Where and When? Why I Leave it to My Readers’ Imagination

Irma GeddonIf you’ve read my previously published episodes, Asylum and Parfait, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t specified a place nor a time in my stories.

The books are obviously set in a contemporary setting, but is it during our modern days, in the near future, or in the near past?

There are no indications as to where the story unfolds either—and the characters names are no help with that.

In the eighteen episodes I’ve already written (and intend to publish), I mix possible places, foreign names, customs.

My world is a bit like our world, and obeys the same set of rules, except for one: the supernatural exists. There are nightmares that come to life, curses, magical powers, and all kind of supernatural creatures.

Why do I do this? It’s something that comes naturally to me, I never consciously intended to do this. But as I cut all filler from my books (which some reviewers called short, stabbing installments—so happy!), I also cut anything I feel could take the reader out of the story.

Some writers advise to write for the “ideal reader”: the one that will get what you write, that will enjoy it. So far, I have not met this reader… so I write what I would like to read.

I dread long descriptions in books. I also dread reading about cities I’ve never visited. My vision of what a city looks like, as a French person, is obviously way different than someone from New York City, Genova or Munich.

My Louisiana, for example, is defined by the books and TV shows I’ve seen all my life. I’m sure that most people think Eiffel Tower, bread and cheese when they think about France. However, this is not the depiction of my France, the one I live in, the one I’ve seen all my life. To avoid stereotypes, I want to avoid naming places.

Also, I am an inhabitant of the world. I like to think that the place you come from does not say anything about you, and does not define who you are or who you become. Nowadays, people travel and move around a lot. I don’t want French names or German names or American names to mean a thing in my fiction. There are too loaded with meaning and the countries’ past. So I will use them however I feel like, without bothering about any hidden meaning they might have for anyone.

I like reading contemporary fiction. I’m not an history buff, and I have a hard time adjusting when reading stories set in the future. That’s why I write contemporary fiction: it’s what I like and what I know.

I don’t want to timestamp my stories. I’d like people to enjoy them in ten, twenty years, without thinking they are outdated. Of course, since I don’t know how science will change our lives then, I can only hope that’s what will happen, and that they’ll stay “contemporary” for a long time.

I get how this might be an unusual approach for readers. I truly hope that you’ll be able to get past that, and focus on the important sides of my books: the characters, and the story.

[The Truth Behind the Fiction] Psychiatric Wards

NightmarZ: AsylumThe depiction of the psychiatric ward in my book is harsh and cold.

You might think it’s straight from all the horror films that depict asylums situations in the past—with a very strong abuse due to the genre of the films.

Thank God this doesn’t happen anymore, right? Thank God disabled people are treated with care and respect in the current psychiatric wards. Right?

Thing is, many people have no idea what happens behind those doors. It’s rare to get depictions that really are close to the truth—at least, in some of the psychiatric wards. I’ll be the first to hope there are places where my words are only fiction. Sadly, sometimes, truth is harder than fiction.

I try to be honest in general, in my books and in life. I don’t mean this to say my words are a universal truth—I just want people to take what they think they know, what they think is normal, with a grain of salt. Let me tell you about what I know about psychiatric wards, in my little corner of the world.

Let’s hide those mentally insane nobody wants to see

There is a psychiatric hospital not far from where I lived when I was a teenager. It was a big, quite new building, with gigantic gardens in the front. No one ever went through those gates, though, except ambulances. I know this, because this is where i took the bus everyday—to go to school, to go see friends, at different hours and different days.

No one ever went in the gardens, even though they were protected by high iron gates and fences. You see, in France, you don’t talk about handicap. You hide the handicapped. You put them in psychiatric hospital and you try to forget about them. At least, that’s what the psychiatrists ask you to do. Forget, go make another child, leave the handicapped in their care. This is particularly true for autistic people, but I’ll write about this subject later.

In college, I was asked to find an internship somewhere, in order to experience life as a working person. At the time, I was already very interested in mental handicaps. As a teen, I had read all of Torey Hayden‘s books, and I deeply and dearly wanted to work with handicapped people.

I sent a letter to the asylum, hoping to get my internship there. I waited and waited, and never had any answer whatsoever. My mother called, asking if per chance my letter got lost, and she got an answer for me. They told her that the families didn’t want strangers to see their child/sibling/older member of the family.

