Sunday, 23 October 2011

Ivy May - A Little Raggedy Asylum Doll

I've been reading quite a few different books and accounts about the treatment that women received at insane asylums through the Victorian era, and how that treatment changed as science and medical knowledge grew.

It's still amazing to me how barbaric some of the treatments were. It wasn't that long ago, but the "experts" knew very little about how to treat even the simplest mental conditions. Resorting to horrific procedures that more often than not only made the poor patients worse, and gave them further problems to deal with.

The book Women Of The Asylum by Jeffrey Geller and Maxine Harris is a very moving collection of the experiences that 25 women went through during the Victorian age in America. Each account written by the women themselves either during their commitments or after their release.

Each of them felt it necessary to share what had happened to them with the world. Either to try and make sense of it for themselves, or to try and open the eyes of the ignorant public to what was actually going on behind those big locked gates. Some of them even campaigning for reform of behalf of those they had left behind.

It's a truly touching book that deals with many aspects of life at a Victorian Insane Asylum. and as each account is written by the women themselves, everything is written in the gentle, refined tones of the time.

The descriptions of what they went through is enough to bring tears to even the hardest heart. The experimental surgery, the harsh treatment and beatings by attendants and nurses that themselves had been promoted from among the patients, the water treatments, mental torture and often filthy conditions...

These women went through Hell and were somehow still strong enough to re-visit their ordeals by writing them down for others to read.
One of the things that stuck with me after finishing this book, other than the main women that were sharing their stories, were the glimpses they shared of the other women that they saw around them.

Total lack of understanding about mental conditions meant that most of the women writing these accounts were perfectly sane. Probably even more so than most of us, convicted to the care of asylums because someone wanted them out of the way, or because they held views that their fathers and husbands did not agree with. Some even for being too fond of clothes or for just not being as pretty as they once were.

But the women they describe around them are the ones that actually had problems. The ones that needed care and proper treatment, but received cruelty and abandonment instead. Left to fend for themselves in filth and confusion while the lazy staff forced them to scrub floors and do laundry to avoid being beaten or starved.

I know that this has to be one of the oddest subjects for a doll that there is, but these glimpsed snapshots of asylum inmates just stick with me, yearning to be made into something tangible, something that can be cared for and looked after. Something that can be given a good home, maybe a pretty view for them to look at, or a generous heart to help balance their minds.

So when one of these poor creature gets louder and louder in my mind, begging to be made into reality, who am I really to say no to them.
Why shouldn't they be made?

I know that I'm not the only one that has suffered from some sort of mental condition form time to time. We've all experienced stress at some point during our lives, maybe a period of depression, or even the occasional outburst of hysteria or panic.
Then there are those that struggle with greater problems such as long term depression, nervous breakdowns, or horrible phobias . And know we know enough of these awful conditions to know how the treat them, to have sympathy for the sufferers, and to treat them with respect.

I've seen what happens to people that suffer from depression and stress up close quite a few times through my life. And am always amazed how people manage to carry on and live their lives.

I've been there when family members and close friends have been suffering beyond anything I could do anything to help with. And I've seen them come out of the other side of the most hideous experiences and illnesses to be an even stronger more beautiful person than they were before.

I'm always amazed how my loved and cherished family and friend always manage to amaze me more as time passes with their strength and courage.

Just recently I know that I've been suffering from a form of depression brought on by very low levels of iron in my blood. Although I've been anaemic most of my life, these sudden drops always leave me tearful, confused, prone to panic attacks, feeling ill with no energy and tired beyond the point of sleep, which of course only makes matters worse. Add to that external pressure from my day job, worries about how I'm going to manage to fix my living room ceiling after a big chunk fell in, and having problems with my back again and I'm surprised I've got anything done at all.

But we do, don't we?
We carry on and make the best of things.
And that's why humanity is so amazing. And why I'll continue to make these sad little creatures when one decides it's time to be made. And I hope that someone out there can understand why I do it, and open up their lives to a doll like Ivy May.

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