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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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MY failure to force the Governor to investigate conditions at the State Hospital convinced me that I could not hope to prosecute my reforms until I should have regained my liberty and re-established myself in my old world. I therefore quitted the role of reformer-militant; and, but for an occasional outburst of righteous indignation at some flagrant abuse which obtruded itself upon my notice, my demeanor was that of one quite content with his lot in life.


I was indeed content -- I was happy. Knowing that I should soon regain my freedom, I found it easy to forgive -- taking great pains not to forget -- any injustice which had been done me. Liberty is sweet, even to one whose appreciation of it has never been augmented by its temporary loss. The pleasurable emotions which my impending liberation aroused within me served to soften my speech and render me more tractable. This change the assistant physician was not slow to note, though he was rather slow in placing in me that degree of confidence which I felt that I deserved. So justifiable, however, was his suspicion that even at the time I forgave him for it. I had on so many prior occasions "played possum" that the doctor naturally attributed complex and unfathomable motives to my most innocent acts. For a long time he entertained the idea that I was trying to capture his confidence, win the privilege of an unlimited parole, and so effect my escape from the institution. He had doubtless not forgotten the several plans of escape which I had toyed with and bragged about while in the violent ward.


Though I was granted considerable liberty during the months of April, May, and June, 1903, not until July did I enjoy a so-called "unlimited parole" which enabled me to walk about the neighboring city unattended. My privileges were granted so gradually that these first tastes of regained freedom, though delightful, were not so thrilling as one might imagine. I took everything as a matter of course, and, except when I deliberately analyzed my feelings, was scarcely conscious of my former deprivations.


This power to forget the past -- or recall it only at will -- has contributed much to my happiness. A majority of those who have suffered experiences such as mine are prone to brood upon them, and I cannot but attribute my happy immunity from unpleasant memories to the fact that I have viewed my own case much as a physician might view that of a patient. My past is a thing apart. I can examine this or that phase of it in the clarifying and comforting light of reason. I can, as it were, hold my past in my hand and analyze its complex and bewildering collection of thoughts under a memory rendered microscopic. And I am further comforted by the belief that I have a distinct mission in life -- a chance for usefulness which might never have been mine had I enjoyed unbroken health.


The last few months of my life in the hospital were much alike, save that each succeeding one brought with it an increased degree of liberty. My hours now passed pleasantly. Time did not drag, for I was engaged upon some matter, every minute. I would draw, read, write, and talk. If any feeling was dominant it was my feeling for art; and, had I then been forced to choose irrevocably a life-work, I should have decided in favor of the study of art. I read with avidity books on that subject. In fact, I have never read any books with greater interest than these, which, to-day, interest me scarcely at all. For, strange as it may seem, the moment I again found myself in the world of business my desire to become an artist died almost as suddenly as it had been born. Though my artistic ambition was clearly an outgrowth of my abnormal condition, and languished when normality asserted itself, I am inclined to believe I should even now take a lively interest in the study of art if I were so situated as to be deprived of a free choice of my mode of life. The use of words now enthralls me because it is eminently suited to my purposes; and its mere utility is re-enforced by a perhaps instinctive though long-latent desire for expression.


During the summer of 1903, friends and relatives often called to see me. The talks we had were of great and lasting benefit to me. Though I had rid myself of my more extravagant and impossible delusions of grandeur -- flying machines and the like -- I still discussed with intense earnestness other schemes, which, though allied to delusions of grandeur, were, in truth, still more closely allied to sanity itself. My talk was of that high but perhaps suspicious type in which Imagination overrules Common Sense. Lingering delusions, as it were, made great projects seem easy. That they were at least feasible under certain conditions my mentors admitted. Only I was in an insane hurry to produce results. Work that I now understand cannot be accomplished in less than five or ten years, if, indeed, in a life-time, I then believed could be accomplished in a year or two, and by me single-handed. Had I had none but insane persons to talk with I might have continued to cherish a distorted perspective. As it was, the unanimity of sane opinions helped me to correct my views; and I am confident that each talk with relatives and friends hastened my return to normality.

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