Last Halloween, a local costume shop was scrutinized, and banned from selling costumes of “mentally ill” people. I assume dressing up like Einstein was not generating enough profit, and therefore the store resorted to blood smeared hospital gowns. This incident came up in a recent conversation, and encouraged this question: Why are we so terrified of mental hospitals, and worse, mentally ill people?
In my area, the local mental institution, Dorothea Dix, is located on acres of land at the top of Dix hill. At one point, the hospital, which opened it’s doors in 1856, was seemingly abandoned. As a teenager, the big ‘to do’ was to go on Halloween, and see how long your friends could last walking around the buildings without getting spooked. This was a place that housed some of the most severely mentally ill patients across the United States for over a century. One year, I partook in these immature stigma increasing activities (karma), and watched my friends shivering in fear as our ‘boys’ waited for their moment to comfort and caress my girlfriends and I. The boy with me did not get what he anticipated. Unfortunately for him, I was not scared that night. I walked around the buildings, with feelings of empathy, not fear.
Throughout history, mental hospitals have been deemed as ‘scary’ places. I mean c’mon, at one time they were referred to as, “insane asylums” DUN-DUN-DUUUN! It sounds like an eerie fun house that you come out of headless. In society, mental hospitals are pictured as a cold place with white walls, and a protruding harsh smell alive in the air. Mental patients are draped in hospital gowns or secured in straight jackets, with glossy eyes and sinister attitudes. It is gloomy, and depressing, silent and hollow. However, this is not the reality, and was not the case for me.
In the years leading up to my hospitalization, day by day, year by year, the feeling of loneliness and despair increased, leading up to my hospitalization. When I walked into the facility, it was not cold; it was warm. I was not revolted by the smell. I was greeted by patients with hugs, not hostility; comforting words instead of threatening ones. The food was terrible, and far from paradise. However, it was the home I had been searching for in the period of time I felt lost, and disconnected from my family and friends.. It was the place where the people knew my pain, not my face. It was not love I was missing from my home, prior to the hospitalization, it was “acceptance” that was missing from my life.
‘Home’ is an ever-changing term. As a child my home was where my family lived. Into my teenage years, my home was where my friends, family and school was, and for a brief period of time my home was a mental hospital. As we enter new phases of our lives, our definition of Home changes. A mental hospital is a place that is portrayed as ‘scary.’ However, just like any other hospital it is a place for healing and hope. Who’s to say the people on the inside are not hiding from us on the outside?
The night I walked around Dix hospital at 14 years old, there was one hair-raising moment. In the distance I saw a blonde girl, who I assumed was one of my girlfriends. I yelled to the horny boy behind me, that I saw my girlfriend in the distance. She was waving for us to come over. He came up behind me, with his $5 dollar cologne and small hard on and whispered, “There is no one there Hannah. The girls and them are waiting at the car.” I giggled and walked away saying, “I guess all this Halloween shit got the best of me.”
Ten years later, I realized the girl I saw in the distance that night, was not a ghost. It was the girl I saw in my reflection; standing on the outside, reaching for the people she understood the most on the inside. Boo!
Reduce the Stigma on Mental Illness.
P.S. The boy trying to get some action that night, didnt even make it the dugout. Strike, your out.
Note: There are many people who have had a different experience with mental illness and hospitalization. This is my personal story, and does not represent all opinions on this matter. The lack of mental health funding leads to conditions that are not suitable in many cases, and this I acknowledge, and hope to change.