Anonymous, 1976: Serving Time at Lakeshore
The summer of 1976 was spent waitressing in a seedy, sleazy hotel called Ye Old City Hall, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, bar brawls, blood, broken glass and all. The other waitresses were friendly and I achieved a certain amount of social success there. My bosses were pleasant, fair-minded and overlooked a lot of my mistakes. We made about thirty bucks a night in tips, as it was a very busy place, and this made up for having to mop up puddles of blood occasionally.
My emotional problems abated somewhat, although the nagging depression that caused me to want to sleep most of the day hung on like a damp fog. When the fall descended, I felt semi-confident that I’d do much better academically and socially than the previous year. Of course, I’d promised myself that last time.
I was back in residence again, having decided not to rent an apartment off-campus. I should have, because most students found that dorm life was pretty much intolerable after a couple of years, but I thought I could handle it. Besides, it was better to have a large group of people around all the time than be isolated in a high-rise.
Alice lived in a huge, ultra-modern complex near the campus called University City. She’d moved in with Ian, after they overcame their personal difficulties over the summer. He was good for her, I thought, stable and considerate.
I became close friends with Adele and Judith that year, as they, like myself, were serious, intense and wanted to effect positive changes in the world after they graduated. Adele wanted to be a lawyer and was majoring in history. She worked slavishly, as did Judith, a psychology major. I took their lead and began the semester studying very hard.
I was enrolled in two English courses, two Humanities ones and a film course, having abandoned Philosophy as a minor and deciding upon Humanities. My thinking seemed to be more in tuned with that form of reasoning anyway. I hadn’t made up my two dropped courses from second year, but figured I would before graduation. There still seemed to be plenty of time. 1978 still appeared a long way off. I’d be twenty-three then, practically middle-aged.
I discovered that Doug and Maureen were back together. Doug approached me one night and was extraordinarily kind and gentle to me. He said he didn’t really burn my love letter, as he claimed he did the year before in a fit of rage and that I meant a lot to him. Suddenly, it was safe now, since he was betrothed to another. I smiled and wished him happiness, secretly pining for him still.
Cal and Lorna were hot and heavy, although she had confided to me recently that she thought he was getting “weirder and weirder.” I didn’t think she should be slagging him behind his back if she was supposedly in love with the guy, but I said nothing.
I also became tight with Christina S., who’d recently been unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend, Richard. She cried for weeks in her room afterward, but eventually recovered enough to regain her previously cheerful disposition. During her mourning period, she lost an incredible amount of weight and looked amazingly trim. I barely recognized her, except for her distinctive buck teeth and granny glasses.
Christina was wonderful, funny, extremely intelligent, hilariously sarcastic, with a very sensible head on her slim shoulders. She had heard rumours that I had tried to kill myself the year before and assured me that I would “live to regret it” if I repeated the performance.
She cared about me a lot, but didn’t want me dissolving into a pile of self-pity dust. “You’re too smart for that crap,” she sniffed. “Look around you at all the dummies in this school who’ll never amount to anything. You’ll go places, girl. Just keep your head together.”
I had a dear English professor named Derek Cohen, whom I learned to respect highly. I did a tutorial on “Madame Bovary” and he was impressed at the firm grasp I had on the character’s tortured psyche. I think he knew I was experiencing some emotional difficulties and was very kind and sweet to me.
Professor Hill was another matter. He taught one of my Humanities courses on Shakespeare and decided early on that I wasn’t a particularly gifted student. He didn’t like any of my essays and whenever I’d comment during his tutorials, he’d either ignore me or disagree with whatever I said. He chose favourites as well, and made it quite obvious who those fortunate students, all female, were.
The other two professors were pleasant, though, particularly Professor Ewen, a proper Englishman whom I’d had in first year teaching the Romantic Literature course. He was curiously eccentric and absolutely adored William Blake and instilled a love in me for this insightful poet that remains today. Ewen looked like a cross between Donald Pleasance and Ray Milland, thus bringing two more screen luminary look-alikes into the York University environment.
The film professor was a rather strict but kind-hearted middle-aged man whose name escapes me, but he taught us to appreciate the American cinema, past and present. I first learned to love screenwriting during this period in my life.
Even with the compassion and enthusiasm of Professors Cohen and Ewen, my depression persisted and was aggravated by some paralyzing anxiety attacks that made it nearly impossible for me to attend some of my classes. I’d suddenly become gripped with fear that something terrible was about to happen, even though there was no logical explanation for the sensation. I’d feel as though I was suffocating and that my heart was fluttering wildly against my chest wall, banging around in a chaotic fashion. These panic attacks lasted for several minutes and during that time I wouldn’t budge, fearful that I would start flailing about like a madwoman. After it was over, I was left feeling exhausted and drained.
