I know Julia Wertz through comic circles, she does autobio comics both in journal form and as longer stories. They’re often pretty funny, though she has also tackled heavier topics such as coping with addiction or being diagnosed with lupus. She also has a passion for exploring and photographing abandoned buildings – schools, hotels, prisons, carnivals…and old psychiatric hospitals and asylums. She posts photos of these places and the things she finds in them at her site Adventure Bible School (which is really more adventure than Bible).
And, if there is a collective history of mental illness, as I believe there is, documenting things like this is a valuable resource for it. It’s one thing to read about how things worked in the past, how things were misdiagnosed, how things were once considered mental health problems that really aren’t (homosexuality, for example), or how people lived. It’s quite another to actually see images of diagnosis cards, cards that alls once decided some human being’s fate now discarded in heaps on dirty, pigeon shit-stained floors, as in Julia’s documentation of the infamous Creedmoor Psychiatric Center:
She also notes that schizophrenia, although itself a real diagnosis (do I really need to tell y’all that? 🙂 ) that prior to 1970 it was often erroneously assigned to patients with other issues, such as autism, OCD, or bipolar disorder. There’s also quite a bit of the scandal-ridden history of Creedmoor, which could be as reprehensible as Willowbrook. TW for descriptions of orderly-inflicted sexual and physical abuse.
Her most recent gallery of Harlem Valley State Hospital (a.k.a Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center), a former prison that was run from 1924 to 1994 as a psychiatric institution.
It seems like there was more of an attempt to make this hospital a decent place to stay as far as asbestos -ridden old buildings go–at least that’s my semi-educated guess from photos showing what appears to be recreational equipment, a theater room and an old piano. But this may be deceiving – Wikipedia’s page for Harlem Valley State Hospital has a link at the bottom to their page on “Unethical Human Experimentation In The United States” (yet another disturbing unspoken history shared by medical institutions and prisons alike.) I can’t specifically find Harlem Valley mentioned on that page, though there’s some nasty stuff on Bellevue and of course Willowbrook, as far as things in this area go. What sort of place had it been?
As long as I’m creating another BFMH2014 post, I guess I’ll check in myself a bit. I’ve had a rough week with the kind of sickly clammy anxiety attacks I haven’t experienced in years. I’m a few days shy of completing a 90-day sobriety trial, which may play into it. (It surely plays into my odd dreams of random figures offering me hot sake and such.) But really, it began the morning the two buildings exploded in Spanish Harlem. This occurred in close proximity to my Dad and Stepmother, and like most of El Barrio, they do go to the market on 116th, so that anxiety makes sense. The thing is, even after I called him and confirmed they were ok, despite being woken up by the blast, the anxiety has still continued through the week. Is it still about that? Is it because I’m also angry that the media and ConEd have tried to spin this like it’s the victims’ fault for not report a gas leak soon enough? (How many of them had access to the basements anyway?) Is it something else? My counselor gave me some DBT worksheets to use in the next week, they seem to be geared towards making me more cognizant of what stimulus is creating what emotional responses. The sheets are labeled “Emotional Record” and when I first glanced over as he was pulling them out of a drawer I thought they said “Emotional Rescue”. Ha. I’m no doubt headed for a schizoaffective Altamont, but I’m well past my 19th Nervous Breakdown. Ok, I’ll stop now. Check out Julia Wertz’s photographs!