Monday, May 30, 2011

purple

It's my first full day off in 21 days!  Despite my boss coming back from India, he's still been away from his businesses and I've had to come in for at least an hour each weekend day.  But today there are no worries.  An entire 24 hours to myself.  I'm not so sure I even know what that means anymore.  I might spend the day working on two freelance editing jobs (insert the Unlacing the Victorians Editing Service advertisements here). 

I could write about something truly Victorian steampunk and write about the World Steam Expo in Dearborn, MI that will be ending today, but to be honest I am not sure what I can really discuss, especially since the description is probably going to sound like every other description of every other steampunk event out there.  To learn more check out the event's website here.  And view this YouTube video of the attractions that were expected at the event for your enjoyment.


Now, on to silly and relatively unrelated things.  While at a Memorial Day picnic yesterday my cousin's boyfriend showed up with a mohawk, something he had promised to do around Easter.  After duly poking fun at his hairstyle (a family tradition- we tease each other about everything, from fashionable UGG boots to the too pink color of someone's nail polish to the type of bandana one of the uncles is wearing), he then reminded me of a promise I had made if he did, indeed, show up with a mohawk- to dye my hair purple.  I have until Independence Day to do this.

So here's my question- how do I go about dying my hair purple?  I have never dyed my hair.  The only unnatural chemicals that have touched my dirty blonde hair was the stuff used for two perms I got in my teenage years. I want to dye my hair a dark purple., but probably for only one month.  What sort of dye should I use? Should I go with a semi-permanent or a permanent hair dye?  Can anyone recommend any particular brands?

image source: Sodahead.  This color would be an awesome one to have.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

the mayhew files: prostitutes (part II)

Continuing from yesterday's post about prostitutes, we will now take a look at the establishments and people associated with Victorian prostitutes.
The first three types are similar in that they all ran businesses that profited from bringing men in to pay for rooms to use with prostitutes.

First up are the "bawds."  They were usually women, but were sometimes men, who ran brothels.  Bawds were a bad lot who controlled the prostitutes through a mix of intimidation, black mail, and brute force.  They seduced women into their service, either by drugging innocents that happened to fall into their hands or sending out men to find young women and encouraging them to come back to the house.  Some women were foreigners who were essentially tricked into traveling to England, or from England to elsewhere.  These were kidnapped, drugged, and raped while unconscious, and then given to a brothel, where the language barrier and their "fallen" status convinces many of these women that they do not have any way out of this lifestyle.  

The brothel was more of a prison for these women than an opportunity to ply their trade.  They were typically not allowed out of the house and, on the occasions that they were given a brief leave, were usually tailed by a "minder" of some sort.  Usually these minders were worn out old prostitutes who, for their bed and board, do menial work around the house and watched their young charges when they went out.

In other words, few came to the brothel of their own choosing.  Fewer left by it.

The "bawdry houses," or brothels, often functioned both as brothels proper and as houses of accommodation.  In other words, a man could either bring his own prostitute with him and only pay for the use of a room or simply go there and have his choice of the house’s women.

Another common trick of the time was to lend out nice dresses to prostitutes for some return on their wages.  These "dress-lodgers," as the prostitutes were called, lived in a house much like those in brothels.  The owner of the house would provide them with finer clothes than they themselves could afford.  The women would then go out, pick up men, and bring them back to the house where the men would pay for the use of the room.  Essentially the house took a cut of both the prostitutes' pay and money for the let of the room.  The prostitute benefited by being able to attract a higher quality of customer than she might have been able to if she were to work with her own clothes, which may have been of lower quality and not as likely to attract a man of means.

To make sure that the dress-lodger was not dodging out on some of the profit for the house by going to another house there was a dress-lodger follower.  Similar to the minders, those poor wretches who followed brothel-whores on their walks, this degraded person followed the dress-lodger to make sure she came back to the house and was actively engaged in her trade that night.  Presumably penalties followed for those that wore the clothes without bringing in the customers, or did not bring the customer back to the house.

Most of the followers, as well as the prostitutes themselves, were heavily addicted to alcohol.  According to Mayhew they spent any money they did have on gin and attempted to spend as much of their time as possible obliviously drunk.  In any case the followers had to keep a close eye on the girls lest they escaped and sold their clothing for market value or simply disappeared to earn a living for themselves.

The dress-lodgers were only slightly more free than the bawdry house prostitutes, being kept under close watch most of the time as well.  There were cases of the mistress of the house doing such things to them as shearing the hair from some of the girls and selling it.

The last form of this type of business was the accommodation house- a house that offerred short term (i.e. hourly) room rates.  In other words, your 19th century version of a sleazy motel.  While the official definition does not imply any hold over the working girls who frequented these places, the differences between these was probably more of a continuum than it was quantized.  (Note: No, I have no idea what Scott meant with that last sentence either).  In their purest form these houses made less money than the other establishments, but its costs were also lower as they did not have to feed and house any of the girls who brought men there.  Still profits could be enormous, some reporting that they made between 2 and 10 quid (pounds) a night- a large sum for the time period.  Rooms varied in price depending on size, level and so forth, but seemed to be as cheap as 18 pence for a short period to 3s 6d for the whole night.

Typically rooms on the first floor would be a couple of bob more than the upper level ones, the price decreasing as you went up.  (Note: Why?  Scott and I can't figure that one out).

After that subcategory of, more or less, brothel runners we have pimps, procuresses and panders.

Pimps, at least male ones, were apparently a very rare thing back in the Victorian period.  More often a procuress was used.  The way the procuress operated started with a wealthy customer.  The rich man would go to a “House of Inquiry” and, after some small talk with the procuress would get down to business and describe the type of woman he was looking for.  For a fee the procuress sent out a messenger to fetch the prostitute who most resembled the request.  These business were very lucrative and may or may not have been combined with an accommodation house. Often they were not as the women they could get were usually perceived as being of a higher class than other prostitutes. While waiting the man was treated to bottles of champagne that he paid for- another way the business made money.

The prostitutes hired out by procuresses usually had a better lifestyle than the brothel-owned slaves who were imprisoned in the other places.  For a half cut of their profit they worked with wealthy men who could afford higher rates and sometimes would even take the women “away from all of this,”  marrying her despite her torrid past.  Mayhew points out that such a decision was often to the man's regret, as the affliction of alcoholism didn’t just affect the lower class prostitutes.  One story in Mayhew's London relates the tale of one such man who, after one week of marriage, regretted his decision so much so that he placed an ad in a newspaper saying that he would not be responsible for any new debts incurred by his not-so-blushing new bride.

The women who ran these "escort" establishments were often ex-prostitutes who had somehow made enough money to open their own place.  They kept the establishment up and dressed well themselves, as appearances were everything to their higher-end clientele.