I started taking Librium again, which seemed to be effective in curbing the attacks, and enabled me to attend my lectures and tutorials. However, the drug caused excessive drowsiness and several times I nodded off in class. This didn’t go over big with some of my professors and tutorial leaders and they recommended that I do my sleeping at night instead of partying.
As the Christmas season neared, I knew that I wasn’t going to do well scholastically that year at all, since I was unable to concentrate and my courses all seemed to require far too much reading. Unread books piled up on my desk, my room fell into a state of pure squalor and I became too lethargic to either study or tidy up. My face broke out in a rude case of acne as I was too depressed to shower regularly. I even slept in my clothes and wouldn’ t change them for days at a time. I lived on coffee and cigarettes, foregoing nutrition for a jolt of caffeine and nicotine.
My friends were getting quite concerned about me and made valiant attempts to get me to seek professional help. I refused, telling them that I had tried talking to people and they were crazier than I was.
I sifted languidly through the days, barely aware of my surroundings. I was consumed with thoughts of death, felt constantly nauseated and achy and had no energy for even talking to anyone.
Christina gave me some space, as did Judith, but Adele persisted in trying to straighten me out. She told me that she had suffered periods of depression in high school and they had nearly destroyed her.
I didn’t go home often, as Mom was still very despondent over the dissolution of her marriage, and I felt I couldn’t tell her about my problems. I hid at York, lying to her and assuring her that everything was “just fine.“ I didn’t see much of Dad or Jim, and rarely visited my Grandparents, who must have known something was wrong with me.
I began to lose touch with reality during the Christmas break and stayed in my bedroom at home in London. I just lay on my bed, feeling that I was being visited my mysterious aliens who would occasionally whisper to me in low, guttural voices. I couldn’t make out any distinct words, but I got the impression that I was being comforted by something or someone who was mysteriously hovering above and reading my mind.
For some reason, I thought all of this was perfectly normal and accepted the voices as elements who were there to get me through my hideous nightmare.
When classes resumed in early January of 1977, I didn’t even go through the motions of being an active university student anymore. I abandoned my tutorials, except for Derek Cohen’s and only occasionally attended my lectures.
My grades slipped drastically, due in part to this benign neglect, and also because the essays I did manage to rattle off were poorly thought out and badly constructed. I’d taken pride in my schoolwork in the past, but now it was unimportant and extraneous, with no meaning and little intrinsic value. As I slid down the drain academically, any sense of security I might have clung to in the past dissolved completely.
Then came the fateful accusation of plagiarism by Professor Hill that pushed me violently over the edge. It was a paper about Shakespeare’s philosophical outlook upon love and relationships. Although it was not a very good essay, I spent more time on it than I had on any other during the month of January.
When I got it back, Hill had scrawled a horrific “F” across the bottom in bold, red ink and wrote that I had obviously stolen my ideas and concepts from a published source.
I felt terrible, never having failed anything in my life before and I bristled at the accusation of plagiarism. I most definitely hadn’t stolen anything, so in a black fit of pique, I wrote Hill a long letter. It stated, among other things, that he needed to quote my supposed sources before giving me a failing grade.
I never gave him the message, though, for the night before, my life changed forever and was rudely swept out of my control and far from the university campus.
I sat in my cluttered, filthy room, listening to Cat Stevens’ “Sad Lisa” over and over. Cal had once told me that it was a hauntingly appropriate song for me and my troubled life. As I sat on an unmade bed, drinking Johnny Walker scotch, my eyes filled with tears.
Suddenly, frighteningly, a strange, sinister voice began taunting me from my left stereo speaker. I had been experiencing a lot of these auditory phenomena lately but none of the voices had sounded negative before. It was a male voice, low and evil-sounding, and began chanting repeatedly, in a throaty, flat tone, “You know what you have to do. Punishment is in order.”
I had bought a package of razor blades the day before, feeling the need to mutilate myself. It had been preying on my mind for weeks, the urge to cut and experience the sensation of warm blood spurting from the wound and running everywhere.
Still, I fought this compulsion daily, knowing instinctively that if I began slashing I would be unable to stop. Now, as the frightening voice assailed me, I remembered the blades and allowed my gaze to light upon the desk drawer where they were safely tucked away.
