Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My time in a pyschiatric hospital

The view outside my window today.   All the trees are covered with a coating of snow,
which disappointingly, the photo doesn't show The branches are sparkling in the sunlight.
I guess I should go outside to give the scene justice

A 5 minute sketch of me when I was 19 by Lord Jehovah
During our sophomore year, Soulmate and I decided we needed some easy As. This would not be accomplished by taking more science classes (we could get As but they would not be easy). Thus we signed up for a psychology course entitled Outreach which consisted of visiting Northville State Hospital weekly, interacting with the patients and then writing a paper about our experiences. Despite my math and science aptitude, my grades in non-science classes was notably higher. Certainly a different standard existed: again life is not fair.
We took a 30 mile round trip weekly: Soulmate was assigned to the young boys and men's building, roughly teens and adults under 26 and I was assigned to the men's ward (ages 27-65). These men were further subdivided into acute and chronics but kept together. It was obvious who was who: the chronics were drugged into zombies; the acutes behaved semi-normally. A crisis precipitated their stay there: drugs? suicide attempt? anger issues? They would be released when they were deemed stable for some time. This was during a time when hospitalizations were legally involuntary. The climate has since changed, Northville is shuttered along with many other such institutions and the former patients are living on the streets or living with beleaguered relatives. Some forensic hospitals remain filled with not guilty by insanity people.
The rules:
  1. There will be no physical contact particularly with 'us females'
  2. There will be no questions on how they happened to end up there no matter how curious we were
  3. There will be no discussions about religion
I felt nervous. Would the patients be resentful and accuse us of voyeurism? Would they ignore us?  My experience with mental hospitals was gleaned from reading One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Bell Jar. As it turned out, our visit was the highlight of their week. They would be pressing against the gate anticipating our visit. We were fun! We had bingo games with chocolate bars as prizes. The acutes would grab more than their share of cards trying to win; we had to help the chronics with their cards. We were to engage in light conversation. I quickly developed a friendship with Lord Jehovah (you can call me "Jehovah"), a 40 something African-American somewhat resembling a Black Jesus, a handsome and pleasant man. I was never able to determine exactly why he was there because he could carry a normal conversation. Yeah his choice of name was questionable and some of his poetry that he was eager to show me, was insightful. All of his poetry was done from the viewpoint of a young, blond female prostitute. There were lots of misspellings so I assumed he was not well-educated but it was quite lyrical. I wish he had given me a copy. Did he have some identity issues? Was he a Black Jesus? Was he secretly a pretty blonde woman? We could not question (we were supervised). In the outside world, he was a self taught sketch artist. One of our sessions was spent with him making a wonderful portrait of me. Despite his initial promise, he decided to keep it. Maybe my blonde hair drew him to me.On the last day, he very quickly made the sketch I have above, found all wrinkled up in a box I was sorting yesterday. It was not nearly as nice as the version he made for himself. Another issue: he had severe emphysema yet he was permitted to smoke. Most of the acutes smoked so even if he didn't , there was that omnipresent miasma.
There were other wards in this massive building too: the senior (mainly chronics) ward and the woman's ward. We had a party for all the wards (except the young people in a different building).
One thing that impressed me: the men could possibly pass for normal if you saw them on the street; the women not at all. Unkempt, uncolored hair, no make-up; even the younger ones looked like crones. I am not sure if the goal was to help integrate them back into society but these ladies were going to need lots of help.
I did get my A.
Today is a judgment day of a different sort than a realtor determining what kind of decorator and housekeeper I am. There will be an IEP meeting concerning Maya as she gets special services, speech and fine motor skill therapy. I think she has made lots of progress. But always there is that cloud of suspicion that if you were a better parent, then maybe your child would be doing better  than she is. Maya is not my child but when  I contradict them, I can almost read their thoughts: if you knew what you were talking about, then this situation would not have arisen (teenage motherhood). No matter that I once was a teacher, Girl Scout leader, soccer coach for both sexes, science educator on the side, mother of some successful kids...
Beautiful but very cold out. I did do a double workout yesterday so I feel I can take another day off. I have that meeting to go to and then my cooking class. Steve boxed up all his books and said he actually got rid of some of them. I perhaps wasted time weeding through old stuff but Steve only saved a bit of it. We did arrange for new windows. Hopefully our buyers will be appreciative.

1 comment:

Elephant's Child said...

Sadly, far too many of our mental hospitals have closed as well. There were abuses, and people incarcerated who shouldn't have been. There were also people kept safe who these days are not.
Good luck today.


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