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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 5:


A man's college days, collectively, are usually his happiest. Most of mine were not happy. Yet I look back upon them with great satisfaction, for I feel that I was fortunate enough to absorb some of that intangible but very real element known as the "Yale spirit." This has helped to keep Hope alive within me during my most discouraged moments, and now makes the accomplishment of my purpose seem easy and sure.




ON the thirtieth day of June, 1897, I was graduated at Yale. Had I then realized that I was a sick man I could and would have taken a rest; but, in a way, I had become accustomed to the ups and downs of a nervous existence, and, as I could not really afford a rest, six days after my graduation I entered upon the duties of a clerk in the office of the Collector of Taxes in the city of New Haven. I was fortunate in securing such a position at that time, for the hours were comparatively short and the work as congenial as any could have been under the circumstances. I entered the Tax Office with the intention of staying only until such time as I should secure a position in New York. About a year later I secured the desired position. After remaining in it for eight months (with the firm whose employ I re-entered in 1904), I left it, in order to take a position which seemed to offer a field of endeavor more to my taste. From May, 1899, till the middle of June, 1900, I was a clerk in one of the smaller life insurance companies, whose home office was within a stone's throw of what some men consider the center of the universe. To be in the very heart of the financial district of New York appealed strongly to my imagination. As a result of certain mistaken ideals, the making of money was then a passion with me. I foolishly wished to taste the bitter-sweet of power based on wealth.


For the first eighteen months of my life in New York, my health seemed no worse than it had been during the preceding three years. The old dread still possessed me. I continued to have my more and less nervous days, weeks, and months. In March, 1900, however, there came a change for the worse. At that time I had a severe attack of grip which incapacitated me for two weeks. As was to be expected in my case, this illness seriously depleted my vitality, and left me in a frightfully depressed condition -- a depression which continued to grow upon me until the final crash came, on June 23d, 1900. The events of that day, seemingly disastrous as then viewed, but all for the best as the issue proved, forced me along paths traveled by thousands, but comprehended by few.


I had continued to perform my clerical duties until June 15th. On that day I was compelled to stop, and that at once. I had reached a point where my will had to capitulate to Unreason -- that unscrupulous usurper. My previous five years as a neurasthenic had led me to believe that I had experienced all the disagreeable sensations an overworked and unstrung nervous system could suffer. But on this day several new and terrifying sensations seized me and rendered me all but helpless. My condition, however, was not apparent even to those who worked with me at the same desk. I remember trying to speak and at times finding myself unable to give utterance to my thoughts. Though I was able to answer questions, that fact hardly diminished my feeling of apprehension, for a single failure in an attempt to speak will stagger any man, no matter what his state of health. I tried to copy certain records in the day's work, but my hand was too unsteady, and I found it difficult to read the words and figures presented to my tired vision in blurred confusion.


That afternoon, conscious that some terrible calamity was impending, but not knowing what would be its nature, I performed a very curious act. Certain early literary efforts which had failed of publication in the college paper, but which I had jealously cherished for several years, I utterly destroyed. Then, after a hurried arrangement of my affairs, I took an early afternoon train, and soon found myself at home. Home life did not make me better, and, except for three or four short walks, I did not go out of the house at all until June 23d, when I went in a most unusual way. To relatives I said little about my state of health, beyond the general statement that I had never felt worse -- a statement which, when made by a neurasthenic, means much but proves little. For five years I had had my ups and downs, and both my relatives and myself had begun to look upon these as things which would probably be corrected in and by time. Had the seriousness of my condition been realized, earlier arrangements would have been made which would have enabled me to take the long rest I needed. I am now glad that no such rest was taken. Had I been restored to health sooner than I was, or under different conditions, I should not have suffered and learned; nor should I have tasted the peculiar joy of a life little known and less understood by mankind at large.

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