Monday, 13 April 2009

Dietary Discipline, Harassment Therapy & Sexual Reorientation – A Reader’s Account Revisited (Part 1)

Hi folks, I have quite literally just arrived back in London after my short Easter sojourn to Windsor (the neighbors were in across the road – we can always tell, they like to stick their flag up when they're visiting - but do they ever bother to pop over for a chat? Bit of a weird bunch, if you ask me – like to keep them selves to them selves; but need 1600 rooms and 6 miles of corridors to do it in. As for the 'other half' and myself; well, we're happy enough with a double en suite when we're away from home. What an ostentatious lot – I was pleased to spot that one or two of old Lizzie's windows had been boarded up – and that flag looked a little threadbare to boot! (Looks like the recession's biting all of us!). As I say, I'm back in London – but I'm not yet back home. I'm staying at a friend's for the night, so the holiday ends (and work resumes) tomorrow morning, with a short sharp visit to the gym for an aerobic / fat-burning session, then a days writing / editing / proof reading of volume 2 before rounding off with a second visit to the gym in the evening for a bit of weight training. Not that I have been completely comatose while I have been away – I took with me a printed transcript of some fascinating correspondence I relieved by email just before I went away (and that I alluded to in my last posting) and an enlightening read it made indeed. It pretty much comes under the banner of 'Truth Stranger than Fiction' and takes, in the majority, the form of a series of questions and responses passed back and forth between yours truly and an anonymous female correspondent as regards an account I published a few posts ago (click here). I have reproduced the gist here, albeit in a somewhat truncated form. It is quite a lengthy correspondence and so I think it best if I split it up into a number of installments – if nothing else, it will give me time then to come up with a couple of suitable illustrations for each section. we go... (by the way – please keep in mind that, as ever, we are discussing here girls in their late teens) .

Dietary Discipline, Sexual Aversion & Harassment Therapy – An Account: Part One
"Nobody ever explained precisely why I was sent to the hospital, but over the years I have put together a theory that I'm pretty sure must be close to the truth. I was a wallflower at school and was flattered when a much more popular girl, Caroline, spoke to me a few times. One time I was in the cloakroom when she came in and she kissed me. I don't remember feeling anything. I don't remember it being thrilling, and nor do I remember thinking that it was particularly strange or awful. I had seen other girls kissing in a friendly manner, but this was on the lips and was, admittedly, just a little friendlier than I was familiar with. That might have been the end of it, except that a mistress walked in at that moment and kicked up an awful stink. I remember being hauled into the headmistress's office at least a couple of times. Confused, I never said much besides stammering and probably saying that I didn't do anything. I do remember not wanting to get Caroline in trouble - I enjoyed that fact that she would sometimes talk to me - it increased my status immeasurably - at least I thought so. My parents had several meetings with the headmistress. They were mortified and they let me know through awful silence just how much I had embarrassed them and how ashamed they were of me. I almost wished that they would say 'How could you have turned out this way?' But the silence spoke louder than any words and let me know how they felt. I didn't blame them. Talking, with the possibility that 'the subject' might come up, was the last thing I wanted to do also.

Of course, since then I have thought of a million clever things I could have said - like the truth - to ameliorate the situation, but at the time I had neither the words nor the understanding of how my silence might be interpreted. Judging by the reaction of the adults involved, the whole episode was clearly so shameful that I chose to remain silent and say nothing (and avoid further embarrassment) in the expectation that everything would blow over.
I didn't go into the aversion program straight away. First I went to a psychiatric unit in a general hospital for evaluation. I don't know whose idea it was - the school's or my parents' - or perhaps some combination - but it was my parents (my father did the talking) who told me that we would be visiting a hospital to consult with a doctor who was an 'expert' in these matters. I knew why - it had to have something to do with the kissing incident - everything did - so I didn't ask any questions for fear of further embarrassment and humiliation. I meekly accepted. Not something to look forward to, but something I could survive - a step towards putting the whole episode behind me.

I remember the car trip with my parents lasting hours, and I remember thinking that this wouldbe yet one more reason for them to be upset with me - spending so much time taking me to the hospital. My father was taking time off work - and he never did that. But mostly I think my mind was blank - if I could block everything out it wouldn't hurt so much. I had been in hospital before - to have my tonsils out - so I knew a little about what to expect. It wouldn't be so bad. Besides, it's not like I was going to have to stay there - I didn't have an overnight bag with me.
When we arrived there was nothing particularly disquieting about the place except for the all pervasive hospital smell, disinfectant and whatever else. Sure it was big and confusing, but not unlike other hospitals I had seen. I remember following the signs (and my parents) to the psychiatric department and meeting with a doctor who explained that I would be staying for a few days while I was evaluated. I'm sure my stomach sank - but I doubt that I said anything - I probably just swallowed hard and hoped that the floor would swallow me up.
I'm not sure how long I stayed there, but it was probably less than a week. It wasn't too bad although the food wasn't great - maybe even worse than school. At school there was this one mistress who would walk round making sure that we ate everything and would give us a whack on the head with her hand (and a large ring) if we showed any unwillingness to do so - but here they didn't mind when I left things on my plate. I had my own room, and books to read, and the nurses were quite friendly, though they would ask questions for what seemed like hours at a time. But I didn't mind - it's not like I had anything else to do - and even when the questions might have been embarrassing I didn't mind too much because they were very nice about it and treated the whole thing in a very casual manner, as if we were talking about somebody else altogether. They made copious notes and I remember even writing some essays for them, though I have no recollection of what they might have been about.