The voice repeated its command, louder this time, with more insistence and anger. I knew that the time had arrived to go a step further than simply cut for self-abusive purposes.
Feeling numb and wooden, I got off the bed, walked over to my desk and opened the drawer. The packaged of blades beamed up at me as if to say, “We knew you’d come for us. ”
Fumbling with the cardboard covering, I extricated one of the objects of destruction and sat back down on the bed. The voice nagged at me, overpowering Cat Stevens’ plaintive vocals. The time was ripe for death; it would come as a blessed release from my mental torment and the overwhelming malaise that had gripped me for so long now.
Raising the blade, I slashed across my left wrist, not realizing that you have to cut vertically to inflict a mortal wound.
Just then a voice rang out from the other side of the door. “Hey, Jane! Could you please turn your stereo down? It’s awful loud.” It was Adele.
I was afraid to move, fearing the nasty voice in the speaker would be furious if I became distracted. The music stayed at its present volume and the obviously exasperated Adele rapped again and shouted over the music, “Jane, I’m not trying to be a bitch, but could you please just turn the volume down? I’m trying to study. Hello? Is everything okay in there?”
The next few minutes are very fuzzy; I can’t recall how Adele figured that something was wrong, but she evidently got the resident don and insisted that she use her master key to gain entry into my room.
I remember the don becoming alarmed at what I had done and trying to talk to me. I was deathly afraid of my mysterious voices and said little. She took me to the emergency room at York–Finch Hospital where I was sewn up and drilled by a young male intern for over an hour.
He asked me if I was attempting suicide, but I refused to answer and hoped that I would be allowed to leave as soon as possible. The intern decided that I should be admitted to the hospital’s psychiatric wing for observation. “You’ll only be here for twenty-four hours or so,” he assured me when I expressed my distaste for hospitals. “Don’t worry, you were probably just crying out for help. I don’t think you ’re in too serious trouble.”
I didn’t tell him about the voices I’d been experiencing, because I knew that would get me committed for sure. However, as an orderly took me upstairs to the psychiatric floor, I couldn’t help feeling a strong desire to get some help for a problem which had gone careening out of control during the past few months. Perhaps I should come clean and tell the doctors everything and then I could get over the nightmare that was stealing my life, inch by inch.
It was very late, so when I arrived at the floor, everyone was in bed and the unit was shrouded in darkness. I crawled into an institutional bed in a quiet, semi-private room and lay there for the next few hours, huddled in a fetal position and shaking with the fear of the unknown. The voices had ceased for the time being and I fervently hoped they would never show themselves to me again.
Should I tell them about those voices? What would happen to me if I did? I was already doing poorly in my classes, so I couldn’t afford to miss any time from school. Did Adele and Judith know where I was?
I drifted off into an uneasy sleep, painfully aware of the throbbing in my wounded wrist. God, I’m a bona fide nutcase now, I thought ruefully, and I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of others. I hope my family doesn’t find out about this.
The next morning, I was awakened by a relentlessly chipper, cheerful nurse and instructed to go for pills and breakfast in the lounge.
I walked out into a bright, pink-walled room full of patients sitting about, some staring off into space, others engaged in conversation with one another. I sat by myself in a far corner, not wishing to mingle with any of these people and most definitely not feeling as though I had anything in common with them, particularly the corpulent, middle-aged man nearby who was drooling and sitting stiff and immobile.
I was handed a small paper cup with my Anafranil and wondered how the hell they knew that I was taking this medication. Breakfast was inedible, some sort of pasty-looking hot cereal and dry toast. I drank the juice and coffee, then made a concerted effort not to overhear any of the patients’ conversations. That was impossible, because this cheerful, perky blonde woman with a thick Scottish brogue began chatting about a place called “The Lakeshore” and expressed extreme relief that she wasn’t in that “terrible place.”
I assumed she was referring to a psychiatric hospital, one which sounded more like Dachau or Auschwitz than an institution for helping people get over various mental infirmities. From the sound of it, I shared her sense of gratitude about being at York–Finch.
Later that day, after lying on my bed and staring at the tiles on the ceiling, the voices began again, accusing me of wimpling out on my suicide plans and damning me severely. The same throaty tone, this time emanating from the fluorescent light over the bed, began to instruct me to find another sharp object and repeat my actions of the previous night. This time there was to be no slipping up.
Terror-stricken, I decided to spill my guts to the psychiatrist who called me into his office soon after to see that I was stable enough to leave. I stammered in frightened tones that I had been hearing voices for several months and that they were telling me to destroy myself. Fear of their hostility was overriding my discomfort at being confined in hospital and I sighed with relief when the doctor spoke kindly and gently to me. He said that they would certainly be able to help me there.
