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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 State Hospital for the Insane in which I now found myself, though in many respects above the average of such institutions, is typical. It commands a wide view of a beautiful river and valley. This view I was permitted to enjoy -- at first. Those in charge of the institution which I had just left did not give my new custodians any detailed account of my case. Their reticence was, I believe, occasioned by chagrin rather than charity. Tamers of wild men have as much pride as tamers of wild animals (but unfortunately less skill) and to admit defeat is a thing not to be thought of. Though private institutions are prone to shift their troublesome cases to state institutions, there is a deplorable lack of sympathy and co-operation between them, which in this instance, however, proved fortunate for me.


From October 18th until the early afternoon of November 8th, at the private institution, I had been classed as a raving maniac. The name I had brought upon myself by experimental conduct; the condition had been aggravated and perpetuated by the stupidity of those in authority over me. And it was the same experimental conduct on my part, and stupidity on the part of my new custodians, which gave rise, two weeks later, to a similar situation. On Friday, November 7th, I was in a strait-jacket. On November 9th and 10th I was apparently as tractable as any of the twenty-three hundred patients in the State Hospital -- conventionally clothed, mild mannered, and, seemingly, right minded. On the 9th, the day after my arrival, I attended a church service held at the hospital. My behavior was not other than that of the most pious worshiper in the land. The next evening, with most exemplary deportment, I attended one of the dances which are held every fortnight during the winter. Had I been a raving maniac such activities would have led to a disturbance; for maniacs, of necessity, disregard the conventions of both pious and polite society. Yet, on either of these days, had I been in the private institution, I should have occupied a cell and worn a strait-jacket.


The assistant superintendent, who received me upon my arrival, judged me by my behavior. He assigned me to one of two connecting wards -- the best in the hospital -- where about seventy patients led a fairly agreeable life. Though no official account of my case had accompanied my transfer, the attendant who had acted as escort and guard had already given an attendant at the State Hospital a brief account of my recent experiences. Yet when this report finally reached the ears of those in authority they wisely decided not to transfer me to another ward so long as I caused no trouble where I was. Finding myself at last among friends I lost no time in asking for writing and drawing materials, which had so rudely been taken from me three weeks earlier. My request was promptly granted. The doctors and attendants treated me kindly and I again began to enjoy life. My desire to write and draw had not abated. However, I did not devote my entire time to those pursuits, for there were plenty of congenial companions about. I found pleasure in talking -- more pleasure by far than others did in listening. In fact I talked incessantly, and soon made known, in a general way, my scheme for reforming asylums, not only in the State, but, of course, throughout the world, for my delusional perspective made the earth look small. The attendants had to bear the brunt of my loquacity, and they soon grew weary. One of them, wishing to induce silence, ventured to remark that I was so crazy I could not possibly keep my mouth shut for even one minute. His challenge aroused my fighting spirit.


"I'll show you that I can stop talking for a whole day," said I. He laughed, knowing that of all difficult tasks this which I had imposed upon myself was, for one in my condition, least likely of accomplishment. But I was as good as my boast. Until the same hour the next day I refused to speak to any one. I did not even reply to civil questions; and, though my silence was deliberate and good-natured, the assistant physician seemed to consider it of a contumacious variety, for he threatened to transfer me to a less desirable ward unless I should again begin to talk.


That day of self-imposed silence was just about the longest I have ever lived, for I was under a word-pressure sufficient to have filled a book. Any alienist will admit that my performance was remarkable, and he will further agree that it was, at least, an indication of a high degree of self-control. Though I have no desire to prove that at this period I was not in an abnormal condition, I do wish to show that I had a degree of self-control that probably would have enabled me to remain in the best ward at this institution had I not been intent -- insanely intent, of course, and yet with a high degree of deliberation -- upon a reformatory investigation. The crest of my wave of elation had been reached early in October. It was now (November) that the curve representing my return to normality should have been continuous and diminishing. Instead, it was kept violently fluctuating or at least its fluctuations were aggravated -- by the impositions of those in charge of me, induced sometimes, I freely admit, by deliberate and purposeful transgressions of my own. My condition during my first three weeks of exile had been, if anything, one of milder excitement than that which had previously obtained during the first seven weeks of my period of elation. And my condition during the two weeks I now remained in the best ward in the State Hospital was not different from my condition during the preceding three weeks of torture, or the succeeding three weeks of abuse and privation -- except in so far as a difference was occasioned by the torture and privation itself.

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