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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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As I have seen scores of insane persons neglected by their relatives -- a neglect which recovered patients resent and often brood upon -- my sense of gratitude is the livelier, and especially so because of the difficulty with which friendly intercourse with me was maintained during two of the three years I was ill. Relatives and friends frequently called to see me. True, these calls were trying for all concerned. I spoke to none, not even to my mother and father. For, though they all appeared about as they used to appear, I was able to detect some slight difference in look or gesture, and this was enough to confirm my belief that they were impersonators, engaged in a conspiracy, not merely to entrap me, but to incriminate those whom they impersonated. It is not strange, then, that I refused to have anything to say to them, or to permit them to come near me. To have kissed the woman who was my mother, but whom I believed to be a Federal conspirator, would have been an act of betrayal. These interviews were much harder for my relatives and friends than for me. But even to me they were in the nature of ordeals; and though I suffered less at these particular moments than my callers did, my sum of suffering was greater, for I was constantly anticipating these unwelcome but eventually beneficial visitations.


Suppose my relatives and friends had held aloof during this apparently hopeless period, what to-day would be my feelings toward them? Let others answer. For over two years I considered all letters forgeries. Yet the day came when I convinced myself of their genuineness and the genuineness of the love of those who sent them. Perhaps some of the persons related to the two hundred thousand victims of insanity in this country to-day will find some comfort in this fact. To be on the safe and humane side let every sane relative and friend of persons so afflicted remember the Golden Rule, which has never been suspended with respect to the insane. Go to see them, with as much of the light of sanity as you possess; treat them sanely, write them sane letters; keep them informed about the home-circle; let not your devotion flag, nor accept any repulse. There is a sure reward -- sometime -- somewhere.


The consensus of opinion now was that my condition was unlikely ever to improve, and the question of my commitment to some institution where incurable cases could be treated came up for decision. While it was being considered my attendant kept assuring me that it would be unnecessary to commit me to an institution if I would only show some improvement. For that purpose he repeatedly suggested that I go to New Haven and spend a day at home. I did finally indicate my willingness to make the trip; and nothing proves more conclusively my dread of a hospital for the insane than my action that day. I did not wish to go to New Haven. I dreaded doing so. To my best knowledge and belief I had no home there, nor did I have any relatives or friends who would greet me upon my return. How could they, if still free, even approach me, while I was surrounded by detectives? Then, too, I had a lurking suspicion that my attendant's offer was made in the belief that I would not dare accept it. By taking him at his word I knew that I should at least have an opportunity to test the truth of many of his statements regarding my old home. Life had become insupportable; and back of my consent to return was a willingness to beard the detectives in their own den, regardless of consequences. With these and many other reflections I started for the train. The events of the journey which followed are of no moment. We soon reached the New Haven station; and, as I had expected, no relative or friend was there to greet us. This apparent indifference of relatives seemed to support my suspicion that my attendant had not told me the truth; but I found little satisfaction in uncovering his deceit, for the more of a liar I proved him to be, the worse would be my position. We walked to the front of the station and stood there for almost half an hour. The unfortunate but perfectly natural wording of a question caused the delay.


"Well, shall we go home?" said my attendant. How could I say "Yes"? I had no home. I feel sure I should finally have said "No," had he continued to put the question in that form. Consciously or unconsciously, however, he altered it. "Shall we go to 30 Trumbull Street?" That was what I had been waiting for. Certainly I would go to the house designated by that number. I had come to New Haven to see that house; and I had just a faint hope that its appearance and the appearance of its occupants might prove convincing.


At home my visit came as a complete surprise. I could not believe that my relatives -- if they were relatives -- had not been informed of my presence in the city, and their words and actions upon my arrival confirmed suspicion and killed the faint hope I had briefly cherished. My hosts were simply the same old persecutors with whom I had already had too much to do. Soon after my arrival dinner was served. I sat at my old place at the table, and secretly admired the skill with which he who asked the blessing imitated the language and the well-remembered intonation of my father's voice. But alas! for the family -- I imagined my relatives banished and languishing in prison, and the old home confiscated by the government!

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