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?


  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


  1. This is really interesting. I'm a big fan of Emilie Autumn myself, but I've never gotten the chance to read her book. This experience sounds really horrible and I'm sorry you had to go through it, but I must admit that I'm pretty excited to read Part II.

  2. I agree! Utterly riveting and shocking; but how appalling that this is what you had to go through. How to make a bad situation worse!

  3. Oh my. You showed signs of suicidal depression and professionals actually followed up to make sure you didn't hurt yourself? How dare they! Imagine if they had actually let you go and you became suicidal again and followed through. You'd be blaming them for not seeing the warning signs, AND they'd be in legal trouble.

    As for the rest of it: tl;dr

    Been there. Done that.

  4. And yes, a suicidal woman WILL use their bra straps to try to hang themselves. When you want to die, you will try anything.