It wasn’t because I was unqualified—they didn’t care about that. It was not because I was young—they didn’t ask questions about that either. They didn’t even ask what sort of internship I wanted—administrative internship or anything else, it didn’t matter. You had to be a member of the staff, or you couldn’t come in at all.

There is a shame about showing out handicapped people. People with physical impairments have it hard here already, but their families don’t endure the constant shaming and horrified looks people with mentally disabled children get.

No one knows…

It was a little more than fifteen years ago. I was in Italy for a month, hoping to find a job there in order to be near my boyfriend (who was, at the time, a man from North-Italy). I’ll always remember this time with fondness. It was a much simpler time for me, and I lived a care-free life, the way young adults do.

His father was ill—I think it was diabetes, but I might remember wrong–and sometimes was very tired. That one time, when I was there, he had to be hospitalized.

What does this have to do with psychiatric wards? Not much, except that he was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward, because there was no room in the other parts of the hospital.

That week, I saw more dirty, lost, haggard people than I’ve ever seen. They roamed in the corridor in night gowns. A lot of them had dirty hair, or no shoes. Once in a while, if one of them was making too much noise, a nurse would accompany him back to his room.

All those people spent the whole day wandering. They had absolutely no therapy sessions, they didn’t have much visits either from their families. You could argue that I was there a small amount of time, but I can assure you it was enough to see that they were more “handled” than taken care of.

What about the older disabled persons?

A few years later, my grandmother fell and had to be hospitalized and go through surgery. She couldn’t come home with us, because my mother and I had day jobs and no one could take care of her there during the day.

She stayed for a few months in a place where she received therapy so that her leg would work again. The place was awful, a real deathtrap. We made sure to go see her every evening after work, to make sure she was okay.

There were a lot of other older people there. A lot of them had Alzheimer’s disease. Not all of them had the chance of having a family coming to see them frequently. I could notice the difference in treatment between my grandmother and her roommate. Just because we were always there and complaining when something wasn’t right, they took a better care of her than her roommate.

If my grandmother didn’t eat, we made sure she had sweets and good things to eat every evening when we came to see her. If her roommate didn’t eat… well, she didn’t eat, no one cared. We complained when the sheets weren’t changed, we complained when we saw that they didn’t make her move enough and she had bed sores. The others didn’t have that chance; and most of them were too far gone to care for themselves or complain.

For the time we were there, we made sure her roommate was treated correctly too, but I have no idea how she fared after that, when we came home with my grandmother.

I lived all these life experiences as a young person. These were around fifteen years ago. One could argue that was a long time ago, and would be right.

Let me now tell you about how psychiatric hospitals are, nowadays, here in France…

Autism? Doesn’t exist

In France, autism doesn’t exist. As this disability becomes a worldwide epidemic, with as much as 1 in 88 persons with PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), in France the psychiatrists don’t diagnose autism. Autism doesn’t exist. We have a funny diagnosis, that exist only in France, of “disharmonious evolution”, because God forbid they put a diagnosis on the children. But actually, what the whole psychiatric institution is taught is that what the rest of the world calls autism is not a neural development disorder, but a psychosis, due to the bad relationship between the mother and her child.

I can tell you all about this: I am the mother of two autistic children. Yes, I am that mother. The “refrigerator mom”, the one that is too cold and neglects her children—or, if you prefer, I am the one that has an incestuous relationship with her sons. Yes, that is what we’re hearing from the people who are taking care of our children. What goes on in France shocks a lot of people overseas—with good reasons.

In France, there is almost no behavioral component to the therapies for autistic people. We have no PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), no ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis)—we just have psychoanalysis.

Mothers are shamed, they are asked a lot of questions about how they neglect their children, or how they deny the father his place with their children and enter an incestuous relationship with them as replacement of the husband. You can argue all you want—you’re a liar, or in denial, because it’s your fault if your child is psychotic.

This per se is already terrible, and lots of families are distraught just by these accusations. Worse is how criminal the therapies are. Let me show you what I mean when I say the fiction is not far from the truth.

