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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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THOUGH my few hours at home failed to prove that I did not belong in an institution, it served one good purpose. Certain relatives who had objected to my commitment now agreed that there was no alternative, and, accordingly, my eldest brother caused himself to be appointed my conservator. He had long favored taking such action, but other relatives counseled delay. They had been deterred by that inbred dread of seeing a member of the family branded by law as a mental incompetent, and, to a degree, stigmatized by an unquestionably mistaken public opinion. The very thought was repugnant; and a mistaken sense of duty -- and perhaps a suggestion of pride -- led them to wish me out of such an institution as long as possible.


Though at the time I dreaded commitment, it was the best possible thing that could befall me; and I wish to emphasize this fact in order that others, situated as my relatives were, may have fewer misgivings. In most instances an insane person is more likely to recover in a reputable institution than he is if kept in touch with the world he knew while sane. To be in the world and not of it is exasperating. The constant friction that is inevitable under such conditions -- conditions such as existed for me in the home of my attendant -- can only aggravate the mental disturbance. Particularly is this true of those laboring under delusions of persecution. Such delusions multiply with the complexity of the life led. It is the even-going routine of institutional life which affords the indispensable quieting effect -- provided that routine is well ordered, and not defeated by annoyances imposed by ignorant or indifferent doctors and attendants.


My commitment occurred on June 11th, 1901. The institution to which I was committed is considered one of the best of its kind in the country; and the conditions there are to be found in a greater or less degree in most other such institutions in every State in the Union. For that reason it is not necessary that I name it. I am not writing an expose of the three hospitals in which I was confined. The evils they represent are almost universal, and I do not propose to becloud the main issue, which is the need of a movement to eliminate these evils everywhere. For this reason and, in some instances, for charity's sake, I suppress the names of those who were in authority over me.


The institution itself was well situated. Though the view was a restricted one, a vast expanse of lawn, surrounded by groups of trees -- patches of primeval forest -- gave the place an atmosphere which was not without its remedial value. My quarters were comfortable, and, after a little, I adjusted myself to my new environment. A description of the daily routine will, I believe, serve to dispel many mistaken ideas regarding the life led by the inmates of such institutions.


Breakfast was served about 7.30 A.M., though the hour varied somewhat according to the season -- earlier in summer and later in winter. In the spring, summer, and fall, when the weather was favorable, those able to go out of doors were taken after breakfast for walks within the grounds, or were allowed to roam about the lawn and sit under the trees, where they remained for an hour or two at a time. Dinner was usually served shortly after noon, and then the active patients were again taken out of doors, where they remained an hour or two doing much as they pleased, but under the eyes of attendants. About half-past three they returned to their respective wards, there to remain until the next day -- except those who cared to attend the religious service which was held almost every afternoon in an endowed chapel. Few such institutions in this country have religious services every day. But Dr. Theodore B. Hyslop, Superintendent of Bethlem Royal Hospital (London, England), a specialist in neurology and in the treatment of mental diseases, goes so far as to say: "Of all hygienic measures to counteract disturbed sleep, depressed spirits, and all the miserable sequels of a distressed mind I would undoubtedly give the first place to the simple habit of prayer."


Preachers of the gospel should appreciate this fact, and be oftener seen working among the insane.


In all institutions those confined in different wards go to bed at different hours. The patients in the best wards retire at nine or ten o'clock. Those in the wards where more troublesome cases are treated go to bed usually at seven or eight o'clock. I, while undergoing treatment, have retired at all hours, so that I am in the better position to describe the mysteries of what is, in a way, one of the greatest secret societies in the world.


I soon became accustomed to the rather agreeable routine, and began to enjoy life as much as a man could with the cloud of death hanging over him, -- for I still suffered the constant dread of being removed to court, to prison, and to the gallows or the electric-chair. But my living was hardly life; yet, had I not been burdened with the delusions which held me a prisoner of the police, and kept me a stranger to my old world, I should have been able to enjoy a comparably happy existence in spite of all.

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