The psychiatrist gave me a white pill and said, “This will help you with the voices, ” then instructed me to return to my room and rest.
I don’t remember calling my parents and telling them that I had been admitted to the hospital, but I’m pretty sure they found out about it soon afterward. I had no idea how long I’d be at York–Finch, but I knew that it was not a long-term facility. I felt comfortable and secure in the knowledge that this medication I had been given would solve all my problems and return me to my previous self. Life would be worth living again and I wouldn ’t be a failure, having to drop out of York and push drinks to leering customers for the rest of my days.
The next morning, I was assaulted with vicious words from my demons. That now-familiar voice accused me vituperatively of being a shameful coward for betraying him and uncovering his presence. I was instructed to steal a China cup from my breakfast tray and break it in the sink, after which I was to cut my throat with a piece of it. I knew that I had no choice, that if I didn’t kill myself, this tormentor would. I thus followed his instructions and hid in the bathroom to accomplish my sad mission.
I was not to have any privacy, however. They had moved me into an observation room with another girl named Linda, who was being watched twenty-four hours a day. I guess they figured I was a measure of risk and decided that a nurse should sit with me constantly.
So when I entered the bathroom, a nurse followed me and stood there quietly as I took the cup from my robe. She hadn’t seen me remove it from the tray. “Give me the cup, please.”
I ignored her and without hesitating, smashed the cup on the edge of the sink, and grasped a large, sharp chunk of it in my hand.
Suddenly, my “guard” yelled for assistance, and leapt on top of me, twisting my arm behind my back and shoving her knee on top of my wildly kicking legs.
Then there was a whole throng of attendants piling onto me. I fought valiantly, screaming and struggling to hold onto my piece of china. Then someone wrestled it out of my clenched fist and I was being lifted from the floor and onto the bed.
To my horror, I was placed in some kind of canvas harness and it was secured tightly to the bed while I heard one of the nurses say to another, “She’s psychotic; I know that look.”
Then I felt a sharp stab in my left hip and realized that they must have given me a shot of some kind of tranquillizer. It took three doses of Thorazine to calm me down sufficiently, because after the first I overheard that I would be sent to Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital.
Remembering what I’d overheard about that terrible place, I screamed in protest. “She doesn’t want to go, I guess,” someone said, “Well, I’ve got news for her. She can’t behave like this here.”
Later, I was prepared for transport to the dreaded purgatory. After the ambulance attendant had placed me on a stretcher I fumbled in a drugged haze for the phone to call Adele and tell her where I was going. I told her I broke a cup, and she responded that it was no big deal. She didn’t know all the details and after the receiver dropped from my limp hand, everything went spiralling into a black void.
“I think she’s finally coming around,” I heard a female voice say from somewhere off in the distance. “Yeah, you’re right, it’s about time.” Opening my eyes, I felt my thickened head spin wildly. My mouth seemed to be stuffed with cotton and every muscle in my body ached. As my vision cleared, I looked into the face of a young black woman.
“Hi,” she said, smiling with open friendliness. “You know you’ve been out of it for three days. Welcome to Lakeshore. I’m Jeannette, and this is Debbie. ” She pointed to a large, obese woman of about twenty who chirped, “Hi, want to get the hell out of bed?”
I nodded, a wave of nausea washing through me. “Yeah. What is this place anyway? ” I noticed that I was in a large room with garish yellow walls and two long rows of narrow beds. Old, worn curtains separated each bed and there were small tables beside them. It looked like something out of a World War II movie about an army infirmary. I wasn’t particularly impressed.
There were about twenty patients in the room, all women of various ages, sizes and races. Suddenly a young, pixy-faced girl rushed over to me and exclaimed, “Hey, you cut your wrist? Let’s see.”
Her name was Sharon P. and I was to later discover that she had been in and out of the place many times. She was married and had two young children, and had a great difficulty coping with her life.
I reluctantly showed her my bandaged wrist, then made an effort to stand up. I felt as though I’d been whacked over the head with a tree trunk, but after a few minutes, the drugged sensation abated somewhat and I managed to walk a few steps across this dismal-looking room.
I learned that two of my university friends had been to visit me for the past three days while I was “out to lunch” and had tried several times to get me out of bed. Evidently I collapsed on the floor every time and had to be lifted back onto the mattress by staff members.
