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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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All my life I have exhibited more than the average desire to superintend; and when a man is so constituted that he knows -- or thinks he knows -- what he wants to do at any present or future time, it is quite natural that he should give more advice than he is willing to take. In my elated condition I had an excess of questionable executive ability; and in order to decrease this executive pressure I proceeded to assume entire charge of that portion of the hospital in which I happened at the moment to be confined. What I eventually issued as imperative orders, at first were often presented as suggestions. But my statements were usually requests -- my requests, demands; and, if my suggestions were not accorded a respectful hearing, and my demands acted on at once, I invariably substituted vituperative ultimatums. These were double-edged, and involved me in trouble quite as often as they gained the ends I had in view.


The assistant physician in charge of my case, realizing that he could not grant all of my requests, unwisely decided to deny most of them. Had he been tactful he could have taken the same stand without arousing my animosity. As it was, he treated me with a contemptuous sort of indifference which finally developed into spite, and led to much trouble for us both. During the two wild months that followed, the superintendent and the steward could induce me to do almost anything by simply requesting it. If two men out of three could control me easily during such a period of mental excitement, is it not reasonable to suppose that the third man, the assistant physician, could likewise have controlled me had he treated me with due consideration? It was his undisguised superciliousness that gave birth to my contempt for him. In a letter written during my second week of elation, I expressed the opinion that he and I should get along well together. But that was before I had become troublesome enough to try the man's patience. Nevertheless, it indicates that this doctor could have saved himself hours of time and subsequent worry had he met my friendly advances in the proper spirit. Physicians throughout the country engaged in work among the insane may profitably take this observation to heart, -- and "heart" I use advisedly, for it is the quality of heart rather than the quantity of mind that cures or makes happy the insane.


The literary impulse took such a hold on me that when I first sat down to compose a letter I bluntly refused to stop writing and go to bed when the attendant ordered me to do so. For over one year this man had seen me mute and meek, and the sudden and startling change from passive obedience to uncompromising independence naturally puzzled him. He threatened to drag me to my room, but strangely enough decided not to do so. After half an hour's futile coaxing, during which time an unwonted supply of blood was drawn to his brain, that surprised organ proved its gratitude by giving birth to a timely and sensible idea. With an unaccustomed resourcefulness, by cutting off the supply of light at the switch, he put the entire ward in darkness. Secretly I admired the stratagem, but my words on that occasion probably conveyed no idea of the approbation that lurked within me.


I then went to bed, but not to sleep. The ecstasy of elation made each conscious hour one of rapturous happiness, and my memory knows no day of brighter sunlight than those nights. The flood gates of thought were wide open. So jealous of each other were the thoughts that they seemed to stumble over one another in their mad rush to present themselves to my re-enthroned ego.


I naturally craved companionship, but there were not many patients to whom I cared to talk. I did, however, greatly desire to engage the assistant physician in conversation, as he was a man of some education and familiar with the history of my case. It will be recalled that the assistant physician at the sanatorium subjected me to mechanical restraint on the plea of protecting me against myself, and later, with disgusting brutality, assaulted me. The assistant physician who now had me in charge acted with a like inconsistency. When my vocal cords were bound as with a chain, by delusions, he had tried to induce me to speak. Now, when I was at last willing to talk, he would scarcely condescend to listen. What seemed to me his studied and ill-disguised avoidance only served to whet my desire to detain him whenever possible. Of course my now of words was interminable. To listen to all of it would have been unbearable, -- and, indeed, physically impossible for a doctor with duties to other patients as well as to myself. Yet a physician genuinely interested in his work would, as I continue to think, have been glad to observe my case more closely than this one did -- for scientific if not humanitarian reasons. That I do him no injustice I am led to believe by his subsequent conduct. He was content to act as a sort of monitor, to which role he added that of despot when anything arose to interrupt the even tenor of his almost automatic supervision.

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