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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 15:


However, the physician in charge was really trying, so far as he knew how, to do a very disagreeable thing as delicately as possible. The gas-jet in my room was situated at a distance, and stronger light was needed to find the keyholes and lock the muff when adjusted. Hence, an attendant was standing by with a lighted candle. Seating himself on the side of the bed the physician said: "You won't try again to do what you did in New Haven, will you?" Now one may have done many things in a city where he has lived for a score of years, and it is not surprising that I failed to catch the meaning of the doctor's question. It was only after months of secret puzzling that I at last did discover his reference to my attempted suicide. But now the burning candle in the hands of the attendant, and a certain similarity between the doctor's name and the name of a man once accused of arson, led me to imagine that in some way I had been connected with that crime; and for months I firmly believed I stood charged as an accomplice.


The putting on of the muff was the most humiliating incident of my life. The shaving of my legs and the wearing on my brow of the court-plaster brand of infamy had been humiliating, but those experiences had not overwhelmed my very heart as did this bitter ordeal. I resisted weakly, and, after the muff was adjusted and locked, for the first time since my mental collapse, I wept. And I remember distinctly why I wept. The key that locked the muff unlocked in imagination the door of the home in New Haven which I believed I had disgraced, -- and seemed for a time to unlock my heart. Anguish beat my mind into a momentary sanity, and with a wholly sane emotion I keenly felt my imagined disgrace. As is usual under such circumstances my thoughts centered on my mother. Her (and other members of the family) I could plainly see at home in a state of dejection and despair over her imprisoned and heartless son. I wore the muff each night for several weeks, and for the first few nights the unhappy glimpses of a ruined home recurred and increased my suffering.


It was not always as an instrument of restraint that the muff was employed. Frequently it was used as a means of discipline, on account of supposed stubborn disobedience to the attendant. Many times was I roughly overpowered by two attendants who locked my hands and coerced me to do whatever I had refused to do. My arms and hands were my only weapons of defense. My feet were still in plaster casts, and my back had been so severely injured as to necessitate my lying flat upon it most of the time. It was so that these unequal fights were fought. And I had not even the satisfaction of tongue-lashing my oppressors for I was practically speechless.


My attendants, like most others in such institutions, were ill-qualified to understand the operations of my mind, and what they could not understand they would seldom tolerate. Yet they were not entirely to blame. They were simply carrying out to the letter, orders which they had received from the doctors. In fact one of these attendants later became so disgusted with the continued exercise of unfairness toward me that he secretly favored me by refraining from force when I refused to do certain things which he knew would annoy and distress me.


To ask a patient in my condition to take a little medicated sugar seemed reasonable. I concede that; and my refusal was exasperating. Had I been in the place of my keepers, and they in mine, I might have acted no more wisely than they. But, from my point of view, my refusal was justifiable. That innocuous sugar disc to me seemed saturated with the blood of loved ones; and so much as to touch it was to shed their blood -- perhaps on the very scaffold on which I was destined to die. For myself I cared little. I was anxious to die, and eagerly would I have taken the sugar disc had I had any reason to believe that it was deadly poison. The sooner I could die and be forgotten the better for all with whom I had ever come in contact. To continue to live was simply to be the treacherous tool of unscrupulous detectives, eager to exterminate my innocent relatives and friends, if so their fame could be made secure in the annals of their craft.


But the thoughts associated with the taking of the medicine were seldom twice alike. If, before it, something happened to remind me of mother, father, a relative, or a friend, I imagined that compliance would compromise, if not eventually destroy, that particular person. Who would not resist when meek acceptance would be a confession which would doom his own mother or father to prison, or ignominy, or death? It was for this that I was reviled, for this, subjected to cruel restraint.


Let those in charge of such institutions, who have a stubborn patient to deal with, remember what I say. In the strict sense of the word there is no such thing as a genuinely stubborn insane person. The stubborn men and women in the world are sane; and the fortunate prevalence of sanity may be approximately estimated by the preponderance of stubbornness in society at large. When one possessed of the blessed means of resolving his own errors continues to cherish an unreasonable belief -- that is stubbornness. But for a man bereft of reason to adhere to an idea which to him seems absolutely correct and true because he has been deprived of the means of detecting his error -- that is not stubbornness. It is a symptom of his disease, and merits the indulgence of forbearance, if not genuine sympathy. Certainly the afflicted one deserves no punishment. As well punish with a slap the cheek that is disfigured by the mumps.

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