But keeping the house attractive to customers, however, could be a tricky business.  It seems that these places, much like clubs and bars in our current era, had a “coolness” life span.  One particularly attractive or impressive young lady contracted with a house may have been all that was needed to put one house on the top of the list.  But if she left, fell out of favour, or simply lost her looks that house could lose its reputation and fall further down the list.

Panders and pimps had a business strategy similar to procuresses, but without a house.  They had a stock of prostitutes that they could go to, or at least knew of.  For a small fee a man was taken to see prostitutes that may have been to his liking. 

The next category of those profiting from the Victorian sex industry were those who made their living from working for or with prostitutes or the houses of ill-repute that prostitutes used.

The first type of those who worked with prostitutes were known as "fancy-men." They were usually able to form a connection with a prostitute or two who were, for some reason, attached enough to these men to give them part of their income.  The fancy-men usually spent this money on gambling or alcohol.  Fancy-men were often thieves or some other type of criminal.  They would often work with prostitutes to pick pockets, roll drunks or carry out any of the other questionable activities that went on in the back streets of a Victorian city.                 

These men were called fancy-men because of how they dressed- usually in the latest fashions and styles and were up on the lingo used by the upper class men.  They dressed and spoke this way because their game was to try and fleece the upper class men in games of chance, although the fleecing usually involved little more than getting a free night of drinking out of them.

The way this worked was for the target to be with a prostitute at a gambling house or some other building of questionable purpose.  The fancy man would come up and talk to the prostitute as if he were an acquaintance of hers.  Thus, his appearance and manner would cause the customer the prostitute was with to presuppose that the fancy-man must be a gentleman. With this in mind the target often will begin talking to the fancy-man.

They might flip a coin for a bottle of champagne which will inevitably be the responsibility of the target to pay for as the coin is either double sided or uses a cover to cover one side.  After a while the fancy-man will lose one of the tosses, making the target even more convinced of the fancy-man's honesty.  Eventually they will retire to a room for supper and the gambling will continue.  As the target gets more and more inebriated the fancy-man is less challenged and the fleecing becomes all the easier.  The best part is that the target is convinced that he has not been fleeced but has made a new gambling buddy.

Bullies are the last class of this sort that Mayhew separates out.  As the name implies, these men are the hired muscle who work at bawdry houses.  When men try to escape without paying, or have not paid as much as the owner thinks they should have or are capable of paying, the bully or bullies come and take care of the problem.  Only the lower-class houses deal with this sort of thug, as the upper class ones have a clientele that would not stoop to being involved in skiving on their debt.


Bullies are mostly former criminals of some sort.  Sometimes they justgrew up in the brothels and never got away from them.  They are said to die of drink or disease in the gutter, although the more industrious may occasionally rise to ownership of their own brothel.
After listing these hangers-on Mayhew goes back to listing more categories of prostitutes- the "clandestine prostitutes," or women who are loose, whether married to someone or not, and women who occasionally engage in prostitution without it being their profession. He lists four classes of these but the first two are much different from the second.  Scott considers this whole category to actually be a catch-all for amateur prostitutes and people guilty of moral offenses that Mayhew finds deplorable.

The first two are, female operatives and maid servants.  Female operatives are women who sold their bodies on occasion to pick up extra money.  Sometimes this extra money was for survival, but was actually more frequently needed to pay for a more extravagant lifestyle than their normal income would allow.  One of these women, as an example, had a fiancĂ© but enjoyed fancier clothing than either his or her salary would allow.  She presumed that her man would not be bothered by her moonlighting. Others would go into the streets with the consent of their husbands to earn extra money, especially if they had an overabundance of children.

Maid servants on the other hand were not really to be pitied as the female operatives in some cases were, at least according to Mayhew.  They started life with little education and generally whored around with the other servants in the house or any one else who came their way.  Sometimes they did it for extra money but, more often than not, did it for fun and only charged nominal sums if anything.  Mayhew uses the strongest terms to condemn maid servants, saying that they generally have little in the way of character to lose.

The second set includes “ladies of intrigue”- women who set up meetings in assignation houses with unknown men to escape from the boredom of their marriages, and women who run the assignation houses where former women go.

One tale he relates is of a woman, who while quite happy with the lifestyle her husband was able to supply her with, was not all that happy with the husband himself.  So she heard about one of these assignation houses from a friend and took it upon herself to visit one.  She was shown into a room with such low lighting that when a gentleman was brought in she could not recognize his features.  They were introduced by the hostess, neither man nor woman using their real names.  When the man started to speak, however, the woman recognized his voice as that of her husband.  With both of them caught in the same crime they actually reconciled and managed to make the most of their marriage thereafter.

The last class of prostitute is the “co-habitant prostitute" - women living with men with whom they are not married.  There is some distinction between the groups and Mayhew allows some degree of understanding.  It is somewhat surprising that these women were classed as prostitutes but the men they were with were not.  Reasons for co-habitation included the following:

  • The couple does not make enough money to pay for a marriage license
  • One or both of them does not believe in the sanctity of the ceremony
  • The couple are related in such a way that it is forbidden for them to marry each other (which apparently included the dead wife’s sister in some cases)
  • One of the persons involved would forfeit inheritance or other money by marrying (which he says is the most numerous class - what kind of weirdo wills are people writing in the 1860s?)
  • The couple just do not want to get married

Saturday, May 28, 2011

the mayhew files: prostitutes (part I)

Since there hasn't been a post about Mayhew's London for nearly one month, I thought it was about time I added one. This week's information is about the prostitutes of London.  Yes, Mayhew did extensive research into this class of lower class workers to divulge the details of their lives to the average reader.

Read on the find out more.

image source: Stephanie Abbott's Blog
According to Mayhew there were three classes of prostitutes, with the third class being divided into two subclasses.

The first class was the high class kept women.  These women were usually put up in very respectable accommodations and could expect as much as 30 quid (30 pounds) a week from their paramours.  Often they would only be attached to one man at a time. While known in society for what they were they did attend society functions and had boxes at the opera and so forth, although they were shunned. These women danced with the upper crust of society and only the wealthiest of men could afford their affection. They were not necessarily well educated, but could be.  Mayhew says these women started out in the middle classes and, for whatever reason, fell into this lifestyle.  

While these women were generally found moving around in higher circles they occasionally would visit the Haymarket and were treated like royalty there (Note: During the mid-19th century the Haymarket was considered a seedy part of London, frequented by gamblers, drunks, ruffians, blackguards, and prostitutes and those looking for their services.)

The second class was a higher level type of street walker.  They usually had either their own apartment or shared an apartment with another prostitute of their level.  They frequented the Haymarket but were less transient than the lower class prostitutes.  While their fees were higher, the customer were less likely to be robbed of his belongings while “visiting” with them.  It seems that many of their Johns were repeat customers who visited at least weekly. When in this position they were well known in their area, making any dodgy dealing unprofitable at best.

