I'm a twit too

Monday, January 31, 2011

SAFETY NETS - THE ASYLUM - Down the ages with STD's and Mental Disorder!







My Great Great Grandmother, Catherine 'Katie' Fagan was born and bred and died in Dublin - 1873-1925:
Life in the nineteenth century tenement suggested an intolerable emotional and physical strain, a constant battle against debilitating disease, a daily assault on the senses of sight, hearing, and above all, smell. Dear Dirty Dublin,by Joseph O'Brien
The Glasgow Hospital Registrar who admitted her daughter Christina (my Great Grandmother) to the Gartloch Asylum in January 1923 made a note that her mother was also in an Asylum!
Until we have evidence, I assume she would have been a patient in the main psychiatric hospital in Dublin.
Richmond Lunatic Asylum, Grangegorman, Dublin
Grangegorman Community Museum
Catherine's father, James Fagan had served in the British Army.
She married a Scottish soldier in a kilt - a Seaforth Higlander.
Their daughter Christina wed a soldier too, but the young Privates brought into their marriage, the baggage of wreckless drinking and promiscuous promises. Thus it has ever been.  

Army medical records show my Great Great Grandfather
Robert Ross receiving treatment for the sexually transmitted diseases of  gonnorhea and syphilis. 
In the nineteenth century this meant the excruciating and embarrassing  treatment of injections of mercury into the eye of the penis. 

The medicine can send you mentally unstable as much as the bacteria. Until the discovery of antibiotics husbands would pass the disease to their wives who could suffer the effects along with any fetus they were carrying.

Sexually transmitted diseases were so common as much as HIV/AIDS or genital herpes are today. Like in today's third world countries much suffering and death in populations is caused by neglect of prevention strategies and/or medication. 
For generations these facts of life would be a silent shame. 

Hospital notes in Glasgow show Christina's father is an alcoholic.(The culture of excessive boozing is not isolated to the armed services but it is a hazard to join up in any age and find yourself  being another casualty of addiction and making a mess of private lives on the outside.)

My Great Grandfather Thomas Clarke left his wife with the nurse, bruised, pregnant  and insane.
I like to imagine she would have had a decent bath, fresh clothes, bed sheets, and regular food: care and attention she probably wouldn't have had for a long time. No responsibilities but to cope with her own deteriorating illness.

Staff at Gartloch ordered Mr. Clarke to attend Tent Hall, Glasgow. It was a condition if he was to receive some money from the Poor Relief Fund.
In 1923 efforts to rehabilitate drunks were run by the United Evangelical Association's lantern slide show on the evils of the alcohol.
No surprise it wasn't enough to piss his demons off. To turn the corner of his multi-diagnosis of epilepsy, alcoholism and syphilis,
the Glasgow authority sends my Nan's unknown father Thomas to the Dykebar Hospital- Paisley. 

He would be a patient there for three years, and his three children, including my Grandmother Kathleen(sometimes recorded by her grandmother's name of Catherine), were boarded out separately as wards of the Parish of Glasgow's Roman Catholic Church.
Knowledge of their mother and father would be lost to them in their life-time. Only today, with access to archives can we shed light and learn about his and her stories, and why a sense of grief is piled upon grief.
Renfrew Districk Lunatic Asylum, Dykebar Hospital.
There was no cure for what ailed them. Overcrowded hospitals and lack scientific knowledge meant that peace and quiet was not guaranteed unless one was well enough to go for a walk in the parklands around the many institutions. Often built on prime acreage in cities around the world they are regularly being revamped as educational or housing establishments.
 Progress for the city of Dublin - Grangegorman Master Plan

The Westmoreland Lock Hospital in Dublin had catered for the majority of the civilian population with Syphilis, and other veneral diseases since 1792. It was a State funded hospital, as the British Government had to invest in the health of it's soldiers so they were able to fight and die - honourably!
Those who had developed psychosis from the disease, alcohol or both would have been admitted to the Richmond District Asylum, Grangegorman.

PSYCHOSIS: a condition caused by any one of a group of illnesses which affect the brain, where there is some loss of contact with reality. With time and proper treatment, most people recover from a psychotic episode. Many never have an episode again.
For some there may be further episodes, especially where there has been insufficient treatment or symptoms do not respond to treatment. Symptoms many also affect how well the person manages day-to-day life, causing varying degrees of psychiatric disability. It is important therefore, that those affected receive rehabilitation and support for this disability, as well as clinical treatment for the actual illness. (The Sane Guide to Psychosis)
Sane website Australia

Dublin in the time Catherine Ross nee Fagan lived  would have been enough to send anybody mad with or without tertiary Syphilis! Poverty and malnutrition and bringing children into the world would have been stressful and exhausting. 
Whilst there were thousands of malnourished Irish experiencing the same living conditions, she would have still suffered the STIGMA of her mental disorder and her CLASS.

