Monday, March 24, 2014

Change The World....

 Thursday's post took a lot out of me. I have to admit that writing about some of the more painful things in life tend to do that. I think back to all of the painful things my mother has dealt with (sexual abuse as a child/ abusive marriages/ect) and I am reminded daily of her strength and compassion. She is a fighter. She is a hero. She is a living breathing inspiration. Not just because she is a survivor ( although that is heroic and inspiring and brave in it's own right) but because she keeps going and has always been very open about it. She through years of agonizing therapy has learned to place the blame on the abusers and throw the shame back at them where it belongs. She is truly just one amazing woman. And I truly hope that some of her wisdom and strength will rub off on me as I get older. Maybe some of it already has. After all, she is the one who taught me to never hold back and always be honest and open. To believe in myself and that if one person tries hard enough, they just may change the world.

That being said, I am not self absorbed enough to believe that I will change the world all by myself. I do however, believe that if I can inspire others to talk openly than we all can inspire others to do the same and so on and so on until we effectively end up changing the world. I mean, that's possible right?

I believe that changing the world is inevitable. Many people have done it, most of them without the notoriety and fame that most celebrities have today. While most are familiar with the likes of Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton and their exploits. Their fame is neither earned nor deserved. Most people today, know nothing about  about the sacrifices made by amazingly brave and awe inspiring individuals such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Medgar Evers,  and Nelly Bly. People that fought for the rights of themselves and others. People that stood up to discrimination and bias. Just because their names are not as readily slipped from our tongues does not make their contributions any less magnificent.

Do you know one of the reasons I chose to write under the name of Neurotic Nelly? I chose neurotic because I suffer from an anxiety disorder and anxiety used to be deemed as neurotic behavior. And I chose the name Nelly because of a magnificent heroin that wrote under the name of Nellie Bly. Not that I am a journalist by any means(although that is certainly a dream job of mine) but because she did something so heroic, so unheard of  that she changed the way the world thinks and effectively  managed to change the treatment of mental illness institutions with one simple experiment.

Nellie Bly born May 5, 1864 – January 27, 1922 was the pseudonym of American journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochrane. Known was a ground-breaking reporter she set a record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, in emulation of Jules Verne's fictional character Phileas Fogg, and an exposé in which she faked insanity to study a mental institution from within. She was a pioneer in her field, and launched a new kind of investigative journalism. She got her start as a reporter after writing a rebuttal to a piece written by  Erasmus Wilson, claiming that "women were best served in the home, conducting domestic duties such as raising children, cooking and cleaning, and called the working woman a monstrosity." Bly's rebuttal letter to the editor got her a position and the rest is history.

Although, I find her writing accomplishments to be ahead of her time and wondrous, what she did for the mental illness community is insurmountable.

That's right, she did an article about not only being mentally ill but the treatment the people received in an asylum. And to do that she simply acted like what the world then concluded an "insane" person looked like. And it worked.

Burdened again with theater and arts reporting, Bly left the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1887 for New York City. Penniless after four months, she talked her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper, the New York World, and took an undercover assignment for which she agreed to feign insanity to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island.

After a night of practicing deranged expressions in front of a mirror, she checked into a working-class boardinghouse. She refused to go to bed, telling the boarders that she was afraid of them and that they looked crazy. They soon decided that she was crazy, and the next morning summoned the police. Taken to a courtroom, she pretended to have amnesia. The judge concluded she had been drugged.

She was then examined by several doctors, who all declared her to be insane. "Positively demented," said one, "I consider it a hopeless case. She needs to be put where someone will take care of her."The head of the insane pavilion at Bellevue Hospital pronounced her "undoubtedly insane". The case of the "pretty crazy girl" attracted media attention: "Who Is This Insane Girl?" asked the New York Sun. The New York Times wrote of the "mysterious waif" with the "wild, hunted look in her eyes", and her desperate cry: "I can't remember I can't remember."

Committed to the asylum, Bly experienced its conditions firsthand. The food consisted of gruel broth, spoiled beef, bread that was little more than dried dough, and dirty undrinkable water. The dangerous patients were tied together with ropes. The patients were made to sit for much of each day on hard benches with scant protection from the cold. Waste was all around the eating places. Rats crawled all around the hospital. The bathwater was frigid, and buckets of it were poured over their heads. The nurses were obnoxious and abusive, telling the patients to shut up, and beating them if they did not. Speaking with her fellow patients, Bly was convinced that some were as sane as she was. On the effect of her experiences, she wrote:

What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.

…My teeth chattered and my limbs were …numb with cold. Suddenly, I got three buckets of ice-cold water…one in my eyes, nose and mouth.

After ten days, Bly was released from the asylum at The World's behest. Her report, later published in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a sensation and brought her lasting fame. While embarrassed physicians and staff fumbled to explain how so many professionals had been fooled, a grand jury launched its own investigation into conditions at the asylum, inviting Bly to assist. The jury's report recommended the changes she had proposed, and its call for increased funds for care of the insane prompted an $850,000 increase in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections. They also made sure that future examinations were more thorough so that only the seriously ill actually went to the asylum. 


She reported of people being unfairly committed.