The two friends had been Adele and Judith and it turned out that they were extremely faithful about visiting me, coming every day for many miles across the city to offer comfort and support. I was very grateful but felt that they were wasting a great deal of their free time with someone like me, who had gotten herself into that mess in the first place.
I discovered that Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital was made up of cottages, small, one-storey wooden buildings strewn over a wooded area on the shores of Lake Ontario. I was in Cottage B, an admitting building and apparently the best one of the bunch to be confined in, according to Debbie. She said you had the ability to acquire privileges, including weekend passes.
These privileges had to be earned, however and the ward was locked at all times. The nurses at Cottage B were pleasant enough, and dressed in street clothes. In the beginning, I felt that the negative rumours I’d been privy to at York–Finch were totally erroneous. I figured that I probably wouldn’t be there that long and that the patients weren ’t something repulsive and people to walk in fear of at all.
My voices had stopped during my first week there and within several days I earned the privilege of wearing my clothes instead of pyjamas.
Jeannette and Debbie became my buddies and although they obviously had some emotional difficulties, they were kind, helpful and good company when I felt isolated from my previous “outside life.” Debbie’s depression, she reasoned, stemmed from the fact that she had gained ninety pounds in the past year on her medication. She figured that if she got down to her previous weight, her troubles would evaporate. I wasn’t too certain because her moods seemed to yo-yo with great alarm, shooting to euphoric heights and plummeting to dismal lows.
Jeannette was quiet, a sullen girl who perked up occasionally but spent a lot of time sitting on her bed with her head lowered. I felt sorry for her, but she only seemed to feel comfortable confiding in Debbie. So I let it be.
Sharon got released in a few days, but returned less than twelve hours later with a bandaged wrist. It turned out that she would mimic everything that I did and after noting that I had cut myself, she followed suit. I was a bit irked, but kept my feelings to myself. Besides, I felt sorry for this poor girl, who obviously was not happy in her role as wife and mother in the suburbs of Toronto.
Ann was a very troubled sixteen-year-old who acted out frequently and couldn’t maintain her privilege level because she would have alarming screaming fits and pound her fists on the floor. She behaved more like an eight-year-old than a teenager, and I grew impatient with her obvious bids for attention. She followed me around, which I found most annoying and I would snap at her to “get lost” on many occasions. None of the other patients liked her, with the exception of twenty-one-year-old Judy F.
Judy lived with a brutish father who routinely abused her sexually, and the poor girl took her anger and revulsion out on herself, slashing her arms, savagely with razor blades. When met her, they were bandaged from elbow to wrist.
She was delicately pretty, with light blonde hair, pale blue eyes and an ethereal quality that made her father’s ugly actions even more atrocious and terrible. I talked to Judy a great deal, but she would speak about her dad with pretend banality, with an off-hand, casual attitude, as if the abuse didn’t bother her at all. Her thin, pathetic arms betrayed her, however.
Ellen was a middle-aged widow who yearned to be with her departed husband and in a mood of black despair, she stabbed herself forty times in the gut with a carving knife. This tiny, intense woman spoke calmly and matter-of-factly about how she’d lost most of her liver because of the suicide attempt and was disappointed that the doctors at Lakeshore didn’ t believe her when she assured them that she felt fine and was capable of returning home.
I didn’t buy it either and I knew that if Ellen was released, she’d make certain that her next attempt on her life would be successful. The thought gave me chills.
Joanne H. was a peculiar young woman who appeared to have the entire Cottage B staff wrapped around her pinkie. I couldn’t determine what was wrong with her, but she was sent to a general hospital for a week and returned bed-ridden and attached to an I.V.
Nurses milled about her and she took full advantage of her situation by issuing orders and whining profusely at every opportunity. Debbie said she must be very ill or the staff wouldn ’t put up with her antics. She looked like a female Harpo Marx, but unlike the famous comedy brother, Joanne was never silent.
I resented the attention she received and the manner in which she could do no wrong in the eyes of the ward authorities. The rest of us were kept on a very tight leash and told to kee our mouths shut most of the time.
I welcomed visits from my university friends, thus maintaining a link to a previous life, one of freedom and relative normality. Judith and Adele listened patiently while I glumly regaled them with tales of woe from mental hospital hell. After a week had elapsed, I fell into an awkward sort of routine, rising at seven in the morning, showering, milling into the communal dining room for meals, then trooping to occupational therapy, a kind of kindergarten for adults. Here, we fiddled around with lumps of clay, worked with tiny, ceramic tiles and learned how to do macrame.
