Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Relics of the Past: Porirua Psychiatric Hospital

Yesterday, I paid a visit to the remains of Porirua Psychiatric Hospital, just outside Wellington, New Zealand. What prompted the visit was the documentary film, “Asylum Pieces,” by Kathy Dudding, which premiered a couple of weeks ago in Auckland and was shown at the Wellington Film Festival the night before.

I happened to show up on the one day of the week the museum (above) was open. The building was originally a residential villa for women classified as “hopeless.”

Originally classified as a “lunatic asylum,” the facility was opened in the 1870s. The founding principles were enlightened, in the spirit of the asylum movements in the US and Great Britain, based on “moral improvement” in surroundings conducive to healing. The buildings (two pics below) were amongst the grandest in New Zealand, in a beautiful rural setting, on vast acreage, with residents working a farm (with two dairy herds) and doing other chores.

Also in the pattern of overseas, underfunding and overcrowding pushed enlightenment aside, along with misplaced hope in ECT and meds as magic bullets. It turned out the main buildings were built of shoddy materials and were condemned in 1942, following an earthquake. In 1960, the farm was closed. The facility shut down in the 1990s.

Above: Farm equipment used by the residents.

Above: Ancient ECT apparatus.

Above: Meds dispensary, circa 1960s.

Above: Portable cast iron tub. Note the handle and wheels.

Above: Isolation unit.

Above: Enlightenment occasionally creeps back in. A splendid example of deco-type architecture from the 30s, based on functionality and light spaces. The building is now used by a soccer club.

1 comment:

Mimi said...

Seeing the old ECT machine triggered some thoughts.

"Enlightenment" aside....

We're pretty sure I was a bipolar child - "we" being my docs over the years. I'm 65 and wasn't diagnosed until 18 years ago meaning most of my life was spent in a personal battle to overcome my personality deficiencies. (More like a personal Hell!)

Now, 18 years later and out of a marriage and profession that expected a steady stream of consistent top performance, I live with my bipolar disorder accepting it as part of me.

I can only thank my dear departed mother for putting up with me despite what must have been a nightmare made even more frightening by the specter of the unknown, I was adopted, bad seed and all that.

She lived in denial that I was mentally ill, rather than subject me to the probing of psychiatry in the 50's and 60's she stubbornly clung to the belief that her love and support would somehow mold me into being a normal child.

Though I never achieved normalcy, I learned coping skills that have amazed the experts. Strangely though, it was the discovery that I had a mental illness rather than a character fault that led to the final showdown when I quit the marriage and a few years later the career.

My life is quieter now, I'm with a partner who accepts me as I am, but without much structure in my life feel that I achieve little. Sometimes I do miss all the drama – the excitement of creativity, success, and acknowledgement.

I’m grateful to my mother for protecting me, glad I know the truth about myself, and thankful for the coping skills that serve me well in navigating the still-murky byways of mental health care.