These women were often from the lower classes and were often “either well-educated or genteel.”  Mayhew alleges that these girls often had jobs at one point but were seduced by men, fought with their families or just turned to a life of debauchery.

Generally well dressed when working, they seemed to live a life of feast or famine, often having to pawn their clothing to get the money that was not coming in from their customers.  They occasionally met men on their perambulation through the Haymarket and like areas, but were more inclined to meet them at high end coffee and tea shops.  While they had apartments they were more likely to take their customers to mid-end lodging houses. 

The third class of prostitute was the lowest of the three larger classes and encompassed all of the basic streetwalkers.  Not all of these women were full-time professionals and often were wives or waitresses who were trying to make some extra money for themselves or their families, often with the gleeful consent or even encouragement of their husbands.  There were two subgroups of this category, mostly divided by age.  There were the younger prostitutes trying to make extra cash, and the old, worn-out prostitutes trying to survive.

Sometimes the professionals had a pimp, or bully, who engaged in all manner of scams with them.  While the prostitute was doing the deed with a customer the bully would often rifle through the customer's clothing and steal anything valuable.  Another trick was to demand more money than the general half-guinea or guinea and, when refused, to call for the bully to toss the customer out without either service or funds.                                

The professionals were women of the street and had their fair share of extracurricular experience as well.  Many of them were accomplished pickpockets or teamed with 14-18 year-old boys who were pickpockets themselves. 

Often when these women were rooming in a place they would dodge out on the rent.  Known as “bunters” some of these women had spent years fleeing from one residence to another just before rent was due.  Consequently the owners of these lodging houses have jacked up the cost of rent in these places to almost extortionate levels to compensate for the income lost to the bunters.

While not dressed so nicely as some of the higher class hookers, some of these "ladybirds" were quite attractive.  They start out young, often as young as 13.  While some escaped the racket others wound up as the 2nd subclass in this category, the old, worn-out women of the life. 

These women moved to the dirty cesspools of the dirty cesspool that is the Haymarket area.  Largely destitute, they did what they could to get by.  They serviced, often for only a couple of pennies, young boys and others too poor to pay for the more highly demanded women.  They were often thieves as well.  One trick they used was to hang around other prostitutes who would pay them to leave so that their generally disagreeable appearance didn’t frighten away other customers. 

The worst of them apparently removed themselves to parks and other dark places where their appearance was not as much a hindrance to business.  These women would perform any sort of degraded act for money.  The parks, after dark, became a haven for all manner of pervert and perverted acts, although what these acts were is not mentioned by Mayhew.     

After dividing the prostitutes into three categories Mayhew then introduces a fourth.  This new group consisted of the women who work at brothels.  These women probably fit more into a "sex slave" description, as they were essentially kept as prisoners in these dens of debauchery.  The customers came to the house, which moved from time to time, and paid the mistress for the services of her girls.  The harlots themselves received little of the money they earned.  They were not allowed to leave the brothel except to go on short walks.  They were always watched on these walks as it was assumed by their keepers that they were always on the lookout for any chance to run away. 

Another category of prostitute in the ever-increasingly inaccurately labeled "three classes of prostitutes" involves those women who followed military personnel around.  These are the sailors' wives and soldiers' girls.

The sailors' "wives" were women who took up with sailors while they were in port.  The sailors typically gave them all of their money.  The woman would usually stay loyal to the sailor while he was in port, doling out his money to him so that he did not spend it all at one time.  She probably helped herself to some of the cash as well.  These women would often have many sailors attached to them in this state.  Since sailors could be away from a port for years at a time, while the sailors were away the women would, more often than not, take on another man.  The women were not all of a bad sort and typically were quite attentive to their men’s needs.  They were almost exactly like wives, only swapping up husbands.

Many of them did it for the companionship as much as for the money.  The money was not great but could be very steady at times.  There was a danger of these women becoming destitute if conditions interrupted the flow of sailors into port.  Not all of these sailors were military personnel-- many were merchant ship crew.  When the economy was bad and products were not flowing out of the ports these women would fall upon hard times.

The soldiers' girls were a different story all together.  These would become attached to a unit in the military, initially by becoming intimate with one of the soldiers and then being “swapped” around the barracks as the soldiers became tired of her.  These women seemed to be more into the lifestyle because they liked soldiers than for the money as soldiers very rarely had any money.  One personal account in Mayhew's London talks about one of the women being offered to be taken out of the lifestyle by an officer who took a fancy to her.  He was turned down by the lady, however, because she “liked her sodgers.”

These women would often make more money doing laundry for the other soldiers and other menial tasks around the barracks. Often they would follow one regiment around for years while it was stationed at home.  If the women were still young and attractive enough when their regiment was sent away from home, they would attach themselves to another regiment and continue the lifestyle.

Other women were prostitutes for the soldiers only when they were in town.  These women were often essentially walking syphilis vectors as the soldiers could spend so little money the women, to make a decent wage, would have to take on three or more of them in a single night. Mayhew seems to think they are of more danger to the welfare of Her Majesty's soldiers than the combined guns of all Her Majesty's enemies. The author essentially paints them each as patient zero for the worst VD scourge to hit the Army since the Conquest.

(Note:  This post is getting too long for the average blog reader.  Not that I doubt any of my readers' abilities to read long blog posts.  As a journalist, however, I do know the dangers of boring readers with long articles.  Tomorrow I'll continue Scott's notes on Victorian prostitutes, which with include those who benefit from the trade other than the ladies-of-the-night, and some interesting anecdotes of 19th century sexcapades.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

chimneyspeak

I have found a webcomic other than The New Adventures of Queen Victoria that takes its inspiration from the Victorian era.  And this one isn't just a cleverly cropped photograph of the monarch who gave her name to the age.

It's called Chimneyspeak.  Taking place in 1890s London, the comic follows the story of a prostitution ring called the Working Girls Union led by one Alice McKenzie.  The exploits of herself and her girls and lackeys (most notably the midget Elgie Quintessential Piddlebottom) consume about half of the comic strip.

The other half is covered by the gruesome story of Chelsea Grinn, an aristocrat gone bonkers over a little scar Elgie gave her 15 years earlier, and who has been killing people and creating her scars for herself in her attempt to revenge herself upon Elgie.  Most of the pleasure of her storyline comes from cartoon bloodbaths a la Johnny the Homicidal Maniac as she can't seem to contain her bloodlust even when she recognizes that it would be more beneficial to keep someone alive.

The author, Jack Cayless, has a rather unique drawing style that seems to mix aspects of anime with Jhonen Vasquez.  And probably a bunch of other influences that I have missed because I am by no means an expert.  His attention to detail is also rather amazing- Chelsea Grinn's many scars are duplicated to the same sizes and positions in each panel. 

