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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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Such treatment was not only unfair, it was unsound from a scientific point of view. I was fighting for my life and my reason; and the doctor apparently was putting other obstacles in my way than those which were unavoidable. Surely I was actuated by a sane impulse -- the desire to write to my father on his birthday. And, as sanity itself simply consists in sane impulses, was it not the duty of that doctor, rather than to stifle such impulses as they appeared, to sustain and strengthen them, and, if possible, encourage them to become preponderant? Instead, day after day, I was repressed in a manner which probably would have driven many a sane man into a state of madness and violence. Yet that doctor, forgetful or ignorant of the fact that my behavior was the direct result of the indignities which he and his underlings were continually heaping upon me, would frequently exhort me to play the gentleman. Are mild manners and sweet submission usually the product of such treatment? Deprived of my clothes, of sufficient food, of warmth, of all sane companionship, of my liberty and even of those residuary rights which belong to a madman, I told the doctors that so long as they should continue to treat me as the vilest of criminals, I should do my best to complete the illusion.


The burden of proving my sanity was placed upon me. I was told that so soon as I became polite and meek and lowly I should find myself in possession of my clothes and of certain privileges. In every instance I must earn my reward before being entrusted with it. If this principle had been applied in a rational way, if, for instance, instead of demanding of me all the negative virtues in the catalogue of spineless saints, the doctor had given me my clothes on the condition that they would be taken from me again if I so much as removed a button, -- such a course would have been productive of good results. Thus I might have had my clothes three weeks earlier than I did, and so been spared much suffering from the cold.


I clamored daily for a lead pencil; but for seven weeks no doctor, attendant, or other attaché gave me one. Now a lead pencil represents the margin of happiness for hundreds of the insane, while a plug of tobacco represents the margin of happiness for thousands of others. To be sure, by reason of my somewhat exceptional persistence and ingenuity, I managed to be always in possession of some substitute for a pencil, surreptitiously obtained, -- a fact which no doubt had something to do with the doctor's indifference to my request. But my inability to secure a pencil in a legitimate way was a needless source of annoyance to me, and many of my verbal indiscretions were directly inspired by the doctor's continued refusal to give me what I well knew belonged to me by right. Hospital officials will often justify such a petty deprivation because of an alleged proneness on the part of the patients to scribble on the walls. But only in exceptional cases does this mischievous tendency exist. During my confinement I saw little such vandalism, and most of that was caused by a dearth of paper on which to write; and I have since found that in hospitals where privileges of this sort are freely and promptly granted, there is a disposition on the part of patients to show their appreciation by respecting the wishes of their benefactors. A doctor who has gained the good-will of a patient can, by speaking kindly to him, deter him from worse transgressions than scribbling on the walls. But let us admit that a few patients will transgress. Must the many suffer because of the irresponsibility of the few? And what real harm is done by the few? Surely the instinct to so mark a bare surface is born of sanity itself. Why else do undergraduates sally forth every now and then with a pot of paint -- to earn a fleeting immortality among barbarians of their own ilk? Inasmuch as Nature herself is everlastingly carving the earth's surface, it is not strange that man, sane and insane, attempts in his feeble way to imitate her.


It was an assistant physician, other than the one regularly in charge of my case, who at last relented and presented me with a good lead pencil. By so doing he placed himself high on my list of benefactors; for that stick of wood -- magnified by my lively appreciation -- became as the very axis of the earth.




IT was a few days before Christmas that my most galling deprivation was at last removed. That is, my clothes were restored. These I treated with great respect. Not so much as a thread did I destroy. Clothes have a sobering and civilizing effect, and from the very moment I was again provided with presentable outer garments my conduct rapidly improved. One of the doctors with whom I had been on such variable terms of friendship and enmity even took me for a sleigh-ride. With this improvement came other privileges or, rather, the granting of my rights. Late in December I was permitted to write and send letters to my conservator. Now that I was no longer being treated cruelly the doctor in charge was willing that I should communicate directly with my brother. Though some of my blood-curdling letters were confiscated, a few, detailing my experiences, were forwarded. The account of my sufferings naturally distressed my conservator, but, as he said when he next visited me: "What could I have done to help you? If the men in this State whose business it is to care for the insane cannot manage you, I am at a loss to know what to do." True, he could have done little or nothing, for he did not then know the ins and outs of the baffling game into which the ties of blood had drawn him.

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