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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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But circumstances now arose which brought about the untimely stifling -- I might better say strangulation -- of my artistic impulses. The doctors were led -- unwisely, I believe, considering their methods and the hospital's equipment -- to decide that absolute seclusion was the only thing that would ease my over-active brain. In consequence, all writing and drawing materials and all books were taken from me. And from October 18th until the first of the following January, except for one short fortnight, my brain was left again to all but beat itself into an insane condition, either against itself, or the bare walls and floors of the small, barred rooms in which I was next confined -- hardly better than cells in a State's prison and in some instances far worse.


A corn-cob was the determining factor at this crisis. Seeing in myself an embryonic Raphael I had a habit of preserving all kinds of odds and ends as souvenirs of my development. These, I believed, sanctified by my Midas-like touch, would one day be of great value. If the public can tolerate, as it does, thousands of souvenir hunters, surely an inmate of an asylum should be indulged in the whim for collecting such souvenirs as come within his reach. Among the odds and ends which I had gathered were several corncobs. These I intended to gild and make useful by attaching to them small thermometers. If they seemed valuable to me at the time, that fact in itself should have been reason enough for permitting me to retain them. But, on the morning of October 18th, my athletic attendant, finding them, forthwith informed me that he should throw them away. I as promptly informed him that any such action on his part would lead to a fight. And so it did. (3)

(3) Though I admit that the impulse to collect souvenirs must be held in check, lest a patient's room become a sort of junk-shop, I will not admit that the "souvenir habit" can best be cured by a resort to force -- and abusive language. A tactful appeal to a patient's sense of right and justice will invariably accomplish a better and more lasting result. Witness the case of the attendant whose insane charge had jumped into a deep river with the Mad desire to drown himself. "If you don't come back here I'll lose my job!" shouted the attendant in desperation. The prospective suicide heard the appeal, swam ashore, was saved, and to-day enjoys health and freedom. The truth of this incident is vouched for by Dr. Adolf Meyer, of New York.


When this fight began there were two attendants at hand. I fought them both to a standstill, and told them I should continue to fight until the assistant physician came to the ward. Thereupon, my special attendant, realizing that I meant what I said, held me while the other went for assistance. He soon returned, not with the assistant physician, but with a third attendant, and the fight was renewed. The one who had acted as messenger, being of finer fiber than the other two, stood at a safe distance. It was of course against the rules of the institution for an attendant to strike a patient, and, as I was sane enough to report with a fair chance of belief any forbidden blows, each captor had to content himself with holding me by an arm and attempting to choke me into submission. However, I was able to prevent them from getting a good grip on my throat, and for almost ten minutes I continued to fight, telling them all the time that I would not desist until a doctor should come. An assistant physician, but not the one in charge of my case, finally appeared. He ordered the attendants to place me in the "violent ward," which adjoined the private apartment I was then occupying, and they lost no time in locking me in a small room in that ward.


This first fight of the day occurred about 8 A.M. -- a fact which should be noted, for October 18th, 1902, was about the busiest day of my life. Three fights between sunrise and sunset, and two other incidents not less full of action, and one of them full of torture, give that day a distinctive character.


Friends have said to me: "Well, what is to be done with an insane man when he runs amuck?" The best answer I can make is; "Do nothing to make him run amuck."


A man in the condition in which I was during the period of my elation is a spoiled child. If he wants a thing, harmless to himself and to others, he should have it. A hospital for the insane must answer many of the purposes of a kindergarten and, at times, may well be turned into one. The greater initial expenditure entailed in the individual treatment of a case would be offset by the more rapid recovery and earlier discharge of the patient. While I was on the rampage, not more than four or five others under the care of the assistant physician required especial attention. But I required it, and, realizing this, I did my best to get it. Certain psychiatrists support me in the opinion that had I had an attendant with the wisdom and ability to humor me and permit me to keep my priceless corn-cobs, the fight in question, and the worse events that followed, would not have occurred -- not that day, nor ever, I believe, had I at all times been properly treated by those in charge of me.

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