This comic isn't quite my cup of tea- there's just too much blood, violence, nudity and graphic sex scenes for me.  The gore of Chelsea's many bloodbaths gets old after a while, and in some strips the artwork gets disconcertingly close to pornography.  If you like graphic sex and violence in a Victorian setting, then Chimneyspeak will be just the comic for you.  But I personally find it rather distasteful.  I definitely wouldn't recommend showing this comic to anyone under 18 for those reasons listed above.

There are also enough anachronisms to make me wonder if certain things are anachronisms to the point where it distracts me from the story.  I can ignore some of them, such as the sometimes oddly-colored hair and even odder dress of the female characters.  But I do have to wonder at the extensive use of variations of the word "fuck."  That word has existed in the English language much further back than the Victorian era, but I am not so sure that Victorian low-lives would have used the word as often as it is used in Chimneyspeak.

I am not saying that this comic is pretending to be historically accurate.  It's not.  If it was true to the Victorian era Chelsea Grinn would not be able to rip a man apart in two with her bare hands and would have been dead years before this story took place as punishment for her many homicides. 

Despite my issues with some aspects of this comic,  I must laud the author, Jack Cayless, for his proper, spot-on use of Victorian slang and attempts at making the characters, especially the prostitutes, speak with the "local colour" of Cockney accents or various nationalities (Irish and Australian seem to make their way into the mix as well.

Overall, I think the strongest parts of this comic are the dialogue and the artwork.  The storylines get a little less interesting as you go along, but it's well worth checking out.

If you're 18 years of age or older, click here to read Chimneyspeak and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

skins and cases of cogs and gears

Check out these steampunk iPhone skins and cases!

image source: Amazon




image source: GeekMom

image source: GeekMom
image source: MilkGift

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

utv babysitting tips

Maybe a little random, but I think the following post, despite its off-topicness to the purposes of this blog, deserves some attention.

It was a crazy busy day at work today.  Actually, it's 9:34 in the evening as I type this and I am still at work, despite the fact that I got here around 10:15 this morning.  My boss will be back in two days, so hopefully this insanity that I call my work life will not take up so many of my waking hours when he's finally back.  That's how much work there is to do!

I need a raise.  :)

Anyway, as I walked back into the office around 3 p.m. after running some errands for the bossman livin' it up in Hyderabad, India, I discovered that one of the lawyers who share our offices (and for whom I do some part-time "outside contractor" work) had a few tiny visitors the ages of 7, 5, and 2 years.  The lawyer's wife was going to the spa with one of the legal secretaries, a long-time family friend, and had dropped off the entire clan (sans the three-month old baby) for some "quality time" with daddy.

Well, daddy was really busy, as yours truly can attest to.  I was working on property assessment letters to potential clients and he was sending myself and three interns in every direction with tasks and corrections to paperwork.  What he couldn't contend with, however, was three hyperactive kids.  He was telling them to settle down  while answering phone calls from clients and attending to paperwork.

Having grown up in a family with four daughters, I recall similar experiences with my mother dropping the three eldest, my oldest sister, my twin sister and I, at my dad's physical therapy clinic while she took the youngest with her on various errands or day's out with friends.  What did my father do as a busy physical therapist with patients to attend to?  He made an underling take us to an out-of-the-way back room to color in coloring books and watch Disney movies.

The kids were distracting me, and this lawyer wasn't cruel enough to designate an underling as an intern.  So I asked the kids if they wanted to color pictures for daddy, and then Googled coloring book pages inspired by superheros and Disney princesses.

Within five minutes the kids were quietly occupied making pictures for daddy and mommy, and the office was at peace.  Despite the fact that they periodically interrupted my print jobs when they needed more pictures to color in, and the youngest of the clan wanted to eat half of my lunch (which was eaten three hours after my normal lunch break) I  managed to get the kids out of everyone's hair and keep them busy.

I am not a huge fan of kids, but I do know what they like.  So if you need some babysitting ideas, consider just getting them a few coloring books and a box of crayons.  Even if it means that the 2-year-old will just color the entire Batman picture in red crayon, at least it will get him to sit still for five minutes while you continue your work.

image source: Coloring Children's Consumption


image source: Disney Coloring Pages

Monday, May 23, 2011

a day for the great victorian queen?

I glanced over at my calendar this morning and discovered an odd thing listed under my to-do-list: today is Victoria Day in Canada.

Since I am not Canadian, I had to ask myself:

What is Victoria Day? 

I apologize to any Canadians or British Commonwealth citizens who are already familiar with this holiday.  And I apologize to everyone else for using Wikipedia as a source.  According to that site, Victoria Day is the day that Canada celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria of England and the current reigning monarch's birthday.

image source: Wikipedia
It falls around Queen Victoria's birthday, May 24, and sort of acts like a mix of the U.S.'s President's Day/ Memorial Day/Independence Day in that it's a nationally recognized holiday in which banks and governmental entities are closed, flags are flown, and parades and fireworks given.  Like Memorial Day, it is also a marker of the start of the summer vacation season.   

Now my question is: Why call it Victoria Day?  Why not call it "Monarch Day," or something more relevant to the current reigning monarch, rather than a monarch who has been dead for over 100 years?

This is where Wikipedia comes in very handy.

Before Queen Victoria's reign it was common to celebrate the reigning monarch's birthday.  Since Queen Victoria was the longest ruling monarch in English history, people got used to celebrations on May 24.  Queen Victoria was also beloved due to the fact that she gave royal assent to the formulation of the Canadian Confederation, which made Canada a self-governing colony of the British Empire.  This status, which exists to this day, means that while Britain and the monarchy are recognized as part of the government (a royal scepter is kept in legislative houses to remind politicians of the monarch's presence) the Canadians can determine their own domestic and foreign policies for the most part and act relatively independent from England. 

According to Wikipedia, when Victoria died 1901, her birthday remained a day of celebration for the entire Commonwealth, but a special date of remembrance for the Canadians:

May 24 was by imperial decree made Empire Day throughout the British Empire, while, in Canada, it became officially known as Victoria Day, a date to remember the late queen, who was deemed the "Mother of Confederation".[4]
The celebration of monarchs' birthdays, however, was a rather confused affair for half a century until it was finally merged with Empire Day:
Over the ensuing decades, the official date in Canada of the reigning sovereign's birthday changed through various royal proclamations: for Edward VII it continued by yearly proclamation to be observed on May 24, but was June 3 for George V, June 23 for Edward VIII (their actual birthdays), and various days between May 20 and June 14 through George VI's reign as king of Canada. The first official birthday of Elizabeth II, whose actual birthday is April 21,[5] was the last to be celebrated in June; the haphazard format was abandoned in 1952, when the Governor-General-in-Council moved Empire Day to the Monday before May 25, and Elizabeth's official birthday in Canada was by regular vice-regal proclamations made to fall on this same date every year between 1953 and 1957, when the link was made permanent.[1] The following year, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day and in 1977 it was moved to the second Monday in March, leaving the Monday before May 24 solely as Victoria Day.
So Canadians, enjoy your self-governance while remembering the 19th century queen who made it possible.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

the steam-powered phenomenon

Time for me to get back on the normal blogging circuit after this week's guest blog post and the relative online absence of the past few weeks. By the way, I do welcome guest posts as long as I can read the material to determine its relevance to my blog. 

