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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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Most sane people think that no insane person can reason logically. But this is not so. Upon unreasonable premises I made most reasonable deductions, and that at the time when my mind was in its most disturbed condition. Had the papers which I read on the day which I supposed to be February 1st borne a January date, I might not then, for so long a time, have believed in a special edition. Probably I should have inferred that the regular editions had been held back. But the papers I had were dated about two weeks ahead. Now if a sane person on February 1st receive a newspaper dated February 14th, he will be fully justified in thinking something wrong, either with the paper or with himself. But the shifted calendar which had planted itself in my mind meant as much to me as the true calendar does to any sane business man. During the seven hundred and ninety-eight days of depression I drew countless incorrect deductions. But such as they were they were deductions, and the mental process was not other than that which takes place in a well-ordered mind.


My gradually increasing vitality, although it increased my fear of trial, impelled me to take new risks. I began to read not only newspapers, but also such books as were placed within my reach. Yet had they not been placed there I should have gone without them, for I would never ask even for what I greatly desired and knew I could have for the asking.


Whatever love of literature I now have dates from this time, when I was a mental incompetent and confined. Lying on a shelf in my room was a large volume of George Eliot's works. For several days I cast longing glances at the book and finally plucked up the courage to take little nibbles now and then. These were so good that I grew bold and at last began to read the book openly. Its contents at the time made but little impression on my mind, but I enjoyed it. I read also some of Addison's essays; and had I been fortunate enough to have read these earlier in life I might have been spared the delusion that I could detect in many passages the altering hand of my persecutors.


The friendly attendant, from whom I was now separated, tried upon all occasions to send his favors after me into my new quarters. At first he came in person to see me, but the superintendent soon forbade that, and also ordered him not to communicate with me in any way. It was this, and other differences naturally arising between such a doctor and such an attendant, that soon brought about the discharge of the latter. But "discharge" is hardly the word, for the attendant had become disgusted with the institution, and had remained so long only because of his interest in me. When he left, he informed the owner that he would soon cause my removal from the institution. This he did. He persuaded my relatives to let him care for me in his own home. I left the sanatorium in March, 1901, and remained for three months in the home of my former attendant who lived with a grandmother and an aunt in a small town not far from New Haven.


It is not to be inferred that I entertained any affection for my friendly keeper. I continued to regard him as an enemy; and my life at his home became a monotonous round of displeasures. I took my three meals a day. I would sit listlessly for hours at a time in the house. Daily I went out -- attended, of course -- for short walks about the town. These were not enjoyable. I believed everybody was familiar with my black record and expected me to be put to death. Indeed, I wondered why passers-by did not revile or even stone me. Once I was sure I heard a little girl call me "Traitor!" That, I believe, was my last "false voice," but it made such an impression that I can even now recall vividly the appearance of that dreadful child.


During these three months I again refused to read books, though they were within reach, and I returned to newspapers -- probably because I feared to indicate too much improvement and thus hasten my trial.


My attendant and his relatives were very kind and very patient -- for I was still intractable. But their efforts to make me comfortable, so far as they had any effect, made keener my desire for death at my own hands. I shrank from death; -- but I preferred to die by my own hand and take the blame for it, rather than to be executed and bring lasting disgrace on my family, friends, and I may add with truth, on Yale. For I reasoned that parents throughout the country would withhold their sons from a university which numbered among its graduates such a despicable being as I. But from any tragic act I was providentially restrained by the very delusion which gave birth to the desire, -- in a way which signally appeared on a later and, to me, memorable day.




I AM in a position not unlike that of a man whose obituary notice has appeared prematurely. Few men have ever had a better opportunity than I to test the quality of their relatives' affection, and similarly to test their friends. That my relatives and friends did their duty and did it willingly is naturally a constant source of satisfaction to me. Indeed, I believe that that unbroken record of devotion is one of the factors which have made it possible for me to take up again my duties in the social and business world with a comfortable feeling of continuity. I can now view my past with as much complacency as does the man whose life has been uniformly uneventful.

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