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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 day after my home-coming I made up my mind, or that part of it which was still within my control, that the time had come to quit business entirely and take a rest of months. I even arranged with a younger brother to set out at once for some quiet place in the White Mountains, where I hoped to steady my shattered nerves. At this time (to say nothing of the constantly recurring thought that I was about to fall into an epileptic attack) I felt as though in a tremor from head to foot.


This dread to which I so frequently refer was a thing which I seldom, if ever, referred to while it persisted. On more than one occasion I did say to my friends that I would rather die than live an epileptic; yet, if I rightly remember, I never declared the actual fear that I was doomed to bear such an affliction. However, I believe that I said on a few occasions, though without meaning it at the time, that, if necessary, I should kill myself rather than endure what I then thought, but do not now think, the most miserable of lives. Though I held the mad belief that I should suffer epilepsy, I held the sane hope, amounting to belief, that I should escape it. This fact may account, in a measure, for my six years of endurance.


On the 18th of June I felt so much worse that I went to my bed and stayed there until the 23d. During the night of the 18th my persistent dread became a false belief -- a delusion. What I had long expected I now became convinced had at last occurred. I believed myself to be a confirmed epileptic, and that conviction was stronger than any ever held by a sound intellect. The half-resolve, made before my mind was actually impaired, namely, that I would kill myself rather than live the life I dreaded, now divided my attention with the belief that the stroke had fallen. From that time my one thought was to hasten the end, for I felt that I should lose the chance to die should relatives find me in a seizure of the supposed malady.


Considering the state of my mind and my inability at that time to appreciate the enormity of such an end as I half contemplated, my suicidal purpose was not entirely selfish. That I had never seriously contemplated suicide is proved by the fact that I had not provided myself with the means of accomplishing it, despite my habit, which has long been remarked by those intimately acquainted with me, of preparing for unlikely contingencies. So far as I had the control of my faculties, it must be admitted that I deliberated; but, strictly speaking, the rash act which followed cannot correctly be called an attempt at suicide -- for, how can a man who is not himself kill himself?


Soon my disordered brain was busy with schemes for death. I distinctly remember one which included a row on Lake Whitney, near New Haven. This row I intended to take in the most treacherous boat obtainable. Such a craft could be easily upset, and I should so bequeath to relatives and friends a sufficient number of reasonable doubts to rob my death of the usual stigma. I also remember searching for some deadly drug which I hoped to find about the house. But the quantity and quality of what I found was not such as I dared to trust. I then thought of severing my jugular vein, even going so far as to test against my throat the edge of a razor which, after the deadly impulse first asserted itself, I had secreted in a convenient place. I really wished to die, but so uncertain and bloody a method did not appeal to me. Nevertheless, had I felt sure that in my tremulous frenzy I could accomplish the act with skilful dispatch, I should at once have ended my troubles.


My imaginary attacks were now recurring with distracting frequency, and I was in constant fear of discovery. During these three or four days I slept scarcely at all -- even the medicine given to induce sleep having little effect. Though inwardly frenzied, I gave no outward sign of my condition. Most of the time I remained quietly in bed. I spoke but seldom. I had practically, though not entirely, lost the power of speech; and my almost unbroken silence aroused no suspicions as to the seriousness of my plight.


By a process of elimination, all suicidal methods but one had at last been put aside. On that one my mind now centered. My room was on the fourth floor of a house -- one of a block of five -- in which my parents lived. The house stood several feet back from the street. The sills of my windows were a little more than thirty feet above the ground. Under one was a flag pavement, extending from the house to the front gate. Under the other was a rectangular coalhole covered with an iron grating. This was surrounded by flagging over a foot in width; and, connecting it and the pavement proper, was another flag. So that all along the front of the house, stone or iron filled a space at no point less than two feet in width. It required no great amount of calculation to determine how slight the chance of surviving a fall from either of these windows.


About dawn I arose. Stealthily I approached the window, pushed open the blinds and looked out -- and down. Then I closed the blinds as noiselessly as possible and crept back to bed: I had not yet become so desperate that I dared to take the leap. Scarcely had I pulled up the covering when a watchful relative entered my room, drawn thither perhaps by that protecting prescience which love inspires. I thought her words revealed a suspicion that she had heard me at the window, and speechless as I was I had enough speech to deceive her. For, of what account are Truth and Love when Life itself has ceased to seem desirable?

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