                                                     OUTSIDE OF THE ASYLUM
1922-1923 Irish Civil War - and the Rare Old Times Song
from The Dubliners
Compared to most of my maternal lineage, I have a comfortable and stable existence with a husband who doesn't drink and cooks me a steak when I menstruate! Even so, I rely on the safety-net of the public mental health service when I am out of answers. In Catherine's day I would have been labelled a 'pauper lunatic', in 1996 I was a 'client'...of an Asylum with Palm Trees!
Wolston Park Asylum complex c.1938 Queensland


"...admitted for two weeks with a brief psychotic episode characterised by vagueness, perplexity and labile effect with formal thought disorder and auditory hallucinations and possible somatic hallucinations. There was no evidence of clouding and she has been treated for a depressive illness from early 1996...Her final diagnosis was Brief Psychotic Episode with some mood features."

It was a 2-5 year stretch of recovering from the shock and trauma of losing my mind. It affected my ability to work and study and I struggled in valuing my existence.

The voices were clear inside and outside of my head; FIND THE CENTRE. FIND THE CENTRE. I couldn't keep still you see, couldn't stop walking in circles. 
The Aboriginal women knew I was exhausted as I lay on the verandah of my old Queenslander settler home, and I felt their healing hearts.
They sat around me, in the shade of desert bush as if everything was normal, no need to panic, stay centred and go with it, accepting, without worrying; having faith.

A few minutes later and I had to get up again and move. Even my sister Deb who worked her healing ways with the City of Birmingham's homeless and abused had run out of answers, and I wanted to stop going in circles.

I needed modern psychiatric care; I was fortunate to live in a country with free universal health care fought for by the Australian Labor Party - I recovered at the Barrett Centre with the compassionate, knowledgeable guidance of doctors and nurses - saying I could take all the time I needed. 

 HONEY ANT DREAMING - by Lorna Napparula in Lajamanu.
Unlike the flat  straight Tanami desert road raising rusty orange, the road that rose to meet me then was a roller-coaster, of course, of course: the Irish political activist and playwright Sean O'Casey had sat in his Dublin tenement around the corner from my Irish ancestors with voices being put to paper of characters that I can understand -

Bessie: I left her sleeping quietly. When I'm listenin' to her babblin', I think she'll never be much betther than she is. Her eyes have a hauntin' way of lookin' in instead of lookin' out, as if the mind had been lost alive in madly minglin' memories of th' past....(sleepily) Crushin' her thoughts...together...in a fierce...an' fanciful(she nods her head and starts wakefully) idea that dead things are livin', an' livin' things are dead...
The Plough and the Stars,
Sean O'Casey: Three Dublin Plays, Faber&Faber

I didn't know about the Irish in my veins then, but I did feel the ages, past, present and future seizing my psyche and body. 


For my Great Great Grandmother Ross nee Fagan - she was in her grave after two years of being hospitalised. There was a family plot at Glasnevin Cemetry, to bury her in on  March 27th 1925 in the Irish Free State, aged 54yrs. Her husband Robert, lay under her from his buriel the year before, 1924, age 55yrs.

Their daughter Christina, dead at 28years in Glasgow was probably given to the anatomy students as a gift to science and a small recompense to Gartloch Asylum for her care. 
Christina's husband, my Great Grandfather gave their three children to the Catholic parish of Glasgow as he was in no mental or bodily fit state to care for them.
It wasn't long before he was admitted to the 'Paisley Asylum' near Glasgow, and until I gain access to records, one could assume that he suffered multiple diagnoses which required treatment for three years.
His death certificate suggest that on his release he got a ship-yard labouring job on the Greenock docks, and re-married, but he had given up on connecting with his bairns - scattered as they were. 
Unknown to his adult children and grand-children he died in 1950 aged 58yrs.

Christina's brother James Ross and his cousin James Fagan were fighting fit at 19years when sent to France in 1914. His cousin died in action and James Ross won a medal and stripes for his efforts with the Machine Gunner Corps of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

He was war wounded, but he married, and managed a job in the seat of Imperial power, Dublin Castle - the Paymaster's office.
Being the most well-off member of the family in Great Longford Street, it was probably James who made sure of a place for the Ross-Fagan kin in Glasneven Cemetry - no Celtic cross or names inscribed - numbers on file, but one up from the paupers grave.

Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
It wasn't War that killed the war hero, Home Guard of WW2 and Civil servant -  at 46years of age; the epidemic of Influenza in 1940 knocked him out. 

During my recovery I would take a little walk around Wolston Park complex.
I came across two small chapels, one obviously Protestant because of it's sedate appearance compared to the decorative Catholic shelter. 
My choice was made easier by the beauty of  a stain-glass window on the right of the altar. 

Poetry had been my companion since I left home at 16; my own musings and the inspiration of others: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all 
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."(Keats)

It was the masterful picture of  a strong young woman with sword to the ground in the chapel window which I thought might be Joan of Arc which drew me in. Mesmerised by the artistry and boldness, but not being brought up a Catholic I didn't understand that whilst the religion itself was patriarchal and against the equality of women there was a long history of venerated females. 

