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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 so-called "seclusion" vouchsafed to me I have described. If it is true that I stood in need of seclusion at all, I should have had a bed in a room designed especially for the treatment of such a case as mine. That room should have been perfectly ventilated, and competent nurses should have been in practically constant attendance. My every reasonable wish (and unreasonable whim, if harmless) should have been granted. I should have had nourishing food at proper intervals; and I should have received nothing but that kindly treatment which can do more toward the restoration of mental health than all the medicine in the world.


Patients are weighed at stated intervals. Shortly after entering the State Hospital I weighed about one hundred thirty pounds, and that must have been about my weight when transferred to the "violent ward." Ten days later, at the regular monthly weighing, I weighed only one hundred fifteen pounds. Though loss of weight is a symptom of elation, I cannot but believe that my rapid decrease was due mainly to deprivation and abuse.


Before my banishment to the violent ward, the doctor in charge of my case had granted me many favors; but during the first ten days of my "seclusion" my sense of gratitude was dulled by the indignities and the terrific punishment to which I was subjected. Is it strange, then, that I had no respect for authority personified by a man who, holding me in the vilest of exiles, apparently countenanced the brutal practices of men dependent upon him for their continued employment? I refused to be a martyr. Rebellion was my watchword. The only difference between the doctor's opinion of me and mine of him was that he could refuse utterance to his thoughts. Yes -- there was another difference. Mine could be expressed only in words -- his in grim acts.


I repeatedly made demands for those privileges to which I knew I was entitled. When he saw fit to grant them I gave him perfunctory thanks. When he refused -- as he usually did -- I at once poured upon his head the vials of my wrath. Patients with less stamina than I had invariably submit with meekness; and none so aroused my sympathy as those whose submission was due to the consciousness that they had no relatives or friends to support them in a fight for their rights. These, disheartened, usually bear their burdens with a fortitude which under other conditions would be sublime.


On behalf of these, with my usual piece of smuggled lead pencil, I soon began to indite and submit to the officers of the institution letters in which I described the cruel practices which came under my notice. My reports were perfunctorily accepted and at once forgotten or ignored. Yet these letters, so far as they related to overt acts witnessed, were lucid and should have been convincing. Furthermore, my allegations were frequently corroborated by marks on the bodies of the patients. My usual custom was to write an account of each assault and hand it to the doctor in authority. Frequently I would submit these reports to the attendants with instructions first to read and then deliver them to the superintendent or the assistant physician. The men whose cruelty I thus laid bare read my complaints with evident but perverted pleasure. They would laugh and joke about my ineffectual attempts to bring about their discharge. And their derision seemed justified; for my almost daily reports were without effect.


My very independence and my impulse to defend others gave promise of approaching sanity. Yet it was because of this disturbing audacity that I so long failed of a transfer to a better ward. One day I would be on the friendliest terms with the doctor, the next day I would upbraid him for some denial of my rights, -- or, as frequently happened, for not interposing in behalf of the rights of others. It was after one of these wrangles that I was placed in a cold cell in the Bull Pen at eleven o'clock one morning. Still without shoes and with no more covering than underclothes, I was forced to stand, sit, or lie upon a bare floor as hard and cold as the pavement outside. Not until sundown was I provided even with a drugget, and this did little good, for already I had become thoroughly chilled. In consequence, I contracted a severe cold which added greatly to my discomfort, and might have led to serious results had I been of less sturdy fiber.


This day was the thirteenth of December and the twenty-second of my exile. I remember it distinctly for it was the seventy-seventh birthday of my father, to whom I wished to write a congratulatory letter. This had been my custom for years when absent from home on that anniversary. And well do I remember when, and under what conditions, I asked the doctor for permission. It was night. I was flat on my drugget-bed. My cell was lighted only by the feeble rays of a lantern held by an attendant to the doctor on this his regular visit. At first I couched my request in polite language. The doctor merely refused to grant it. I then put forth my plea in a way calculated to arouse sympathy. He remained unmoved. I then pointed out that he was defying the law of the State which provided that a patient should have stationery -- a statute, the spirit of which at least meant that he should be permitted to communicate with his conservator. (10) But my arguments were of no avail. The doctor had set himself up as despot, and despot he remained. It was now three weeks since I had been permitted to write or send a letter to any relative or friend. Why? Because I would persist in telling the truth about my treatment and condition. Naturally the management did not desire such information to be spread. Contrary to my custom, therefore, I made my final demand in the form of a concession. I promised that I would write only a conventional note of congratulation, making no mention whatever of my plight. It was a fair offer; but to accept it would have been an implied admission that there was something to conceal, and for this, if for no other reason, it was refused.

(10) See General Statutes of Connecticut # 2764. PATIENT MAY COMMUNICATE WITH FRIENDS IN WRITING. All persons detained as insane shall at all times be furnished with materials for communicating under seal with any proper person without the asylum, and such communications shall be stamped and mailed daily. Should the patient desire it, all rational communications shall be written at his dictation and duly mailed to any relative or person named by the patient.

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