Things I have learned this week:

  • I am not holy enough to be Raptured.
  • Dethklok is actually a decent death metal parody band.
  • I can survive a mild mosh pit.  While the bruises were worth the experience, the near head concussion I received from falling onto a concert floor and hitting my head against it was probably not a good thing to risk.  I think it would be better to keep my slender self far away from the bigger guys slamming themselves into each other.
  • Lawyers rocking on to Danzig are awesome.
Several friends have shared links of steampunk themed-events over the past few weeks, which have been sitting on a bookmark queue.  As I was trying to pick a topic to write about today, it struck me how much respect and notoriety steampunk is receiving compared to several months ago.

Before when I'd run dry on steampunk topics to discuss I'd search those key words into Google News.  Sometimes I'd get a hit for a recent steampunk event or article describing a steampunk fashion item.  Now I find that the spring and summer of 2011 is chock-full of steampunk events, such as:

Not to mention the various sci-fi, anime, and fantasy conventions in which enthusiasts representing the steampunk aesthetic are increasing by the year.

Even in the miniature tabletop wargaming world is dabbling in the imagined mechanics, technology, and adventures of the 19th century.  Origins, a gaming convention in Columbus OH, has recently announced that the theme of their convention this June will be Victoriana!  According to their website:

This theme includes everything loved from the Victorian period: Steampunk, Victorian clothing, Corsets, Jules Verne and so much more.

It's certainly taking the "geeky" conventions by storm at the moment.  With bands such as Sugarland and Panic! at the Disco incorporating steampunk influences in their stage shows, it certainly seems that steampunk is at least a fad.

Being a biased writer and aficionado for neo-Victorian things, however, I doubt this current trend is more than just a mere fad.  I predict more steampunk-inspired mainstream fashions at some point in the future, as well as more steampunk music and steampunk furniture.  Maybe I am just dreaming, but this subculture is growing so much so quickly it's hard not to be excited about the possibilities that it will be available to more than just the DIYers or people who live in cities with a greater variety of musically-varied genres than my current place of residence, Pittsburgh, PA.

All I know is that steampunk is becoming more common, and appears to be blowing "full steam ahead" with nothing blocking its racing path.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

guest post: the asylum for the wayward neo-victorian girl, part III


image source: Polyvore
I was awakened at 5:50 the following morning by a nurse holding a syringe.

"Good morning, Juliana. We need to take a blood sample."

"Should I get up?" I asked, half-awake and trying to not let the needle terrify me.

"No, you can lay there if you want."

Feeling helpless, I let her stab my arm and take out the blood. She left the room and turned out the light, so I slept for another half hour. Remembering that the nurses were telling me about my doctor making rounds early in the morning, I got out of bed around 6:30 a.m. and dressed quickly, determined to look as presentable as my limited resources allowed me so I could more successfully encounter my doctor. I even put in my contact lenses since I feel that my glasses make me look lazy and careless. 

I waited with the more reasonable patients in the common room and watched the news. "What are the gas prices like in the outside world?" one of them asked me. 

Less than an hour later, Dr. T came in and spoke to me. He was an intelligent Mediterranean man with a fun accent reminiscent of Dr. Lipschitz from Rugrats.  He listened to my story and agreed almost immediately that I had been put in the psychiatric ward for the wrong reasons.

"As you have noted, most people here need a different type of help," he explained to me. "They are in a very bad place and most of them have chemical dependencies. You are here under court order because of your university counselors."

"Wait, court order? But I told the police that I was voluntary!"

"It does not matter," Dr. T continued. "You left the counseling center at a time when they were legally bound to report your thoughts of suicide. The counselors had the court order put into place while you were in the ER. At this point, it's a legal matter and not a psychological matter. I think it would be best if you could leave since it seems like these group therapy sessions are going to do very little for you. You do need counseling, but not anything like this."

I was greatly cheered by his words, but it still seemed too good to be true. "Is it possible for me to leave today?"

"Maybe," Dr. T said. "Fortunately for you, today is a court day for these matters, so if I and your social worker can convince the judge that you are not a danger to yourself at this point, you will be able to leave today. Of course, they usually put people on suicide watch for 72 hours, and you have only been here for less than 24 hours, so the judge may decide to have you released after the 72-hour period is complete. Just do your best to show everyone that you are fine and the social worker will be able to serve as a favorable second witness."

I thanked Dr. T for his help and returned to the bleakness of the common room. One of the male patients, who was around 20 years old, appeared in a dazed state. I had encountered him the day before when he ran up to me and asked if I had a cigarette or a cell phone. When I answered in the negative, he ran up to the next patient, half-convinced that there was some conspiracy against him in which only his cell phone had been taken away. It was clear that he had been heavily sedated sometime between the previous evening and breakfast, which made me wonder how common it was to be sedated in order to be controlled.

The morning snailed by in group therapy, then a recreation hour in which I had to endure the worst karaoke of my life. All of the songs were either classic hits or gospel songs that had no mention of death in them. I would do anything to sing an Emilie Autumn song right now, just to horrify everyone: 

"Dead is the new alive 
Despair's the new survival
A pointless point of view 
Give in, give in, give in, give in 
You play the game
You never win."

Since Emilie Autumn was not on the playlist, I ended up butchering Michael Jackson with one of the women who had been committed for using the word "suicide" in front of the wrong person.

image source: we<3
I was getting antsy, restless, and extremely desperate throughout the morning. Knowing that I was being watched every minute, I decided to try to express myself with caution. The nurses had given me a white folder with little information sheets and rules for my stay in the ward, as if it were some type of hotel. I decided to decorate my folder and express my sadness, anger, and resentment any way I could. I started by writing the word Opheliac on the back of the folder and surrounding it with illustrations of flowers. I then drew a clock on the back and put the hour hand at the 4, completing the image with a tea pot and cups and writing TEA TIME!!! as my personal tribute to the climax of The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls. I then started writing as many liturgical Latin phrases as I could remember on the back cover, as well as snippets from my favorite poems (not in English) that related to love, death, and forgiveness. I hoped that the foreign language and figurative metaphors would not be meaningful to the staff, so I took the risk with relish. 

I then opened a little blue packet that was given to every patient for the purpose of writing our thoughts and feelings so we could relate them later on to our doctors. I used my foreign language to complain in as neutral a manner as I could muster. Even though my scribbling took up more time than I am proud to admit, I felt somewhat satisfied.