You have to respect the subject

In France, autism is not a neural development disorder. It is a psychosis due to the child’s mother behavior. The autistic person is not someone you have to help learn—he is someone who is capable to learn by himself, and who just refuses to do so.

Psychoanalysts argue that their desires must be respected, and that they will learn when they’re ready, when they’ve been teared off their mothers’ evil grasp.

That never ends well, of course. Autistic adults are not potty-trained, they don’t speak nor read no write, and have no means of communication. In the US, they mostly are able to live different in the midst of neurotypical people, and even do their own advocacy. Here in France, they’re committed to psychiatric hospitals.

There is a lack of care that is awful. Parents that fight for their children do so on their own—when social services are not involved to take their children away, because psychoanalysis is the only way, and trying something else without psychiatrists backing you is the best way to have your child taken away.

We’re told to leave the child in their care, to forget about him. To go make another one. Subtext is, without screwing that one up! Doctors are making these statements—the very persons you are taught to trust from your childhood years. It’s those persons that are at the head of every hospital and state substructure there is.

People like me who actually are able to read in English, and who are decided to push their children hard so that they’ll have a chance at dignity and the most normal life they can in the future, have to go rogue and find people outside of the normal path.

What does all this have to do with the topic? Let me show you why I won’t let my children be taken care of by psychiatric hospitals.

Neglect

This video show two different points:

  • how autistic people are not helped how they should be
  • how autistic people are neglected in hospitals

Of course, this does not happen in all psychiatric hospitals—thank God. But it happened. How can we know how many of these places treat autistic people that way?

It is in French, but the pictures tell the whole story: Acacio, a young autistic man, was totally neglected by the psychiatric hospital he was in, for more than ten years. He slept on the floor in a very small room without windows, had to go to the toilet in a pail, and wasn’t fed if his parents didn’t come to feed him. He was given a lot of drugs to keep him calm. He was never taught how to communicate.

The story covering shows how the new place he’s been sent to had to teach him the most basic things like how to eat. In one year, they have made a difference in that young man’s life, who almost died in that psychiatric hospital.
Torture

Because neglecting autistic children is not enough, here is a French therapy called “packing”, which consist of putting the child between cold wet sheets, to help him. See, autistic people (“psychotics”) are said by the French doctors to be “leaking” by their own pores, that they don’t know they’re contained by their skin. Packing would be the way to help them–at least that’s what they’re subjected to, from age 3.

This method has made an enormous cry of anger from parents last year in France, but psychoanalysts still practice it without the consent of the parents—what they don’t know can’t hurt them, right? And since most autistic children aren’t able to say that they’re subjected to the packing, or even to say no to the doctors on their own, they are unpunished.
Abject therapies

Last but not least of the therapies I’ll talk about today is what is called here “atelier pataugeoire”. It’s a room with a small trough where you can make a puddle of water. There is a mirror in it, and autistic children are brought there regularly for therapy.

[The Truth Behind the Fiction] Psychiatric Wards

It’s not a place where they learn anything. It’s more a place where therapists come to observe them and make comments about the child’s familial environment.

There can be up to three therapists there, and none of them will teach the child anything. The child is encouraged to do whatever he likes. No one will tell him anything if he defecates in the pataugeoire, or if he masturbates. The staff is there to watch his “productions” and psychoanalyse. No one will teach him it is inappropriate to do so—all “productions” are acceptable in the pataugeoire.

[The Truth Behind the Fiction] Psychiatric Wards

 

The little boy on the picture has a bathing suit—this is generally not the case, the children go in there mostly nude. Parents are not welcome, of course, to any of those therapies. Am I the only one who sees how sick it is for grown men and women to let a child masturbate and defecate in front of them? All this to form this “psychical skin” autistic people seem to lack? How this doesn’t help anything, and even makes things worse by not pointing out one cannot masturbate/defecate in public?

NightmarZ: Asylum—Reality or fiction?

So, yes, my depiction of the psychiatric hospital in my book is creepy. It’s part of the story, it’s part of setting up a mood and to give a sense of horror and urgency to my story.

Psychiatric wards are not the asylums of the old days. And I really hope in other parts of the world every mentally disabled person is treated with the respect due to them.

But there is some truth behind my fiction.

Unfortunately.