I must have been mad for when I returned to the Nurses station I requested a Priest! I thirsted. I had to follow my curiosity. It was also an excuse to confront my demon:
Only hours before I had been overwhelmed by a whirly wind of ancient antagonisms with my mother as a source of victim to the almighty Catholic God and the Word which cursed her illigitimacy, engendering stigma and cruelty for generations.

The Hierachy wanted those babies to be baptised in the one true faith, but treated them with malicious contempt. I was mad, and angry, and I broke out into tears, huddled into the ground, letting everything empty - all the sadness and tragedy. I wanted to avenge the injustice!

Father Smith came(not very Irish - I felt like I was not getting an authentic representative!). Perhaps I was right, because I gasped when he said he hadn't noticed who it was on the window.(Of his own chapel!) 

He was going on a retreat, he said and would bring an answer after the weekend. 

Monday morning the priest brought me a little card and told me her name was Saint Dymphna - the Patroness of the Mentally Ill, the Insane, Epileptics, Intellectually disabled - she covered anything to do with the brain and it's disorders!
She was nothing like the medieval girl-page of the chapel window I had been attracted to, but the little booklet about her legacy was a revelation and gave me faith in the ability of human beings to be caring and enlightened.

In the 7th century, in Roman Catholic Ireland, Dympna was born to  a noble Irish lady called, Odilla. She was a Christian married to a pagan Irish King of Oriel. His name was Damon.

Dymphna was growing to be as beautiful as her kind and compassionate mother, but tragedy struck when Odilla died when her daughter was 14 years old.

The King was grief-stricken but as time went on, everybody in the kingdom was wondering if he would ever get over the loss, so his advisors suggested he find a replacement! 

They sent out horsemen all over the land looking for a beauty to equal his dead wife, but they couldn't find her. However, one day King Damon's daughter caught his eye - Dympna could be his wife returned to him. She was a gift from the gods. She was his!

His advisors didn't see anything wrong in the King marrying his 15 year old daughter - they were only concerned he would be back to his old self and do his job of ruling.

Dymphna got scared at her fathers advances towards her, so she told her life-long priest, Father Gereberne and they made plans to escape.

When the Moon was in darkness, they silently made their way to the boat waiting to carry them across the treacherous North Sea, praying they would find a safe haven. 
Very weary, they landed and went ashore, finding refuge in the forest of Geel where there was a chapel of  St. Martin. 

However, her father, the King was so mad at not getting his own irrational way that he became obsessed and sent all his spies to find the girl and her priest.

Dymphna and Father Gereberne had slowly begun to be known to the people of the village. It didn't take Dymphna long to learn the local language, although being a lot older the priest could only learn one word at a time, but he knew his Latin, the universal language of religious clergy, so he could share Mass wherever he went.

All of a sudden they were set upon by the Celtic King and his soldiers. When Dymphna refused to go back with him to Ireland and marry him, and turned her back, to kneel at the chapel alter and pray, the man was blind with rage. He raised his battle sword and cut off his daughter's head.
Pottery sculpture @ http://faculty.samford.edu

The wonderful thing about this story that has been passed down by oral tradition over hundreds of years, is that the people of Geel wanted to do something good in the memory of Dymphna and her priest who was also slain, and in a way that showed compassion to the mentally deranged like her father had become.

After reports of miracles, people would come to the town if they were mentally ill so a hospital was built, but there were still too many coming, so the villagers began to take in guests. 
It became a natural thing to do, so even today it is known that once mentally ill people are getting better, they are fostered by a family, found work and generally become part  of the community.

In 1247 the Pope called her a Saint. In 1996 she fulfilled my love for learning something new - the grand adventure.

 Secular Saint in Australia is cartoonist  Michael Leunig......


 Thanks to a local G.P. I was finally given a diagnosis of Bi-Polar Mood Affective Disorder. MILD Type2.

It made so much sense. Then began a new regime of monitoring and managing the madness - mainly deep depression with SSRI's and sodium valproate for mood stabiliser. You become an Encylopedia and occasionally  contribute to society's knowledge in book, in blog, or public speaking.

It is a Science, experimenting with medicines until you get the right doseage with the least harm. After a couple of years my Psychiatrist and I found LITHIUM enabled me to function in the world - the right balance.

I may get the shakes a bit, but there are tiny pills for that, and I might believe in the reality and evidence of Science rather than fly with the Angels, Witches and want Jesus as my Lover, BUT I am doing what I like doing, WITH SLIGHT DISABLING SYMPTOMS that single me out as
A Square Peg In A Round Hole....

Finding the Centre - in Australia
Uluru, NT Tour 1989

No comments:

Post a Comment

Featured Post

Katy Fegan and the Curragh Of Kildare

My Inbox held a special treat - news of the new album by a special Voice in my life - Kevin Rowland.  Now for my grandson's musical e...