At the end of the morning I was called into a conference room. The social worker, four nurses and a nurses' intern were waiting. I sat down and allowed them to question me about my presence in the ward. I spoke as calmly as I could, repeating that I felt that the ward was not a good place for someone who is simply depressed. 

The therapist who had run that morning's chemical substance group therapy sessions specifically said, "The thing that will get each of you out of this place is whether the staff believes you are stable." 

Deciding that her wording was going to be the most effective at instigating my release, I said, "I think I am stable and I need to be back in my world with the things that truly enrich my life."

The staff did not talk to me much longer, but instead sent me back into the common room. Right before lunch, the sedated guy sat next to me, questioned me about the stuff I drew on my folder, then tried to make a move on me. I quickly got up and told a nurse, who only nodded and wrote it down on her clipboard. She did not even care to ask me if I were okay.

After lunch I had the good fortune of talking to a nurse after lunch who felt that I could benefit from having one of my books back. The minute I had the beloved book back in my hands I sat down and started studying. One of the other patients, a nice older man named J, sat down next to me with a smile on his face.

"Juliana, is that what you study at the university? Please tell me something about it."

"Oh, J, you will probably find it boring. I am such a nerd that I love this stuff."

"Please, I always like to learn something new."

Two of the other patients came over to see why I was beaming and also sat down to learn about my studies. It made me laugh to see these people so interested in the topic simply because of the boredom that prevailed as a result of the limitations that the ward had imposed upon us.

The next group therapy session started and I sat near the window, looking out at the sunny spring day and wondering when I would be able to go outside again. Even though I had to act happy, my heart had already sunk so low that I knew that I would not be able to keep up the charade much longer.

A nurse interrupted the group therapy session to take me out of the room and inform me that my court order had been revoked. I was free to go! 

I packed as quickly as I could and signed my release forms, but not before the sedated guy chased me around a table and begged to have my phone number until the nurse threatened to have him restrained.

I had only been in the ward for a little over 24 hours, and I was so happy to be out that I never thought I could feel sadness ever again. The following morning, however, found me in a different position. The depression came over me once again, but in a different way. I felt that I had been cheated by the mental health system. Granted, I was lucky to get out after only a day, but I also knew that I never got the therapy that the university counselor had promised me. Playing happy meant that I had to suppress my feelings, which made me worse off than I had been when I entered counseling. The ward made me angry and resentful, and it did nothing to defer my desire for death. I had thought of numerous creative (and probably impossible) ways to end my life while inside the ward as my big "F*** you!!!" to the system, which obviously is not the intended goal of either the counselors or the hospital.

I am writing this post as a warning to everyone who struggles with thoughts of suicide. If you think you really need help, ONLY use the word "suicide" if you think you need a mental hospital. If all you want and need is a counselor to help you sort of your problems, avoid that word at all costs. Talk about your feelings, but choose your words carefully. The counselors do not care about you; they only care about themselves and will protect themselves at the cost of your freedom. It would seriously be better to talk to a friend or a spiritual instructor than to a counselor if you want to be 100% open about your problems. Granted, I still want to have counseling from someone who is more objective and could potentially give me the tools I need to cope with my problems, but it is still very difficult for me to trust anyone after my experience in the psychiatric ward. I know my experience was not horrendous, but it made a bad situation even worse. 

Emilie Autumn makes a very good point in her book in her confrontation with Dr. Sharpe about the psychiatric ward: "I am a sad, sad girl. This is NOT where you put a sad girl to make her get happy" (page 132). Emilie recognizes that there is something flawed about the mental health system since it groups people with varying problems in the same space. The therapy that is offered is only minimally relevant to the individual, and I find that fact to be disturbing. The counselors and doctors tend to view everything as either black or white, and only truly compassionate and intelligent people can see the gray area of depression.

At this point, all I know is that I'm an Opheliac, and I am going to fight this system for its ineffectiveness. 

Go back to Part I.

Go back to Part II.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

guest post: the asylum for the wayward neo-victorian girl, part II

Part II of III.  

Go back to Part I.

Continue to Part III.

One thing that I as an American have taken for granted was my freedom. The moment I realized that I was placed in a ward against my will, I panicked. I felt like a caged animal, but tried to remember the nice security guard's advice and put on as complacent of a face as I could muster. It was time to suppress all visages of depression and act like the girl-next-door.

My assigned doctor, Dr. T, had already made his rounds for the day (it was about 2:00 p.m. at this point), so there was very little chance that I would see him before morning. I begged the nurses to do something about this.  I know that I was acting selfish and a bit elitist by demanding to disrupt the doctor's daily schedule for my sake, but desperation quickly evolves into disregard. One sympathetic nurse told me to simply act calm, that everything I do is being watched and monitored, and that she was confident that the doctor would help me in the morning when I showed him how good my coping skills were.

Great, I have to play-act to get out of here. 

I will admit that being committed makes you forget about the woe of what got you there in the first place. One just focuses on getting out, and the sorrow of being locked away consumes one more than the problem that resulted in the suicidal thoughts. Even though getting out was my priority at that point, the fact that I had to suppress all of my other feelings and play happy seemed counterintuitive. As the day progressed, I became more aware that a psychiatric ward is not the place for a depressed girl, not even one that had been harboring suicidal thoughts.

There were about 20 inmates in the ward, male and female. The age range was about 20-65, with the 20-somethings like me being in the low minority. Most of the patients were detoxing from drugs, while two other women had been committed for the same reason I had, that is, for using the s-word (suicide) in front of the wrong person. Only a handful of them voluntarily committed themselves for depression, and I learned to my horror that even though I had declared myself voluntary to the police, the fact that the police had to be called meant that I was actually an involuntary mental health patient.

Therapy came in the form of group meetings in a room at the far end of the ward, in which a different therapist showed up to give half-hour lectures on various topics like substance abuse and positive thinking. I found these group therapy sessions to be only minimally helpful, and the only reason I even endured them was to get a little chart signed by each therapist. This little chart was part of the play-acting in which each signature was an indicator to the nursing staff that I was interested in helping myself... that I was going to be cooperative and sit through the substance abuse sessions even though I had never dabbled in illegal drugs, don't smoke, don't engage in sexual activity, and only admitted to drinking one glass of wine a day as a generous approximate. As for things like positive thinking and coping skills, while all of that is good, I can't justify dwindling my problems through positive thinking if my problems have more to do with how I hurt other people than how I handle regular life situations

Upon hearing my insistence that I did not belong in the ward, the nurses offered me some advice on what I could do to prove to them that I was not dangerously depressed. They are summarized as follows:
  1. Go to group therapy, even if the topic does not apply to you. You need to help us help you.
  2.  Be social and sit in the common room between therapy sessions. Loners send a red flag to the nursing staff.
  3. Participate in the recreational activities, even if you are not good at karaoke or could really care less about bingo.
  4. No Juliana, you can't have your books. You should be "reflecting" and not busying yourself with the academic pursuits that enrich your life. (Okay, they only told me no books other than the stupid sensational fiction paperbacks they give out in the evenings.)
  5. Don't cry.
  6. Don't freak out.
  7. Don't use the phone (only for local calls) too much.
  8. Do what everyone tells you.