Mom visited every weekend, but I don’t have much recollection of this, since my psychiatrist, Dr. Gauld, put me on a series of extremely potent major tranquilizers from day one of my “incarceration.”
Dr. Gauld was a personable, red-headed woman, looking nothing like my concept of a “ shrink,” but rather, more like somebody’s mother, or perhaps a high school math teacher. She spent a great deal of time with me, asking me about my voices and the depression which had overwhelmed me for so many years.
I was put on Mellaril, which made me stagger and drool, looking the part of the stereotypical mental patient. The dose was gradually increased so that I noticed the voices getting fainter and less frequent, but unfortunately, the drug gave me symptoms of tardif dyskonesia.
These included making uncontrollable movements with my mouth and tongue and touching my hand unconsciously to my lips. I didn’t realize that I was doing this, but my mother told me much later that it was very obvious when she saw me at Lakeshore. She grew increasingly distressed at how Mellaril was submerging my personality and spontaneity under river of drugged stagnation.
I remembered what Betty H. had said about the drug: That it had caused her considerable weight gain. Fearful of this, I cut down drastically on my eating and would only consume five hundred calories a day in an effort to stave off obesity, something I feared more than insanity.
I began to notice that I was losing touch with my senses and didn’t trust them anymore. I panicked when I felt myself drifting off into a great open pool of nothingness and in a desperate attempt to feel something, anything, I began burning the backs of my hands with the lit embers of my cigarettes.
I would crouch in the bathroom stall and press the burning end against my skin until my nostrils were overwhelmed by the odour of burning flesh. I’d repeat the action until there were several swollen welts looking defiantly at me. The pain was reassuring and also fed my craving for self-abuse.
It wasn’t long before I was discovered and my cigarettes were immediately confiscated. That didn’t stop me, however, for I would beg, borrow, or steal other patients’ cigarettes and sneak off for my bizarre, frightening ritual.
It bothered me a great deal that I wasn’t able to experience that kind of intense pain that the burning should rightly have produced. It was a dull, weak kind of discomfort, but burns were supposed to be the worst kind of agony. I desperately wanted to distract myself from the emotional wasteland I wandered in.
As the weeks progressed, I took on the role of the hapless guinea pig, as Dr. Gauld tried one drug after another in an effort to cut through the mental confusion and sense of hopelessness that enveloped me.
A great deal of my four-month period at Lakeshore is a miasmic blur, for I was almost completely out of touch with reality. I walked about, going through the motions of everyday activities, but not realizing that I was doing them. My single-minded purpose was to get myself to feel that I was really alive and not in some separate, frightening universe, damned forever and cruelly under the spell of my mysterious voices, which returned often to torment me.
I was run through a history of psychological tests, such as the popular inkblot one and asked hundreds of questions over a period of about two weeks or so. There seemed to be some definite contradictions, because even though I heard voices and seemed depressed and flat, I wasn’t experiencing delusions or convoluted thinking.
I wasn’t given a diagnosis there, but rather, I was treated symptomatically and believed to be seriously ill. One night, I broke the bulb from the nurses’ reading lamp and tried to slash my wrist with it, feeling unusually self-destructive.
The staff were extremely upset with me and made plans to send me to the infamous and dreaded S.O.U. I was sick with fear and revulsion, for this anacronym stood for Special Observation Unit and was a ward right out of The Snakepit. Here, all the patients ’ beds were in the centre of a square room, surrounded by iron bars.
On the other side, a large group of nurses and attendants watched constantly as people writhed, moaned, tore out their hair, made attempts to strangle and hit one another and rolled about on their beds in various contortions of mental agony.
My heart sank at the thought of being submitted to this hellhole and I pleaded with the nurses and Dr. Gauld to be given another chance. Fortunately for me, the S.O.U. was full and by the time a bed became available, I had greatly improved and didn’t have to be sent there at all. But it had been a close call.
I was tested on a vast number of antidepressants, such as Elavil, Ludiomil and one of the M.A.O. inhibitors. None of them seemed terribly effective, but finally Elavil was chosen because I experienced fewer side effects with it.
Mellaril was continued, along with a potent antipsychotic drug called Stelazine, which was supposed to be very effective in controlling auditory hallucinations. It worked well, but the side effects were somewhat distressing. It caused excessive restlessness and I couldn’t find a comfortable position, either sitting, standing or lying down without rocking continually. I felt as though I had to move some part of my body at all times.
