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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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THE superintendent now realized that I was altogether too energetic a humanitarian to remain in a ward with so many other patients. My actions had a demoralizing effect upon them; so I was forthwith transferred to a private room, one of two situated in a small one-story annex. These new quarters were rather attractive, and not unlike a conventional bachelor apartment.


As there was no one here with whom I could interfere I got along without making any disturbance -- that is, so long as I had a certain special attendant, a man suited to my temperament. He who was now placed over me understood human nature and could recognize it even in an insane man. He never resorted to force if argument failed to move me; and trifling transgressions, which would have led to a fight had he behaved like a typical attendant, he either ignored or privately reported to the doctor. This competent attendant, whom I liked, could and did control me with ease. As it is in the world at large, so in asylums likes and dislikes are usually mutual. Accordingly, for the whole period of my intense excitement there were certain doctors and attendants who could control me, and certain other doctors and attendants whose presence threw me into a state bordering on rage, and frequently into passions which led to distressing results. To place over me those I liked, rather than attempt to make me adjust my unruly personality to those I hated, would have cost attention and perhaps inconvenience. But would not the reward have been worth the pains?


And if hospitals exist for the purpose of restoring patients to health, was I not of right entitled to all such benefits?


Good attendants seldom stay long at their work, for their rewards are insignificant, if not insulting. Unfortunately for me, my good attendant soon left the institution to accept a more attractive business offer. He left without even a good-by to me. Nothing proves more conclusively how important to me would have been his retention than this abrupt leave-taking which the doctor had evidently ordered, thinking perhaps that the prospect of a change of attendants would excite me. However, I caused no trouble when the substitution was made, though I did dislike the idea of having placed over me a man with whom I had previously had misunderstandings. He was about my own age and it was by no means so easy to take orders from him as it had been to obey his immediate predecessor who was considerably older than myself. Then, too, this young attendant disliked me because of the many disagreeable things I had said to him while I was confined in a general ward. He weighed about one hundred ninety pounds to my one hundred thirty, and had evidently been delegated to attend me because of his great physical strength. But I am inclined to think that a choice based on mental rather than physical considerations would have been wiser. The superintendent, because of his advanced age and ill health, had been obliged again to place my case in the hands of the assistant physician, and the latter gave this new attendant certain orders. What I was to be permitted to do, and what not, was carefully specified. These orders, many of them unreasonable, were carried out to the letter. For this I cannot justly blame the attendant. The doctor had deprived him of the right to exercise what judgment he had.


At this period I required but little sleep. I usually spent part of the night drawing; for it was in September, 1902, while I was at the height of my wave of self-centered confidence, that a friend who came to see me had given me a copy of Life. And as I had already decided in my own mind that I was destined to become a writer of books -- or at least of one book -- I thought I might as well be an artist, too, and illustrate my own productions. In school I had never cared for drawing; nor at college, either, where, at the Yale Art School, I took a compulsory and distasteful course in that subject. But now my awakened artistic impulse was irresistible. My first self-imposed lesson was a free-hand copy of the design on the cover of Life, including the illustration. Considering the circumstances, that first drawing was creditable, though I cannot now prove the assertion; for inconsiderate attendants destroyed it, with many more of my drawings and manuscripts. From the very moment I completed that first drawing, honors were divided between my literary and artistic impulses; and a letter which, in due time, I was impelled to write to the Governor of the State incorporated art with literature. I wrote and read several hours a day and I spent as many more, drawing. But the assistant physician, instead of making it easy for me to rid myself of an excess of energy along literary and artistic lines, balked me at every turn, and seemed to delight in displaying as little interest as possible in my newly awakened ambitions. So that at a time when everything should have been done to calm my abnormally active mind, a studied indifference and failure to protect my interests kept me in a state of constant exasperation.

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