The nurses were mostly nice once they started to catch wind that I was not a substance abuser. They did a skin check on me for syringe or razor marks, which was promptly done in my room. Having been to the dermatologist numerous times for my sensitive northern European skin, I knew how to best assist at a full-body skin check and spread out my arms.

"You've done this sort of thing before, haven't you?" a nurse suspiciously asked me.

"Only with the dermatologist, every year since I was eight years old," I replied in the most positive and annoyed tone I could muster. That seemed to shut her up.

 Fortunately, every patient had their own room. While most had to share a bathroom, I got a bathroom to myself. The nurses warned me not to get dressed in my room since there was a camera in the corner that watched every seemingly private moment. Another patient told me later on that they watch your movements in sleep to mark any disturbances. 

My personal belonging had been taken away the minute I entered the ward. The nurse returned some time later with the items I was allowed to keep. Here are the items I brought:
  1. books and notebooks
  2. pens
  3. basic toiletries (contact lens solution, travel deodorant, chapstick)
  4. rosary beads (I was NOT going to the hospital without backup)
  5. my cell phone
  6. wallet, credit cards, driver's license and university ID
  7. the clothes on my back, as well as a pair of yoga pants and a hoodie that I added when the police came since I freeze everywhere I go, especially in medical buildings

All of the items with the exception of the hoodie and yoga pants were already in my school bag for daily emergencies. I really had no idea that I would need these things for an extended stay.

The things I was allowed to keep:
  1. books and notebooks
  2. pens (BUT: I was given one of their pens, and I guarded it jealously)
  3. basic toiletries (contact lens solution, travel deodorant, chapstick)
  4. rosary beads
  5. my cell phone
  6. wallet, credit cards, driver's license and university ID
  7. the clothes on my back, as well as a pair of yoga pants and a hoodie that I added when the police came since I freeze everywhere I go (the hoodie had a string that the nurses insisted on pulling out before handing it over to me)

Fortunately for me, my roommate from my apartment was kind enough to bring me a few extra changes of clothes and my eyeglasses later in the day. 

When the daily group therapy sessions were over, I had to swallow down an oversized fish dinner. One of the patients told me that the nurses watch your eating habits, so I forced as much of the food as was possible for me. Emilie Autumn mentioned in her book that it seemed ridiculous to be expected to stomach any food in such an environment, and I agree with that. I simply had no appetite in spite of the fact that I had barely eaten all day. 

It was a visitor day, so most of the patients were able to see friends and family after the dinner hour. I had not expected any visitors, but my roommate and another friend came to visit. I had never been so happy to see them in my entire life. The visiting hours were cut short by an "incident" that resulted in ward lock-down, so only after 40 minutes of the 90-minute visiting period I had to say a hasty goodbye to my friends as they were ushered out of the ward. I still have no idea what resulted in the lock-down, but it did not bode well for me on this first day.

I went to bed early that night, my spirit so disheartened that I was praying sleep could take the sorrow and uncertainty away. I was worse off than when I had walked into the counseling center that morning. Since the doctor had not seen me yet, I had not yet been prescribed medications. I did have the option of taking a sleeping pill that was so strong that it had to be administered bedside. I have personal gripes against medication, but I agreed to the pill because I knew that there would be no other way for me to sleep that night. As I slipped into unconsciousness, I wanted nothing more than to die. 

image source: Melodramatic.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

guest post: the asylum for the wayward neo-victorian girl, part I

Part I of III

Hi everyone! This is not Lauren, but a friend of hers that you can call "Juliana". I have known Lauren for years and am a follower of her blog, as well as a fellow neo-Victorian. I am a big fan of Emilie Autumn and have both gone to her concerts and read The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls. While I also deal with depression, I have a tendency to resort to creative expression and involvement in gothic/neo-Victorian culture to console myself in times of sadness or anger.

What does my story have to do with this blog? Well, if you have read Lauren's review on Emilie Autumn's The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, you will find that it brings up some skepticism on the validity of Emilie's experiences in a modern-day psychiatric ward. I myself have expressed similar doubts as Lauren in regard to Emilie's book, but then something happened that made me realize:

Emilie is not far from the truth.

image source: The Writely Life
It all started when something drastic occurred in my personal life. I will not go into the details, but my ongoing depression has made me harbor suicidal thoughts before. Before this particular event had happened I was in a relatively good place. I had been able to move past a lot of my depression and find healing. When the current event occurred, I was thrown into a frenzy in which I started making plans to kill myself. I finally decided that it was time to get help.

I study at a university that is out-of-state. I went to the counseling center several days after my dark night and spoke with a counselor, deciding that it was best to be completely honest with him. I told him about the event, my past depression, and my suicidal thoughts of the previous few days. I had intended to go for REAL HELP, which meant that I was trying to take a step forward to move past the bad event. I eventually learned that one must use the American mental help system with extreme caution, or they will be left with no voice and no rights.

I mentioned to the counselor that I had been having recurring suicidal thoughts. The counselor listened and only asked minimal questions, mostly about the past: What did you feel when you were having these thoughts? Did you have these thoughts before? Under what circumstances? In retrospect, the questions he asked did not attempt to uncover how I was feeling at that very moment. At that moment, I was past ideas of suicide, but I was still very sad. I was looking to find a way to cope. I told him how I had had a plan to kill myself, that the event that affected me so much had no controllable solution, and that I was still very sad. 

He asked me if it was all right to bring another counselor (this time, a doctor) into the room. I refused, not wishing to share my very personal story with another person. After some more of me talking and him listening without giving any advice, he sent me out of the room. At that time, I assume he told the doctor about my situation, because when he called me back into the room, he asked once again if he could call in someone to witness my statements. I finally agreed even though I still had reservations, so he called in a woman named Dr. H. 

He gave Dr. H a summary of my thoughts (a summary, which meant that he only revealed the most extreme things I had said and left out the key phrases like "I had these thoughts a few days ago" "I am trying to help myself" etc etc). She told me that I needed both medicine and counseling. I told her that I went to the counseling center for counseling, but that I am not a fan of medicine and would prefer to not use it as a crutch for my problems. She responded by saying that my problems were too big for myself and that I should check myself into a hospital. I told her that I was not looking for help from a hospital. Both the counselor and Dr. H expressed their thoughts that I was a danger to myself and they felt that since I had no family in town, that I was probably going to kill myself that very day. I told them that I was definitely not going to kill myself, that I was past suicide as a current thought and only wanted to get help for the ongoing depression. I demanded to know why they felt that a hospital was going to be any different than a counseling center, and they claimed that my problems were not under control, therefore I "had no other choice".

