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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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I find no fault with the heroic treatment which necessitated the bearing of my weight on my feet at that time; but I do think the superintendent of this sanatorium would have proved himself more humane had he not peremptorily ordered my attendant to discontinue the use of a support which, until the plaster bandages were removed, had enabled me to keep my legs in a horizontal position during those hours of the day that I sat in a chair. His order was that I should put my legs down and keep them down, whether it caused me suffering or not. The pain was of course intense when the blood again began to circulate freely through tissues long unused to its full pressure, and so evident was my distress that the attendant disregarded the doctor's command. (1) He would remove the forbidden support for only a few minutes at a time, gradually lengthening the intervals until at last I was able to do without the support entirely. But, while favoring me, he had to remain on watch to guard against discovery. Each day for several weeks I was forced at first to stagger and finally to walk across the room and back to the bed. The distance was increased as the pain diminished, until I was able to walk without more discomfort than a comparatively pleasant sensation of lameness. For at least two months after I first touched my feet to the floor attendants had to carry me up and down stairs, and for several months longer I went flat-footed.

(1) I am here corroborated by the sworn statement of the attendant who has given me an affidavit which covers all incidents in which he played a part.


Delusions of persecution -- which include "delusions of self-reference" -- though a source of annoyance while I was in an inactive state, annoyed and distressed me even more when I began to move about and was obliged to associate with other patients. To my mind not only were the doctors and attendants detectives; each patient was a detective and the whole institution was a part of the "Third Degree." Scarcely any remark was made in my presence that I could not twist into a cleverly veiled reference to myself. In each person I could see a resemblance to persons I had known, or to the principals or victims of the crimes with which I imagined myself charged. I refused to read, for to read veiled charges and fail to assert my innocence was to incriminate both myself and others. But I looked with longing glances upon all printed matter and, as my curiosity was continually piqued, this enforced abstinence grew to be well-nigh intolerable.


It became again highly expedient to the family purse, upon which my illness was so serious a drain, that every possible saving be made. Therefore I was transferred from the main building, where I had a private room and a special attendant, to a ward where I was to mingle, under an aggregate sort of supervision, with fifteen or twenty other patients. Here I had no special attendant by day, though one slept in my room at night.


Of this ward I had heard alarming reports -- and these from the lips of several attendants. I was therefore greatly disturbed at the proposed change. But, the transfer once accomplished, after a few days I really liked my new quarters better than the old. During the entire time I remained at the sanatorium I was more alert mentally than I gave evidence of being. But not until after my removal to this ward where I was left alone for hours every day did I dare to give evidence of my alertness. Here I even went so far on one occasion as to joke with my new attendant. He had been trying to persuade me to take a bath. I refused, mainly because I did not like the looks of the bath-room, which, with its cement floor and central drain, resembled the washing-room of an improved stable. After all else had failed the attendant tried the role of sympathizer.


"Now I know just how you feel," said he, "I can put myself in your place."


"Well, if you can, do it and take the bath yourself," said I.


The remark is brilliant by contrast with the dismal source from which it escaped. "Escaped" is the word, for the fear that I should hasten my trial by exhibiting too great a gain in health, mental or physical, was already upon me; and it controlled much of my conduct during the succeeding months of despondency.


Having now no special attendant I spent many hours in my room, alone, but not absolutely alone, for somewhere the eye of a detective was evermore upon me. I soon fancied that my case had been transferred from the State to the Federal authorities, and the fear of an all-powerful Secret Service did not tend to ease my laboring imagination. Comparative solitude, however, gave me courage and soon I began to read, regardless of consequences. During the entire period of my depression, every publication seemed to have been written and printed for me, and me alone. Books, magazines, and newspapers seemed to be special editions. The fact that I well knew how inordinate would be the cost of such a procedure in no way shook my faith in it. Indeed, that I was costing my persecutors fabulous sums of money was a source of secret satisfaction -- a psychological phenomenon, perhaps associated with delusions of grandeur which long afterwards asserted themselves. During the earliest stages of my illness I had lost count of time, and the calendar did not right itself until the day when I largely regained my reason. Meanwhile, the date on each newspaper was, according to my reckoning, two weeks out of the way. This confirmed my belief in the special editions as a part of the "Third Degree."

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