So you've decided to go to Larundel. The normal way to get there is by tram, but that would involve going back into the city and out again, and you can't afford to do that. So you'll have to make the long trek from Watsonia station to Larundel -- about two miles. On your weakened legs, it's debatable whether you'll even make it that far. But it's worth a try -- after all, this is maybe the last journey you'll ever make.
what you can expect

The rain continues to fall as you get off a train at Watsonia. The other passengers are avoiding you, they don't even want to look at you -- to them you represent a side of life that they just don't like to think about. You feel like a piece of human garbage, unwanted, unloved, with no value at all. You'll have to excuse me if I don't share in your misery, though -- just the thought of seeing Larundel again fills me with excitement. I used to be a patient there, you see, and unlike most patients I enjoyed my stay. Would you like to find out why I put myself in a psychiatric hospital for five months, and what I learned from it?

Watsonia is an interesting place, too -- walking through it is like a journey back into my past. See that footbridge over there, in the distance, towering over the landscape? That's the footbridge that I jumped off in 1992. It was my first and only suicide attempt. I fell down to the freeway below and broke both my feet. My feet have never been the same since -- I still feel pain in them when I stand up for long periods. It's no big deal -- it's even good, in a way, because I have an excuse not to apply for any low-paying jobs working in shops or whatever.

I don't regret the suicide attempt, because it did turn out for the best in more ways than one. But I can't help thinking it was badly planned and ill-considered -- I hardly even thought about the effect it would have on my family. Only two things were written in my suicide note: "There's too much stress", and "The future is bleak." The thing that actually triggered it off was a particularly hard question in maths class:
If n is a positive odd number:
show that if 2n+1 is a prime number then n is a power of two.

That was what made me set the date for it, March 16th, the day before the homework was due. But I'd been feeling suicidal for several months and I was just looking for some excuse to end it all. After my injuries had healed I returned to my studies, but at a different school, and without the maths.

Stress is a frightening thing. If you take a peek down that road on your right, you might be able to see Loyola College, the high-school I was attending at the time of my suicide attempt. It's a private catholic school -- not too exclusive, not as "traditional" as the older schools, but still I remember it as the place that tipped me over the edge with its stressfulness. I had social problems, too, of course -- I kind of isolated myself from the other students, choosing to spend every lunchtime in the library, reading book after book. In my first year at Loyola College I used to get teased and harassed a lot by the other students -- but in the later years they mostly just ignored me. Being ignored was much better than being harassed, of course -- I guess the social problems didn't really play a part in the suicide attempt.

Anyway, while you continue on your journey to Larundel, how about I tell you about some of my psychiatric hospital experiences from 1995? I kept a very detailed diary during that time -- you can read selected entries if you like.

24/1Entry into psychiatric hospital
1/3Day Before Dreaded False Discharge Incident
13/4Night-time intruder incident
4/5Fire Alarm
4/6Visit From Melanie -- Day After the Dreaded Sheet Changing Incident
10/6Susan Turner
29/6 & 1/7Departure and Discharge from Hospital


My experiences in Larundel taught me that mental patients usually rely very heavily on cigarettes and coffee, and inspired me to write this short piece of fiction.

After limping your way through two miles of suburbia you finally reach the Bundoora area. You approach Larundel from behind, gazing around at the shiny new real estate development which has sprung up on what was once hospital land -- those houses, they've been built in the years since 1995, slowly moving in on Larundel like an advancing army. But Larundel is still in there somewhere. Oh there it is.
     The building in front of you is painted a depressing grey colour with rows of black windows on the first storey. The second storey has windows too, but most of them are covered by thick metal screens. Are you sure you want to go in there? Don't blame me if they lock you up and throw away the key.

You reach the front door which is made of steel mesh. You are about to reach for the doorhandle when you realise that there is a giant hairy spider sitting on it. Oh but don't let that bother you -- that spider looks like he's been dead for months, tangled up in his own cobwebs. You nudge him aside with a fingernail and try to open the door. But it's locked.

Wait a minute -- something is not right about this place. It's too empty. You peek through some windows and see that the whole ward is abandoned, gutted, and boarded up. This ward is closed down.
     You explore the hospital grounds, without meeting a soul. All the other wards have been closed down too. This place is dead. Well that's deinstitutionalization for you. In just a few months, this whole place will be bulldozed, no doubt.
The Corridor
You find some old papers which someone has thrown out -- you take them out of the bin and see that they are "Incident Report Forms". Would you like to read them?
     Well, it looks like you came all this way for nothing, and you're going to have walk all the way back to the station. Life is so unfair. But don't worry, it will all be over soon.

parents Austin Hospital

Developer's Dream

Scott Haas Ph.D the psychologist, author of the book "Hearing Voices", has this to say about psychiatric hospitals... ... "The malingerers and the mentally ill I meet at Eastmark share the intensity that comes from being alone in the world. Embracing their feelings makes me aware of my own loneliness. When I am able to imagine their suffering, and their dignity in the face of it, I feel hounded, too, and disliked, and cut off from society's enterprise. I think that's why the Them and Us mentality prevails in the mental health profession. By cutting Them off, we create the illusion that They are not at all like Us, and that We do not harbor the thoughts and feelings that They embody. If we view madness on a continuum, however, we have to become aware of those features of our souls that we would rather pretend do not exist. The constant shuttle of patients through Eastmark confronts the commotion inside the clinician who observes as if from a distance. But in the end, there is no faraway pain, and there is nothing remote about their suffering. In many ways, They are just like Us. Their misery and their madness are fundamentally human experiences. I believe that's an important part of why the mentally ill are quarantined; to know that They are simply more vulnerable to the horrors of existence is intolerable because it means that the horrors, whether real or imagined, are familiar, and that it is the reactions to them that vary most. The mentally ill realize this better than any of Us. So We separate Them in order not to be reminded of what We all know to be true: that the world is unsafe, unpredictable in how its cruelties are meted out, indiscriminate about its choice of victims. There is no right and wrong. There is no foundation, no canon of normalcy. Through no fault of their own, children and adolescents emerge as adults having experienced horrors within their families and within their societies and, as a result, they become the mentally ill I meet at Eastmark."