Posted by Gemma Anderson, 24th May
Bethlem Visit, Thursday 24th April
Meet Dr Tim McInerny at Riverhouse building in Bethlem Royal Hospital main site. (Monks oak road, Beckenham) Need photo I.D access pass and staff to bring me through corridors of looked doors to get to office.
Dr McInerny tells me about the ward he works on and explains the hierarchy of the wards from acute to minimum security. All patients in Bethlem are involuntary.
Dr McInerny tells me the patient he has identified as subject for portrait and tells me his detailed confidential history. The patient is a forensic psychiatric patient – which mean they have committed a crime, been in prison and then been referred to Bethlem. The patient had been in psychiatric hospital for 10 years, but is soon to be released.
I visit the museum and archive at Bethlem and meet Caroline the education officer. I explain the collaboration and the ideas and we talk about the relevant material in the Bethlem archive that will help with our research. Bethlem have case studies of patients since the 15th century, Caroline and I found documents from the 19th 18th and 17th century that will be of use and will continue to communicate in order to find more specific cases which refer to physiognomy, and physiology in psychiatry.
Meet Dr McInerny and go to forensic ward in Riverhouse to meet patient. Set up easel and copper plate in meeting room. Begin drawing patient and conversing with patient. We talk about his experience in hospital, his diagnosis and his hopes for his life when he is released.
Art technician (yosef) arrives to photograph the portrait set up and the drawing on the copper plate.
Meet Beth, art facilitator in Bethlem main art room, look at a number of patients work, discuss the work alongside patient’s history and diagnosis and see gallery space in Bethlem.
Meeting Dr Scott, 27th April
Knockbraken a.k.a Purdysburn Hospital
Meet Dr Scott (geriatric psychiatrist) and visit Windsor house- psychiatric unit of Belfast city hospital, meet patient and sit in on doctor patient cognitive therapy. I ask Dr Scott about the drugs issued to specific patients and the biochemical effects these have on the brain. (This information will inform my portrait)
Visit orchard house with Dr Scott, orchard house is a geriatric secure nursing home for elderly patients with severe dementia and wandering behaviour, meet individual patients and staff.
Visit Knockbracken Hospital, (1890). Like Bethlem Knockbracken is notorious in Northern Ireland as the largest asylum and still has pseudonym of Purdysburn as Bethlem has Bedlam.
Tour the site, see old working farm for in patients, different wards. Built in the Victorian era, the hospital is situated in a large wooded area and the architecture allows for maximum natural light.
Dr Scott introduces me to geriatric ward staff and patients.
Ellsy Portrait Thursday 8th May
Knockbracken Hospital Belfast
Mahee Ward (named after Mahee Island, Strangford Lough)
Arrive at ward just after the hospital lunchtime. I meet staff and Ellsy and begin setting up etching plate in the now redundant smoking room.
I meet Ellsy again and get her seated comfortably in an armchair in the smoking room within the hospital ward.
I begin to draw Ellsy, as I am drawing her we talk and I learn that she grew up streets away from where I grew up in Belfast. We then talk about the Botanic Gardens (she tells me her favourite flowers are geraniums and her favourite bird is a robin red breast) and the market. Then she says “Belfast is not safe now”, I ask her how she knows and she says she reads it in the papers, and she would be too frightened to go anywhere in Belfast now.
She tells me that her mother died when she was three in childbirth with her sister and she was raised by her aunts. She says she has always been nervous and fearful and told me that she constantly felt she had “done something wrong” even though people constantly reassured her that she had not. Her working life had been in a children’s clothes shop in Belfast and she had never married.
Previous to being in hospital she had lived with her sister but her anxieties became too severe. I asked her what she was worrying about at the moment and she replied “I am worried that the devil has got me”. I asked her why she thought the devil (if he existed) would be interested in her and she replied “I don’t know”. We then talked about her religion (Catholicism) feelings of guilt and her relationship with the church. She said she didn’t go to church anymore.
I tried to reassure her that that I didn’t think her worrying about the devil was doing her health any good and asked her where she would like to be. She said she would like to be at home and able to look onto the garden. I asked her if she could picture being at home and try to think about that a much as she could as that would help her mind to concentrate on a hopeful scenario. She agreed that it would be good for her to concentrate on something positive.
We carried on talking about different things until I had completed the drawing. I showed her the drawing and she said “that is very good, you should be pleased”. I thanked her and she then went back to her seat in front of the television. It is a very sunny day outside.
(Ellsy is a pseudonym)