Welcome to Hystera!
This all started at the history of psychiatry museum back in Ghent, Belgium. The Dr. Guislain Museum, a former asylum and still active psychiatric facility, houses a permanent history of psychiatry collection as well as several rotating art exhibits. It was unsettling at times—covered windows, low light, temporary walls through which you could see parts of the old building, and the occasional mannequin that catches you off guard. Nevertheless, I spent three hours wandering through the compact exhibit, reading every placard and panel. I followed the evolution of madness to mental illness, walked through remedies from skull trepanation to bleeding to pharmacology, and started to trace the connections between reproductive and mental health.
After that, everything connected.
In Berlin, the Museum of Medical History displayed an impressive collection of pathological anatomy and highlighted the medicalization of gynecological care. The Sex Museum in Amsterdam reinforced the commodification of the female body and reminded me of the oft-ignored connection between religion and sex. The Van Gogh Museum interwove Van Gogh’s mental health with his art and underscored the connection between creativity and madness.
I started seeing these themes everywhere. These experiences all connected to each other and to this core thread I had latched onto: What is madness? Then my personal life started reinforcing these connections and now here we are. Me pursuing a long-held goal of sharing and getting better at writing and you along for the ride.
There is a lot of meaning for me in the word “hystera.” It is derived from the Greek word for “uterus,” and it is also from “hystera” that the word “hysteria” is derived. I've spent the past two years working in reproductive health and have spent considerable time examining cervixes and uteri. This personal connection is amplified by the historical. Hysteria was a pathological disorder, specific to women, that was characterized by volatile behavior and emotional excess. It was believed to be caused by disturbances in the uterus and was a general catch-all diagnosis for women who were loud, outspoken, or basically difficult in any way. It is because of this history that I have chosen the name “Hystera” for this project.
Hystera, to me, is the intersection of mental health, feminism, science, reproductive health, bodies, and culture. Major themes of this project include anthropology of the body, narrative medicine, history of science, and reproductive justice. Put more simply, this project exists at the intersection of bodies, science, religion, and feminism.
In this project I want to explore the threads that connect these ideas. Expect to read more about the pathologization of women, the stigma of mental health, shifting attitudes toward mental illness, witches, menstruation, depression, and revisionist history. Given our political climate, there will probably be some writing on that too.
After several years of dealing with my own mental health and after spending the past two years engaging more deeply with reproductive health, this blog is a way for me to more actively work through these ideas. My primary objective with Hystera is to hold myself accountable for writing. But I'm also interested in discussion around these ideas and welcome your comments, (polite) disagreement, and engagement.
I don't yet know where this project is headed, but the only way to figure it out is to keep at it.