I hated this; it was worse than Speed and gave me a quirky, itchy feeling in my chest. I should have been given Cogentin or Dissipal for the side effects, but wasn’t for some reason. The voices many have been under control with the Stelazine, but physically I was in extreme discomfort.
It wasn’t long before copycat Sharon began burning her hands with cigarettes and lost her privileges for a week. Then she stopped eating and drinking for six days and ended up sick and bedridden. My heart went out to her and I couldn’t see then how very much alike we were.
Debbie got released after putting herself on a diet and losing twenty pounds. She was more relaxed and happy but I still thought there was more to her problem than the weight issue.
Jeannette took a mouthful of bleach one afternoon but spit it out at Debbie’s urging. She was sent to another, more strict ward and I never saw her again. I sometimes wonder what became of this sad-eyed young woman who sat for hours in silence, locked in her solitary prison of despair.
Judy went home to that bastard of a father and cut herself some more after he forced himself on her again. She came back, and was told that she would be hospitalized for four more months. She swore bitterly at her doctor and promised to go AWOL. I thought it was grossly unfair that she was the one to be locked up all the time.
Ellen grew despondent and was sent to the long-term cottage, much to her distress. They informed her that she’d be in for another year at least.
I got to know some of the male patients at O.T. during our group therapy sessions. One was named Todd and I was immediately attracted to his little-boy-lost quality and ethereal beauty. He was nineteen and had been admitted so that he could get off drugs and put his shattered life back together. He was earnest and sincere, but a bit too idealistic and unrealistic about the world and his situation. He thought that he could just turn his back on his unhealthy past after spending a few weeks getting the chemicals out of his system, but it didn’t really work out that way for most people, I’d discovered.
Other young people in our group told him that there was more to changing his life than that and he would need to establish new friendships and dissolve old ones, leaving them behind in a cloud of Angel Dust. I knew from my own drug experiences that this was absolutely essential.
I liked Todd, perhaps too much and wanted him to feel the same way about me. However, he was attracted to a serious, mournful-eyed teenager named Sheila, who’d overdosed at her home and felt very shaky about moving on with her life. Again, I was being overlooked for a more preferable, beautiful girl and it hurt.
Ken M. was about forty-five and developed a gigantic crush on me for some reason, though he was old enough to be my father. I treated him poorly, I’m ashamed to say, and made fun of his attempts to win my affection. Ellen comforted Ken and told me not to be so cruel and heartless.
Sharon began to eat voraciously after her fast and gained a substantial amount of weight. I was losing and by April was down to ninety-nine pounds, something that made me feel quite good about myself. I had no appetite and was subsisting on vegetables, coffee and as many cigarettes as the staff would dole out to me.
There was a coffee house on the hospital grounds called the Moorehouse. It was designed in a nautical fashion, with portholes, lanterns and large fishing nets strung across the ceiling, similar to Alice K.’s room in residence. We sat there in the early evening.
It was there that I met Norm W., an energetic, dynamic twenty-seven-year-old whose winning personality compensated for extremely unattractive features, including a mouth with very few teeth. Everyone liked Norm for his quick wit, constant joking and considerate habits toward others and I found myself drawn to this man who seemed desperate for love and affection.
We began to go out together, even though common sense dictated to me that he was not the best choice for a boyfriend. He had been a prisoner, was a chronic schizophrenic and probably would always be strongly tied to the psychiatric community.
Still, I was lonely, far from home and away from all my friends, and Norm made me feel special, important and he told me that I was the best thing that ever happened to him.
I wouldn’t let him kiss me, though. There was something about those missing teeth that put me off and I’m not proud to say that I was somewhat repulsed by his homeliness. Thinking back, I was being a terrible snob, very superficial and not very kind. I had let myself become far too conditioned to the popular concept of the “ideal man ”: tall, dark and handsome. They were the only attributes that Norm lacked.
Besides Adele and Judith, other residents that visited me at Lakeshore were Laura, who brought me a copy of Gone With the Wind that I still have in my bookcase, David, who murmured, “Get the hell out of this place,” when he caught sight of Ann acting out, a boy named Ken, who’d danced with me at the Cock and Bull and admired my “ small, firm breasts,” and Alice, who didn’t come as often as I would have liked because it really disturbed her to see me like that, so drugged and blunted out of the real world.
I secretly wished that Simon would drop by, but he never did. I don’t blame him; he likely didn’t want to encourage me or perhaps he found mental hospitals too repulsive and frightening.
