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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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After the broken bones had been set, and the first effects of the severe shock I had sustained had worn off, I began to gain strength. About the third week I was able to sit up and was occasionally taken out of doors. But each day, and specially during the hours of the night, my delusions increased in force and variety. The world was fast becoming to me a stage on which every human being within the range of my senses seemed to be playing a part, and that a part which would lead not only to my destruction (for which I cared little), but also to the ruin of all with whom I had ever come in contact. In the month of July several thunderstorms occurred. To me the thunder was "stage" thunder, the lightning, man-made, and the accompanying rain due to some clever contrivance of my persecutors. There was a chapel connected with the hospital -- or at least a room where religious services were held every Sunday. To me the hymns were funeral dirges; and the mumbled prayers, faintly audible, were in behalf of every sufferer in the world but one.


It was my eldest brother who looked after my care and interests during my entire illness. Toward the end of July, he informed me that I was to be taken home again. I must have given him an incredulous look, for he said, "Don't you think we can take you home? Well, we can and will." Believing myself in the hands of the police I did not see how that was possible. Nor did I have any desire to return. That a man who had disgraced his family should again enter his old home, and expect his relatives to treat him as though nothing were changed, was a thought against which my whole nature rebelled; and, when the day came for my return, I fought my brother and the doctor feebly as they lifted me from the bed. But, realizing the uselessness of resistance, I soon submitted, was placed in a carriage, and driven to the house I had left a month earlier.


For a few hours my mind was easier than it had been. But my new-found ease was soon dispelled by the appearance of a nurse -- one of several who had attended me at the hospital. Though at home and surrounded by relatives I jumped at the conclusion that I was still under police surveillance. At my request my brother had promised not to engage any nurse who had been in attendance at the hospital. The difficulty of procuring any other led him to disregard my request, which at the time he held simply as a whim. But he did not disregard it entirely, for the nurse selected had merely acted as a substitute on one occasion, and then only for about an hour. That was long enough, though, for my memory to become acquainted with her image. My brother's mistake was grave, for the unintentional breaking of that promise broke the only remaining thread that bound me to the world. And it is now clear to my judgment that the most trifling promise, direct or implied, made under such circumstances, should, if possible, be carried out to the letter. This question I have since discussed with alienists, all of whom agree with me. Suspicion cannot be overcome by being fed upon untruth itself, and suspicion is the condition of most unbalanced minds. I am convinced that the unhappiness of many such would be greatly decreased if, as nearly as possible, they received at the hands of sane persons the treatment accorded sane persons. It should never be taken for granted that a perverted mind cannot detect a perverted moral act. To gain the shattered confidence of suspicious insane patients, their treatment should be consistently honest and kind. But let me in all justice and all gratitude emphasize the fact that my brother was not to blame for his error of judgment; and without abating a jot of my conviction that such little subterfuges are injurious to the patient and should be scrupulously avoided -- most of all by his relatives, and by the doctors and nurses in charge of him -- I must add that, of course, had it not been this incident, almost any other would as surely have precipitated the plunge to chaos of my swaying reason.


Finding myself still under surveillance, I soon jumped to a second conclusion, namely: that this was no brother of mine at all. He instantly appeared in the light of a sinister double, acting as a detective. After that I refused absolutely to speak to him again, and this repudiation I extended to all other relatives, friends, and acquaintances. If the man I had accepted as my brother was spurious, so were all the rest -- such was my deduction. For more than two years I was without relatives or friends, in fact, a man without a world, except that one created by my own mind from the chaos that reigned within it. Having lost all touch, even with my mother and father whom I had seen, naturally God, whom I had not seen, ceased to exist for me. Thus I was denied the comfort which comes to so many in distress.


While I was at Grace Hospital it was my sense of hearing which was the most disturbed. Soon after I was placed in my room at home all of my senses became perverted. I still heard the "false voices" -- which were doubly false, for Truth no longer existed. The tricks played upon me by my perverted senses of taste, touch, smell, and sight were the source of great mental anguish. None of my food had its usual flavor. This soon led to that common delusion that some of it contained poison -- not deadly poison, for I knew that my enemies hated me too much to allow me the boon of death, but poison sufficient to aggravate my discomfort. At breakfast I had cantaloupe, liberally sprinkled with salt. The salt seemed to pucker my mouth, and I believed it to be powdered alum. Usually, with my supper, sliced peaches were served. Though there was sugar on the peaches, salt would have done as well. Salt, sugar, and powdered alum had become the same to me.

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