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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 26:


My memory during this phase might be likened to a photographic film, seven hundred and ninety-eight days long. Each impression seems to have been made in a negative way and then, in a fraction of a second, miraculously developed and made positive. Of hundreds of impressions made during that depressed period I had not before been conscious, but from the moment I regained my reason they have stood out vividly. Not only so, but all impressions gathered during earlier years have done likewise. Since that August 30th, which I regard as my second birthday (my first was on the 30th of another month) my mind has exhibited qualities which, prior to that time, were so latent as to be scarcely distinguishable. As a result, I find myself able to do desirable things I never before dreamed of doing -- the writing of this book is one of them.


Yet had I failed to convince myself on August 30th, when my brother came to see me, that he was no spy, I am almost sure that I should have compassed my own destruction within the following ten days, for the next month, I believed, was the fatal one of opening courts. It was death by drowning that impended. And I find it peculiarly appropriate to liken my salvation itself to a prolonged process of drowning. Thousands of minutes of the seven hundred and ninety-eight days -- and there were over one million of them, during which I had been borne down by intolerably burdensome delusions -- were, I imagine, much like the last minutes of consciousness experienced by persons who drown. Many who have narrowly escaped this fate can testify to the vividness with which good and bad impressions of their entire life rush through their confused minds, and hold them in a grip of terror until a kind unconsciousness envelopes them. Such had been many of my moments. But the only unconsciousness which had deadened my sensibilities during these two despondent years was the semi-unconsciousness of sleep itself. Though I slept well most of the time, mine was seldom a dreamless sleep. Many of my dreams were, if anything, harder to bear than my delusions of the day, for what little reason I had was absolutely suspended in sleep. Almost every night my brain was at battledore and shuttlecock with weird thoughts. And if not all my dreams were terrifying, this fact seemed to be only because a perverted and perverse Reason, in order that its possessor might not lose the capacity for suffering, knew how to keep Hope alive with visions which supplied the contrast necessary for keen appreciation.


No man can be born again, but I believe I came as near it as ever a man did. To leave behind what was in reality a Hell, and, in less than one second, have this good green earth revealed in more glory than most men ever see it in, was a compensating privilege which makes me feel that my suffering was distinctly worth while. This statement will no doubt seem extravagant to those who dread insanity; but those who appreciate what a privilege it is to be placed in a position to do great good, will, I am sure, credit me with sincerity. For have I not before me a field of philanthropy in which to work -- a field which, even in this altruistic age, is practically untouched?


I have already described the peculiar sensation which assailed me when, in June, 1900, I lost my reason. At that time my brain felt as though pricked by a million needles at white heat. On this August 30th, 1902, shortly after regaining my reason, I had another most distinct sensation in the brain. It started under my brow and gradually spread until the entire surface was affected. The throes of a dying Reason had been torture. The sensations felt as my dead Reason was reborn were delightful. It seemed as though the refreshing breath of some kind Goddess of Wisdom were being gently blown against the surface of my brain. It was a sensation not unlike that produced by a menthol pencil rubbed ever so gently over a fevered brow. So delicate, so crisp and exhilarating was it that words fail me in my attempt to describe it. Doctors have it, in theory at least, that my depressed condition had been caused by a defective circulation of blood in the brain. The elated phase of my illness, which immediately followed, was, on the other hand, due to an over-stimulation of the brain-cells, caused by an intoxicating supply of blood vouchsafed by an abnormally joyous heart. Few, if any experiences, can be more delightful than that which followed. If the exaltation produced by some drugs is anything like it, I can easily understand how and why certain pernicious habits enslave those who contract them. For me, however, this experience was liberation, not enslavement.




AFTER two years of silence I found it no easy matter to carry on with my brother a sustained conversation. So weak were my vocal cords from lack of use that every few minutes I must either rest or whisper. And, upon trying, I found myself unable to whistle, notwithstanding the popular belief, drawn from vague memories of small-boyhood, that this art is instinctive. Those who all their lives have talked at will cannot possibly appreciate the enjoyment I found in using my regained power of speech. Reluctantly I returned to the ward; but not until my brother had left for home, laden with so much of my conversation that it took most of his leisure for the next two days to tell the family what I had said in two hours.

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