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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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Page 14:


It can easily be seen that I was between several devils and the deep sea. To eat or not to eat, perplexed me more than the problem conveyed by a few shorter words perplexed a certain prince, who, had he lived a few centuries later (out of a book) might have been forced to enter a kingdom where kings and princes are made and unmade on short notice. Indeed, he might have lost his principality entirely -- or, at least, his subjects; for as I later had occasion to observe, the frequency with which a dethroned reason mounts a throne and rules a world is such that self-crowned royalty in asylums for the insane receives but scant homage from the less elated members of the court.


For several weeks I ate but little. Though the desire for food was not wanting, my mind (that dog-in-the-manger) refused to let me satisfy my hunger. Coaxing by the attendants was of little avail; force was usually of less. But the threat that liquid nourishment would be administered through my nostrils sometimes prevailed, for the attribute of shrewdness was not so utterly lost that I could not choose the less of two evils.


What I looked upon as a gastronomic ruse of the detectives sometimes overcame my fear of eating. Every Sunday ice-cream was served with dinner. At the beginning of the meal a large pyramid of it would be placed before me in a saucer several sizes too small. I believed that it was never to be mine unless I first partook of the more substantial fare. As I dallied over the meal, that delicious pyramid would gradually melt, slowly filling the small saucer, which I knew could not long continue to hold all of its original contents. As this liquefying process advanced I became more indifferent to my eventual fate; and, invariably, before a drop of that precious reward had dripped from the saucer, I had eaten enough of the dinner to prove my title to the seductive dessert. Moreover, during its enjoyment, I no longer cared a whit for charges or convictions of all the crimes on the calendar. This fact is less trifling than it seems; for it proves the value of strategy as opposed to brute and sometimes brutal force, of which I shall presently give some illuminating examples.




FOR the first few weeks after my arrival at the sanatorium, I was cared for by two attendants, one by day and one by night. I was still helpless, being unable to put my feet out of bed, much less upon the floor, and it was necessary that I be continually watched, lest an impulse to walk should seize me. After a month or six weeks I grew stronger, and from that time had but one attendant, who was with me all day, and, at night, slept in the same room.


The earliest possible dismissal of one of my two attendants was expedient for the family purse; for the charges at this, as at all other sanatoriums operated for private gain, are nothing less than extortionate. But such are the deficiencies in the prevailing treatment of the insane that relief in one respect occasions evil in another. No sooner was the number of attendants thus reduced than I was subjected to a detestable form of restraint which amounted to torture. To guard me against myself while my remaining attendant slept, my hands were imprisoned in what is known as a "muff." A "muff," innocent enough to the eyes of those who have never worn one, is in reality a relic of the Inquisition. It is an instrument of restraint which has been in use for centuries among ignorant practitioners, and even in many of our public and private institutions is still in use. Such an incident as I am about to recount cannot occur in a properly conducted institution, and that fact made its occurrence a crime, though perhaps an unintentional one; for good motives born of professional ignorance are little, if at all, better than deliberate bad intention. The muff I wore was made of canvas, and differed in construction from a muff designed for the hands of fashion only in the inner partition, also of canvas, which separated my hands but allowed them to overlap. At either end was a strap which buckled tightly around the wrist and was locked.


The assistant physician, when he announced to me that I was to be subjected every night to this restraint, broke the news gently -- so gently that I did not then know, nor did I guess for several months, why this thing was done to me. And thus it was that I drew deductions of my own which added not a little to my torture. I have already suggested that an insane person should be treated as sane in all the ways that are possible. It is a mistaken delicacy of feeling which impels doctors and others in charge to avoid any direct reference to a patient's insanity in the presence of the patient himself. I believe it would have mitigated my distress to have been told in plain English that I was insane and had, because of that condition, attempted suicide. To be sure I should perhaps have regarded those about me as suffering under a strange delusion, but I believe that the reason for their behavior would have wormed its way into my understanding months earlier than it did.

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