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Seeking asylum

I'm grateful for Peter Eichenberger's latest piece ("Saving Dix—and what she stood for," Feb. 14), as well as for the Indy's excellent overall coverage of both the place's and the patients' fate.

Having been clinically bipolar and borderline personality disordered since childhood, I was a patient twice in the early '70s at Boston State Hospital in Massachusetts. It is, like Dix, one of the oldest mental hospitals in the country. Later, I served as a trainer and organizational development specialist at Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Mass., one of Boston State's sister institutions. Met State has been closed for many years now as a result of the deinstitutionalization and consolidation movement that still continues and now impacts Dix. I also worked as a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of mental health programs for many years.

Not long ago, briefly homeless and in relapse, I had the privilege to be a resident for a short while at Dix's neighbor, The Healing Place of Wake County. There, lonely and depressed, on a couple of weekends, I found solace by strolling around Dix's peaceful, graceful expanse and meditating at one the gazebos for a few hours.

For several reasons I have not followed in detail the process of closing Dix and dividing up the spoils (both the land and the residents). I also hope that inevitable commercialization will integrate with the hospital's history.

On first hearing of the controversy that still unfolds, I wished that plans could include converting at least some of the existing buildings, in a private/public partnership, into a detailed and sympathetic museum of the rich and sometimes sad history of both inpatient and outpatient mental health treatments and changing attitudes about the same.

I laud Eichenberger for highlighting the original term "asylum." Mental institutions were first developed in the 19th century to protect crazy folks from you "healthy" ones, not the other way around. May all of us find needed asylum and education in the few remaining places still around.

Ted Donlan

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