I couldn’t be transferred to the London Psychiatric Hospital because Dr. Gauld didn ’t want to take any chances, but fortunately I was visited nearly every day by Aunt Elizabeth, who lived fairly nearby in Orangeville. She’d moved there with Uncle Ray the year before and was very lonely and isolated in that small town.
She made the trip by car faithfully to spend hours with her messed up niece in the loony bin. Thank God for Aunt Elizabeth, for she kept me rooted in my family life, as well as the outside world. She brought me presents, books and other treats, and talked to me as she always had, with none of the hesitant awkwardness with which others reacted to me.
I found out much later that the poor woman would sit in her car for a half hour or so after trying to make conversation with a drugged-out sick person whom she dearly loved and cry bitterly. My illness was extremely hard on my family.
My cousin John Avey came as well, bringing me a wise book called Hope For the Flowers about overcoming depression. He was well-acquainted with it himself, having suffered a severe bout of despair when his father died.
One of the patients, a seemingly tough young woman named Diana B., would dissolve in tears whenever she spoke of her little boy, Jason. She had him at the age of seventeen and had fought to keep him, feeling that the kid would love and never leave her, as his father had done.
Diana carried a picture of Jason with her at all times, which showed a sad-eyed little tyke in a large bathtub, looking lost and alienated. I admired the woman’s fierce devotion to her child and was drawn to her indomitable spirit and the way she thumbed her nose at some of the nurses who rebuked her. We kept up a correspondence upon leaving Lakeshore, but she soon dropped from sight. I sometimes wonder what became of this rough-hewn, tattooed lady with the heart of gold.
I sat by a small radio in the common room a great deal and was keenly aware of the songs that were popular during that period of time. Whenever I hear “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates, Manfred Mann’s “Blinded By the Light,” or “Dancing Queen ” by ABBA, I am hustled abruptly back to that dilapidated psychiatric facility of 1977.
Lakeshore was closed down several years later, probably because the Health Department condemned the unclean conditions and run-down buildings. It was eventually used in the filming of the television series, “Night Heat.” I flinched as I watched people running about inside the underground tunnels, where I had been brought, semi-conscious on a stretcher that first night, feeling that this was a frightening concentration camp and I was here to be punished and abused.
Finally, after four months, Dr. Gauld figured that I was stable enough to be released. She left me on Mellaril, Stelazine and Elavil, with nothing for the unpleasant side effects and suggested that I contact the LPH for outpatient counselling.
I had stopped burning my hands, which by now were entirely covered in red, puss-filled sores and was no longer plagued by sinister voices and strong urges to break objects, then cut myself on broken pieces. The only reason for this so-called “transformation” was that the large dose of medication had produced an overwhelming feeling of apathy.
They dulled my senses to such an extent that I was completely incapable of any spontaneous activity or thoughts. “Drugged into submission” was the way I would later describe the early spring of 1977. I celebrated my twenty-second birthday as a rather pathetic casualty of the “psychiatric machine” of the period.
My parents were relieved that I was being released and would be returning to London. I had to drop out of school and one weekend in January, Dad and Jim had gone to Founders residence to pack up everything in my room.
There was a definite air of finality to this, and I knew, with a feeling of regret, that I would never set foot on York’s campus again. My life had ground to a halt with the bleak foray into the psychiatric world. Was there to be a “picking up of the pieces ” of life? I was quite pessimistic at that point.
Grandma and Grandpa had been terribly worried about me and felt regret that they hadn ’t been able to see me at Lakeshore. They couldn’t comprehend what had happened to their dearly-loved granddaughter but treated me no differently when I came home. I was extremely grateful for their adamant refusal to act as though they had to walk on eggshells with a “sick person” in their midst. I was still their “little Janie, ” perfection personified. They didn’t see any warts or defects and never would.
Mom and I took a much-needed vacation to Daytona Beach in Florida, early in May. While there, I suffered a very bad sunburn from the Mellaril. I wished that they had told me at the hospital that this drug increases the effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays dramatically.
Although we had a great time at Disney World, making two separate trips into the land of make believe, I had begun to lapse into anorexic mode again, obsessing about food and calories. I managed to lose five pounds during the week we were there. Mom was not particularly pleased that I was so inordinately concerned with size and weight and it put a slight damper on an otherwise carefree excursion.
Still, Florida was a positive way to ease back into the world after a third of a year in a strange, hypnotic and unquestionably frightening no-man’s land. Little did I know, but I had not seen the last of this unnatural lifestyle; rather, Lakeshore was just the beginning.
“Serving Time at Lakeshore: The Nightmare Begins.”
Retrieved May 7, 2005.