After more arguing and trying to convince them that they were overreacting and simply needed to let me talk, I realized that I was getting nowhere with the counselors and decided that I needed to use my free will as a self-sufficient adult and leave. Standing up, I shouldered my bag and said:

"Look, you obviously do not know what is best for me. I don't need medicine; I don't need a hospital. I just want counseling. I am a free person, and I can make decisions on my own and I am leaving."

With that, I left the counseling center and drove back to my apartment. 

I wondered whether my departure from the overreacting counselors would result in them informing the police that I was a potential suicide case, so I called my friend who has been studying law to ask if that were a possibility. Before I even got to voicemail, I noticed a university police car pull up and park in front of my building. 

Realizing that the situation was extreme enough as it was, I decided to simply invite the police officers inside and talk myself out of the problem. Now, when I am at university I dress very harmlessly, that is, I wear a lot of dresses with light-colored sweaters, with only few elements of neo-Victorian or alternative-type jewelry. That particular day I was wearing a navy blue dress with a cream-colored sweater and silver flats. I looked as minimal as I could get, which I decided was beneficial in convincing the police that I was a good girl who was
not looking to cause trouble for anyone.

I invited the police officers inside and asked about their concerns. They told me that the counseling center had called them. After a few minutes of rational discussion, someone else knocked on my door. Upon opening the door, I found four more police officers. The police major who was pretty much a representative of the university police force was in that group, as well as Officer D, who basically looked like a shorter and friendlier version of Till Lindemann from Rammstein. Officer D ended up being the only officer who gave me signs of true sympathy and understanding, so after a few minutes my eyes were pretty much focused on him and he must have recognized this, because then he became much more verbal than the other officers at that point. 

I had to retell the story to the officers, but I remained calm and composed. I was unusually eloquent and felt that my chances of convincing them to leave would be successful. After an hour of this game however, the major told me that because the counseling center had called, they were legally obligated to ensure that I was checked in at the hospital. They told me that I had no choice but to go, and that it would be better if I went voluntarily. In response to my protests that I had responsibilities at the university and simply could not waste time at the hospital to get this mess sorted out, the major told me that his job was to make sure that the professors understood my plight and did not penalize any missed work. He even took down the name of one of the professors in question and promised to send a standard notification that described nothing more than the fact that I was in the hospital for an unspecified treatment.

"You probably won't be there for long, Juliana," I distinctly remember him saying. "It seems that you will probably just be there for a few hours until someone can talk to you, and then you can leave and get back to your work. It won't take the entire day." (Note: At this point, it was about 10:20 a.m.)

Somewhat cheered by the major's assurance but still seeing no other way out, I declared my voluntariness to go to the hospital and picked the hospital P--- under the recommendation of Officer D. The police told me that calling an ambulance was procedure even though it was unnecessary, so I waited on the curb with the eight officers standing around me as an ambulance tore down my street with sirens wailing and lights flashing. Once I was strapped onto a gurney and the ambulance doors closed behind me, I did not see the police again.  But that certainly did not mark the end of my problems.

* * *

One of the parts of Emilie Autumn's modern-psych ward narrative in The Asylum for the Wayward Victorian Girls that bothered me the most was Emilie's description of the ER. In her book she relates her time in the ER as one in which she lay on a gurney for hours while she had to wait for an available bed upstairs. Boredom and desperation forced her to think of more creative ways of killing herself. When I was first put into the ER for the same purposes, I was still under the mislead impression that I was going to be leaving the hospital that same day. After all, I wasn't crazy. I had not overdosed on pills like Emilie had. I had had a suicide plan, but I had not actually carried it out. They would understand after they spoke with me and discovered that I was simply a sad girl who needed counseling, right?

Wrong.

  My time in the ER was certainly a reduced version of Emilie's, but it wasn't very different. When they laid me out on a gurney in the ER, they made me strip off everything except my panties and my flats (they required me to give up my bra... I suppose a woman would want to hang herself from the straps of her own bra after all...*headpalm*). I was given a plastic hospital shirt and pants and told to sign off my other items, which included a shoulder bag full of books relating to my academic interests, as well as my journal (which I had chosen to bring for the sole purpose of showing it to the hospital psychiatrist in an attempt to enlighten him/her on the true nature of my problem. After all, weren't these people supposed to help me?)

I nearly had a meltdown when they told me to hand over my cell phone, especially since no one in my family had been informed of what was going on. Since I am of an obedient nature, I reluctantly complied, but fortunately I was able to beg one nurse about 20 minutes later that I had to at least call my emergency contact. She told me to "keep it brief" and stood there listening as I explained to my emergency contact that I was in the ER for mental health reasons and that they were taking my phone away. 

They took my vital signs and two doctors came in at separate times to ask about my reasons for being in the ER. I tried to remain calm as I explained what had happened at the counseling center, which they jotted down quickly on their clipboard. Then they left, forcing me to endure a wait with nothing to read, nothing to do, and no one with whom I could talk. 

I won't bore you with the ER much longer, and would only like to mention that I was waiting for three hours, with nurses only coming in at one-hour intervals to recheck my vitals and evade my questions about what was going to happen next. At one point I was so frustrated that I slammed my fists into the side of the gurney when no one was in the room, but quickly folded my hands in my lap. The security guard in the hallway came into the room to check in on the noise, and I asked him why a person who was considered suicidal would be left in a room for hours with no help. After a few minutes' chat, he gave me the most helpful advice I had received from anyone thus far:

"Look, I don't know what your problems are, but they must be pretty severe. If you want help, just watch what you do. You do realize that they are watching you, and they even have a camera right over there that is monitoring what you are doing now?"

My mouth dropped in horror as he pointed to a black box that was just over my bed. 

"The only way to get what you want is to do what they say. Be cooperative, be patient, and don't show too much emotion. Slamming your fists into your bed is a warning sign to them. You seem like a nice girl, so just let your personality shine through and you will be out of here before you know it."

When they came for me shortly after the security guard spoke with me, I was given my clothes and personal effects back. I put them on as quickly as I could and managed to text two people. The last person I texted was Lauren:

"Emilie Autumn is not far from the truth."

Two security guards were waiting outside with a wheelchair. They wheeled me upstairs and ignored the questions I was asking them. The minute we entered a room that appeared to be a large common area with a television, table and chairs, and a refrigerator, I started to get suspicious. This did not look like a temporary place. There was a glass-encased nurses' station and a strange-looking man in street clothes who was staring me down and waving absentmindedly.

The minute they checked my vitals, my blood pressure shot up because it was at that very moment that the truth had been revealed to me.

"What am I doing here? I thought I was going to talk to a doctor. I am not staying here long, am I?"

"Juliana, you are on suicide watch. You won't be leaving for at least a few days."

I was in the asylum.

image source: Snicker-Snack