My Visit to New York City Lunatic Asylum, Roosevelt Island, New York City

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New York City Lunatic Asylum, Roosevelt Island, NY 


“Blackwell Island. In 1828, the City of New York bought this two-mile-long-island for $32,000. Initially, it served as a center for castaways and necessitated a formal penitentiary, which was established in 1832.

The most influential architect of the time was Alexander Jackson Davis. He designed the Blackwell Island penitentiary, which was constructed of gray granite reflecting feudal-style architecture with its fortress or castle-like appearance. It stood six hundred feet long and four stories high at the north end of the island providing 800 cells for inmates. Just seven years after its grand opening though, the New York City Lunatic Asylum, as it was named, housed 1,700 patients. The 800 cells of the penitentiary were subsequently filled to the brim. Finally in the early 1900s, journalist Nelly Bly exposed the unacceptable conditions of the asylum—inmate overcrowding, favoritism, and drug dealing—which prompted much needed social reforms.

The plans to clean up the penitentiary and update and revive the island’s castaway-characteristic resulted in its name change from Blackwell’s Island to Welfare Island in 1921. The first step to reform was the transfer of inmates from Blackwell’s to Rikers Island, which, in reality, did not happen until further outrages in the 1930s absolutely necessitated it.”


Text taken from Baruch College archives, photo mine.

Lindsay Wheeler on No Restraints

My interview with Rudy Caseres of popular show, No Restraints

No Restraints is a live talk show where every Friday mental health advocate Rudy Caseres interviews other advocates and takes questions from followers. The show is unfiltered, unscripted, and always unedited.

A Message on Mental Health Awareness Month

May, 2018

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For me, the designation ignites hope, as it marks a time in which awareness is shed on universal, however, largely-overlooked, issues. From the beginning, mental illness has been a shadow that blankets me the minute I stop devoting attention to it. My identity as a sufferer is fluid; it changes, ebbs, and flows. After years of work, corrosive thoughts about food are what still hit me hardest. They are, unfortunately, a part of me that I must fight, shake off, and laugh at before starting anew. In an instant, my self-worth is shredded into pieces and I must put in the work to build myself back up. Even as I progress, the thoughts will always remain. I choose to accept them as a piece of my whole self, because the only alternative is to lose hope entirely. It is likely that my use of self-deprecating jokes is a coping mechanism I will forever rely on. I will probably always struggle to not smile while talking about my pain. I will continue to approach scenarios in which others are unhappy with an over-compensation of positive energy, because I will never give up on trying to change what I cannot change. I’ve learned that it is okay this way as long as I continue to fight for what I can change. 

For some, mental illness presents as acute anxiety that keeps them up at night. For others, it is an all-encompassing panic so intense that for a moment they fear they'll never find breath again. Some have an intrinsic concern over the relationship between their parents, the health of their siblings, or something else that lies beyond their control. Over time, an accumulation of fear and anxiety can become a larger problem or seep into other areas of functioning. Sometimes the unchangeable is what rattles us most deeply on the inside. Some have trepidation over the daily insertion of a fork in food because of a past experience with anaphylactic shock. Others suffer from agoraphobia, and still others hear voices. Some cannot shake a fear that the clouds will descend, and some worry that another trip to the hospital is inevitable. 

A recent study revealed that the rate of suicide attempts in teens has doubled since 2008. The number of high profile suicides in the last year should be an indication that these struggles choose blindly. I urge you to live more deliberately as you interact with those around you, and I hope you will demand the same of me. Be kind to yourself. If you feel compelled, share your story. If not, be a listener. Some of us don't have a stage on which to find such a voice. Be the stage. Look out for warning signs. If you are anything like me, you may wonder if living as you truly are will ever be enough. But, somewhere, in a place that is not always easy to go, you know you carry the wisdom of a thousand years. Strive to believe that this - not the intrusive thoughts - is the precious part of you that will ultimately win.

September 14, 2017

Suicide Prevention Week: There is Room Out Here in the Light

It has been nearly four years since I shared publicly what now looks like a timid, only “half-transparent” paragraph about my mental illness. I still don’t know why I did it at that very moment but the truth is, I was scared out of my mind. At the time, I couldn’t have anticipated the response that would come; one which has only persisted. Our society has come a long way in just a few years; I’ve seen visibility around these issues swell tremendously. Years ago, a tribute to suicide awareness would have had no chance of being included at the Grammy's. This year it was. But still, a potential for more is revealed around every next corner. 

Now, hundreds of writings later, I am more fearless in this pursuit than ever. During World Suicide Prevention Week, I am grateful for my amazing support system. I have both the network and resources to not only survive mental illness but to document the fight. I am inundated with encouragement every day by loved ones and strangers alike, and despite a few difficult bumps, believe I’ve made them proud. Nearly all of my relationships have improved and incredible opportunities have presented themselves along the way. I have experienced the magic of attending the NAMI National Conference in Washington D.C., gotten to write for The Mighty, lobbied on Capitol Hill (note: a new bipartisan House Suicide Prevention Task Force was just announced by Congressman John Katko), met psych visionaries like Kay Redfield Jamison, been asked to speak at a NAMI conference and for my alma mater's "The Resilience Project," been involved in courageous initiatives like Zak Sandler’s A Bit Too Much About Me at The Triad Theater, and gotten to know advocates who fight on behalf of incarcerated individuals with mental illness (Ron Powers). There is so much more to be learned though, and it gives me something to look forward to every day. Ultimately, I hope to go in the direction of psychotherapy and psychiatry; still, the purest form of love I have will always be writing. The faculties we have to live authentically can propel us forward, but not everyone has equal opportunity to use them. 

Across age groups, the suicide rate has increased every year since 1999. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. The suicides of high profile individuals have sparked recent conversation, but it has come too late. Days before Chester Bennington’s suicide, he was captured smiling in a photo with his family. His wife has shared the picture publicly in order to raise awareness about what is often the driving message: even those who battle the hardest demons may hide behind a smile. As long as the order of things goes unchallenged, the problem will persist. I promise to always try my best to fight for those who are not as fortunate as I. I never take for granted the inspiring stories you’ve shared with me. To those still hiding in the shadows, I hope you’ll believe me when I say there is room for you out here in the light. It can get better for you just like it has for me.

July 10, 2017: My Third Pristiq-iversary

The third anniversary of a medication that saved me

Today is a silly holiday we call my “pristiq-i-versary,” or, the anniversary of my first day on medication. Three years ago today, I swallowed a pill I feared would only hurt me; instead, it saved my life. I try to film a few seconds of every day, or every few days, knowing that I will someday want to look back on all of the gifts that have come out of my decision. I need to remember the laughs, the tears, and the small victories. In this time, I have found more lifelong friends, accomplished more of my dreams, and lived more authentically than I could have imagined I would in a lifetime. I have been told more times than one that these dialogues just can't publicly exist, but here's what I say: I have the friends, apparently few and far between, who make it possible. Thank you to everyone who has held me up and kept me strong, inspired me, and pushed me to grow.

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