Thus was Mrs. Louise Schanz consigned to the asylum without a chance of making herself understood. Can such carelessness be excused, I wonder, when it is so easy to get an interpreter? If the confinement was but for a few days one might question the necessity. But here was a woman taken without her own consent from the free world to an asylum and there given no chance to prove her sanity. Confined most probably for life behind asylum bars, without even being told in her language the why and wherefore. Compare this with a criminal, who is given every chance to prove his innocence. Who would not rather be a murderer and take the chance for life than be declared insane, without hope of escape? Mrs. Schanz begged in German to know where she was, and pleaded for liberty. Her voice broken by sobs, she was led unheard out to us.
---Ten Days in a Mad-House

And the treatment they received.

Just as I reached there Superintendent Dent came to the door and I told him how we were suffering from the cold, and of Miss Mayard's condition. Doubtless, I spoke incoherently, for I told of the state of the food, the treatment of the nurses and their refusal to give more clothing, the condition of Miss Mayard, and the nurses telling us, because the asylum was a public institution we could not expect even kindness. Assuring him that I needed no medical aid, I told him to go to Miss Mayard. He did so. From Miss Neville and other patients I learned what transpired. Miss Mayard was still in the fit, and he caught her roughly between the eyebrows or thereabouts, and pinched until her face was crimson from the rush of blood to the head, and her senses returned. All day afterward she suffered from terrible headache, and from that on she grew worse.
Soon after my advent a girl called Urena Little-Page was brought in. She was, as she had been born, silly, and her tender spot was, as with many sensible women, her age. She claimed eighteen, and would grow very angry if told to the contrary. The nurses were not long in finding this out, and then they teased her.
"Urena," said Miss Grady, "the doctors say that you are thirty-three instead of eighteen," and the other nurses laughed. They kept up this until the simple creature began to yell and cry, saying she wanted to go home and that everybody treated her badly. After they had gotten all the amusement out of her they wanted and she was crying, they began to scold and tell her to keep quiet. She grew more hysterical every moment until they pounced upon her and slapped her face and knocked her head in a lively fashion. This made the poor creature cry the more, and so they choked her. Yes, actually choked her. Then they dragged her out to the closet, and I heard her terrified cries hush into smothered ones. After several hours' absence she returned to the sitting-room, and I plainly saw the marks of their fingers on her throat for the entire day.
This punishment seemed to awaken their desire to administer more. They returned to the sitting-room and caught hold of an old gray-haired woman whom I have heard addressed both as Mrs. Grady and Mrs. O'Keefe. She was insane, and she talked almost continually to herself and to those near her. She never spoke very loud, and at the time I speak of was sitting harmlessly chattering to herself. They grabbed her, and my heart ached as she cried:
"For God sake, ladies, don't let them beat me."
"Shut up, you hussy!" said Miss Grady as she caught the woman by her gray hair and dragged her shrieking and pleading from the room. She was also taken to the closet, and her cries grew lower and lower, and then ceased.
The nurses returned to the room and Miss Grady remarked that she had "settled the old fool for awhile." I told some of the physicians of the occurrence, but they did not pay any attention to it.
Once a week the patients are given a bath, and that is the only time they see soap. A patient handed me a piece of soap one day about the size of a thimble, I considered it a great compliment in her wanting to be kind, but I thought she would appreciate the cheap soap more than I, so I thanked her but refused to take it. On bathing day the tub is filled with water, and the patients are washed, one after the other, without a change of water. This is done until the water is really thick, and then it is allowed to run out and the tub is refilled without being washed. The same towels are used on all the women, those with eruptions as well as those without. The healthy patients fight for a change of water, but they are compelled to submit to the dictates of the lazy, tyrannical nurses. The dresses are seldom changed oftener than once a month. If the patient has a visitor, I have seen the nurses hurry her out and change her dress before the visitor comes in. This keeps up the appearance of careful and good management.
--Ten Days in a Mad-House

And after all that she reported on and saw, her article helped force the health care system for the mentally ill to review their policies on both what classifies a person as "insane" and the treatment those persons get.
 Sadly, asylums continued and many became even more abusive and vile but Nelly Bly was able to shine light on how the system was dealing with undesirables and the mentally ill in the late 1800s. Years before the lobotomies and medical experiments started. Because of her courage people could no longer walk by an asylum and pretend these atrocities were not going on behind the locked gates and barred windows. 

I chose the name Nelly in part as an homage to Nellie Bly and what she stood for. I do believe that one person can change the world but I believe it is better to have the world join in and help change itself. The best way to do that is push through the fear and expose the truth about discrimination, stigma, bias and the ugliness those things promote. I believe that we all can stand up and change the way we are viewed and treated. We just have to push through the fear and stand up.

Neurotic Nelly

For more information on the expose Nelly Bly wrote look up Ten Days in a Mad House. It is a sad, disturbing, and yet interesting read.


  1. That's about the best article I have read in a very, very long time. Superb.

  2. VERY interesting story! I'm going to have to check it out more.

    1. Thank you, it is a really interesting read. Some of it is quite disturbing though. It is all over the internet and you can read it for free at :

      as well as all of her other articles.

  3. THAT WAS AMAZING. PLs everybody take 5 minutes from your day and read this blog though.