After maybe a week, I was taken back in to see the doctor, and he told me, in a very grave voice, that he had finished evaluating me (which surprised me because I had not seen him since my arrival, but I suppose he read all the paperwork) and that he had found, and approved me for, a program that could help me - and I was a very lucky girl. To say that I was disappointed would be inaccurate - I don't think my mind was working on such a cerebral level - I just experienced a primordial sinking feeling - disconcerted and confused. I hadn't expected such an outcome. It had never crossed my mind that I might not go back home after a few days. I'm sure I would have thought about running if it had been in my nature or if there hadn't been two nurses standing between me and the door. As I was led out by the nurses I remember wondering if they would tell my parents. (A silly thought really, but it was probably emblematic of my naiveté.) As I remember it I was led down a couple of unfamiliar corridors and into an unfamiliar room where I was instructed to climb up and lie down on a trolley. Naturally I was mystified, and, perhaps sensing my bewilderment, one of the nurses explained that I was going to be taken to another hospital and that she needed to fasten the straps to make sure I didn't fall off and injure myself in the ambulance. I remember not liking the idea of being strapped in, and I'm sure that I felt like saying "no, that's ok, just call my parents please", but I doubt that I said anything. I was probably thinking that sick people ride in ambulances, and I wasn't sick. All very confusing - and more than a little scary.

It was another long journey, but without any windows in the back, and being strapped down in the stretcher my memory is probably a little unreliable. I remember arriving after dark - but I could see the building, presumably from lights. It was big, old and scary looking and I was getting increasingly scared and frantic. I was passed over to a couple of nurses who, after speaking to the ambulance men briefly, wheeled me through what seemed like unending corridors, locked doors, elevators, and then through what appeared to be a couple of different wards, all with locked steel doors, until we reached our destination - another locked ward. By this time I was quite certain that a dreadful mistake had been made. This was not like any hospital I had ever seen. More like a madhouse. Not that I was prescient - just that the situation was crazy. It wasn't until a little later that I realised it really was a madhouse. A madhouse stuck away in the countryside where nobody could see it. Where the public did not have to worry about it or feel guilty about the poor souls locked up in it.

I remember thinking 'I do NOT belong here' when a nurse undid the straps on the stretcher and another nurse, this one wearing a big rubber apron, grabbed me by the ear and dragged me off to the bathroom for my cold induction bath. I was deathly scared. When I saw the line of oversized baths I tried to pull back - "why are they so big" I remember thinking - but a twist and yank on my ear soon had me moving again. When the nurse let me dip my hand in the bath and I felt how deathly cold it was I became hysterical, crying and screaming. I remember 'losing it' and struggling as if I was fighting for my life and apparently I even managed to bite an arm during the struggle. (Which got me labelled as a 'biter' and proved to be one of the bigger mistakes of my life.) However they quickly recovered from my surprise attack and I was soon overpowered by the nurse and two others who had come to her aid. They didn't seem fazed by my struggling or the splashing water that ensued and I was soon trussed up in a canvas harness and lying in a hammock inside one of the big baths. Only my head was visible, the rest of me hidden beneath the canvas bath cover. Despite the biting cold, or perhaps because of it, I was still screaming bloody murder when one of them pulled a thick cloth between my teeth and hauled it tight as she tied it at the back of my neck. A canvas bath cap with the chinstrap pulled tight clamped my jaws almost shut, despite the thick cloth between them and reduced my screams to ineffectual squeaks and groans.

Although the initial shock of the cold water wore off after a couple of minutes it remained far too cold for comfort throughout the hours I spent in the bath. Somehow fresh water was constantly running into the bath at one end and the excess was draining out at the other end. As for my temper, that subsided. I just didn't have the energy to keep it going. Besides, I was too cold and it was too difficult to breathe comfortably through my nose when I struggled or cried. One of the nurses kept an eye on me, but didn't offer any comfort or encouragement - just a blank face. I think I was the only patient in the bathroom when I was put in the bath, but while I lay there several girls came in for baths - some quietly, others struggling.

Institutional Haircut

At some point I was upset to find that a nurse had removed my 'cap' and was clipping my hair down to a stubble. I remember not being able to struggle much - but I could throw my head around enough to make her job difficult and I was determined to do so. However, after a brief respite she returned with another nurse and between them they held my head still and clipped it down to a stubble. I was to later find out that this was standard procedure for the 'deviants' on the ward - serving as a reminder to everyone that they should give us a wide berth. I have to wonder at the advisability of it though. Perhaps I am guilty of thinking in stereotypes, but I can't help thinking that some of the butch girls might have enjoyed their short haircut. If anything shouldn't they have been trying to feminize us? Maybe they just didn't quite understand what they were doing.


When they let me out I was too subdued to put up a fight any longer and needed help to even stand up - so I meekly allowed them to dry me off and dress me in a plain white nightgown before putting me to bed in a single room. I didn't even complain when they put me in restraints - another standard procedure for we 'deviants' who, it was assumed, would masturbate if given the chance.


So that is how I ended up in the mental hospital - on a ward for teenage girls. That apparently was the way wards were assigned - at least for teenagers - by sex and age rather than condition. Of course that probably makes sense. I don't think anybody would think it a good idea to put us teenagers with [older] adults if it could be avoided. But beyond sex and age, there appeared to be no distinction. There were some drooling mentally retarded girls, some girls in a world of their own, some who didn't seem to be in any world, a number of physically handicapped girls, and a number of superficially normal girls, some of whom I later learned were often anything but normal. Some had anger issues, some liked hurting small animals, others had tried to commit suicide and some were classified as sexual deviants, like me. In short - I had been inducted..." (to be continued)

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