has managed to maintain an active life, playing tennis until she had turned seventy, and then enjoying a weekly Keep Fit class. She is an avid reader when time permits and loves her garden. She used to enjoy cooking, but finds this less satisfying since her husband’s death in 2007. She enjoys doing jigsaw puzzles when time permits, but her writing has taken up all her spare time in recent years. The constant pain she suffers, made worse when sitting down, and also her acute sensitivity to loud noise now limit her involvement in many social activities.

Sheila wrote her first book in her maiden name of Brook as a tribute to her late parents. Her mother features with affection in her second book. As she continued her story she appreciated how much anxiety and sorrow her father had suffered, and how mental illness had deprived her mother of her home, her family and her freedom.

Book Extract

A very long bridge spans the years between the end of my previous book, ‘Child of the Thirties’ and 2009, the year in which I am now writing. At the end of my first book I had just left school, and I am now well into the second half of my eighth decade. Nearly everything has changed during that period – not only in my own life, but also in the world in general. My first book encompasses just fourteen years, and now I am attempting to pick up where I left off, and contract the span of over sixty years into a second volume. I hope that the underlying message of my previous book along with its sequel will help in some small way to increase the understanding of the plight of those suffering from any of the many forms of mental ill-health, as well as other unrecognised medical conditions that are still with us today, and may also help to reduce the stigma that can still be found that often surrounds them.

The thread of my mother’s mental illness ran through my first book, and she will have a more prominent place in the latter part of this story. In telling her story I feel I have given my mother’s life a value to others that she was unable to provide herself. I am sure she would be thrilled to know that she was ‘in a book.’ (You can guess what her response might have been as you read on!)

The practice of keeping a child apart from, and encouraging the child to forget a mentally ill parent, continued right up until the middle of the twentieth century and I was twenty-eight before I saw my mother again after she ‘disappeared’ into a mental hospital in 1939. The word ‘psychiatric’ was unknown to the layperson then. What a lot of changes have occurred in this field: in treatment, in care, and I hope, in attitude. The large psychiatric hospitals that existed in the early twentieth century were emptied before the century ended, but I sometimes wonder whether ‘Care in the Community’ is any more caring than the comfortable villa my mother lived in for so many years.
So many contrasts have occurred in attitudes to almost every area of life during the years since 1945 where my first book concluded, There have been numerous changes in education, medical care, work conditions and expectations, travel, life style; it seems an entirely different world. Most of my life experiences seem to belong to that different world. It has been difficult to know how to begin, how to provide sufficient links with my childhood story without repeating myself. Now I have broken the ice, I think I have the urge to continue.


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