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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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I have said much about the obligation of the sane in reference to easing the burdens of those committed to our asylums. I might say almost as much about the attitude of the public toward those who survive such a period of exile, restored, but branded with a suspicion which only time can efface. Though an ex-inmate of an asylum receives personal consideration, he finds it unduly difficult to obtain employment. No fair-minded man can find fault with this condition of affairs, for an inbred horror of insanity breeds distrust of one who has been insane. Nevertheless, this attitude is a mistaken one. Perhaps one reason for this lack of confidence in an ex-inmate is to be found in the lack of confidence which such a person often feels in himself. Confidence begets confidence, and those men and women who survive mental illness should attack their problem as though their absence had been occasioned by any one of the many circumstances which may interrupt the career of a person whose mind has never been other than sound. I can testify to the efficacy of this course, for it is the one I pursued. And I think that I have thus far met with as great a degree of success as I might reasonably have expected to attain had my career never been all but fatally interrupted.


Discharged from the asylum in September, 1903, late in October of that same year I went to New York. Primarily my purpose was to study art. I even went so far as to gather information regarding the several schools; and, had not my artistic ambition taken wing, I might have worked for recognition in a field where so many strive in vain. But my business instinct, revivified by the commercially surcharged atmosphere of New York, soon gained sway, and within three months I had secured a position with the same firm for which I had worked when I first went to New York -- six years earlier. It was by the merest chance that I made this most fortunate connection, which has continued ever since. By no stretch of my rather elastic imagination can I even now picture a situation that would, at one and the same time, have so perfectly afforded a means of livelihood, leisure in which to indulge my longing to write, and an opportunity to further my humanitarian projects.


Though persons discharged from our asylums are usually able to secure, without much difficulty, work as unskilled laborers, or positions where the responsibility is slight, it is often next to impossible for them to secure positions of trust. That I did secure such a position naturally arouses within me a lively sense of gratitude toward the members of that firm which helped me to lift myself over as rough a spot on life's road as one may expect to fall upon. And what pleases me to-day, and pleased me then, is that the two men who comprise the firm in question did not employ me solely because of a desire to help me when I so much needed help. Knowing my past, they yet engaged my services because they thought they saw in me certain qualifications for the proposed work. During the negotiations which led to the engagement I was in no suppliant mood. If anything, I was quite the reverse; and, as I have since learned, I imposed terms with an assurance so sublime that any less degree of audacity would have put an end to the negotiations then and there. But the man with whom I was dealing was not only broad-minded, he was sagacious. He recognized immediately such an ability to take care of myself as argued an ability to protect the interests of the firm in the particular line of work he had in mind. But this alone would not have induced the average business man to employ me under the circumstances. It was the common-sense view of insanity on the part of my employer which determined the issue. This view which is, indeed, exceptional to-day, will one day (within a few generations, I believe) be too commonplace to deserve special mention. As this man tersely expressed it: "When an employee is ill, he's ill, and it makes no difference to me whether he goes to a general hospital or an asylum. Should you ever find yourself in need of treatment or rest I want you to feel that you can take it when and where you please, and work for us when you are able." When a majority of men attain to this advanced view, insanity will take its proper place with other ills which flesh is heir to. Of course, I do not deny that one employing an ex-inmate of an asylum must carefully judge his capacity and assign him to work for which he is fitted.


Strangely enough, that "missionary spirit" (if you will) which now impels me to try to spread the principles of Non-Restraint has been nurtured and strengthened by the daily discharge of those business obligations which (if I may be pardoned) I shall now briefly describe. What my employers asked me to do was to introduce over a large territory a certain business principle, which, if universally adopted, would revolutionize a great industry. For three years I have gone from State to State -- from Maine to New Mexico -- presenting and explaining a special form of contract under which, for an agreed amount and without "extras," certain types of buildings may be erected, from plans to completion, and delivered to the purchaser, ready for occupancy. The purchaser, or owner, deals directly with but one firm, which acts as owner pro tem, and guarantees a satisfactory result. Those who have erected buildings under the usual method, namely, that of placing the entire operation in the hands of an architect, who in turn, in the name of the owner, lets out the work to several contractors for competitive bidding, will at once grasp the significance of this revolutionizing method.

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