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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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But before starting for the asylum I imposed certain conditions. One was that the man with authoritative trousers should walk behind us at such a distance that no friend or acquaintance who might see us would divine that I was under guard; the other was that the doctors at the institution should agree to grant my every request, no matter how trivial, so long as it could in no way work to my own injury. My privileges were to include that of reading and writing to my heart's content, and the procuring of such books and supplies as my fancy might dictate. All this was agreed to. In return I agreed to submit to the surveillance of an attendant when I went about the city. This I knew would contribute to the peace of mind of my relatives, who naturally could not rid themselves of the fear that one so nearly sane as myself might take it into his head to leave the State and resist further attempts at incarceration. As I felt that I could easily elude my keeper, should I care to escape, his presence also contributed to my peace of mind, for I argued that the ability to outwit my guard would atone for the offense itself.


I then started for the hospital; and I went with a willingness surprising even to myself. A cheerful philosophy enabled me to turn an apparently disagreeable situation into one that was positively pleasing to me. I convinced myself that I could extract more real enjoyment from life during the ensuing weeks within the walls of a "retreat" than I could in the world outside. My one desire was to write, write, write. My fingers itched for a pen. My desire to write was, I imagine, as irresistible as the desire of a drunkard for his dram. And the act of writing resulted in an intoxicating pleasure composed of a mingling of emotions that defies analysis.


That I should so calmly, almost eagerly, enter where devils might fear to tread, may surprise the reader who already has been informed of the cruel treatment I had formerly received there. I feared nothing for I knew all. Having seen the worst, I knew how to avoid the pitfalls into which, during my first confinement, I had fallen or deliberately walked. I was confident that I should suffer no abuse or injustice so long as the doctors in charge should live up to their agreement and treat me as a gentleman. This they did, and my quick recovery and subsequent discharge may be attributed mainly to this cause. The assistant physicians who had come in contact with me during my first experience in this hospital were no longer in charge. They had resigned some months earlier -- shortly after the death of the former superintendent. Thus it was that I started with a clean record, free from those prejudices which so often bias the judgment of a doctor who has treated a patient at his worst.




ON more than one occasion my chameleon-like temperament has enabled me to adjust myself to new conditions, but never has it served me better than it did at the time of which I write. A free man on New Year's Day, enjoying the pleasures of a congenial club-life, four days later I found myself again under the lock and key of an asylum for the insane. Never had I enjoyed life in New York more than during those first days of that new year. To suffer so rude a change was, indeed, enough to inspire a feeling of discontent, if not despair; yet, aside from the momentary initial shock, my contentment was in no degree diminished. I can say with truth that I was as complacent the very moment I re-crossed the threshold of that "retreat" as I had been when crossing and recrossing at will the threshold of my club.


Of everything I thought and did during the interesting weeks which followed I have a complete record. The moment I accepted the inevitable, I determined to spend my time to good advantage. Knowing from experience that I must observe my own case, if I was to have any record of it, I provided myself in advance with note-books. In these, from day to day, I recorded, I might almost say, my every action, and every thought and fancy. The sane part of me, which fortunately was dominant, subjected its temporarily insane and unruly part to a sort of scientific scrutiny and surveillance. From morning till night I dogged the steps of my restless body and my more restless imagination. I observed the physical and mental symptoms which I knew were characteristic of elation. An exquisite light-heartedness, a slight ringing in the ears, the varying dilation of the pupils of the eyes, my pulse, my weight, my appetite -- all these I observed and recorded with a care that would have put to blush a majority of the doctors now working among the insane.


But this record of symptoms, though minute, is vague compared to my reckless analysis of my emotions. With a lack of reserve characteristic of my sublime mood, I described the joy of living, which, for the most part, then consisted of the joy of writing. And, even now, as I re-read my record, I feel that I cannot overstate the pleasure I found in surrendering myself completely to that controlling impulse. The excellence of my composition seemed to me beyond criticism. And as, to one in a state of elation, things are pretty much as they seem, I was able to experience the subtle delights which, I fancy, thrill the soul of a master. During this month of elation I wrote words enough to fill a book nearly as large as this one. Having found that each filling of my fountain pen was sufficient for the writing of about twenty-eight hundred words, I kept a record of the number of times I filled it. This minute calculation I carried to an extreme. If I wrote for fifty-nine minutes, and then read for seventeen, that fact I recorded. Thus, in my diary and out of it, I wrote and wrote, until the tips of my thumb and forefinger grew numb. As this numbness increased, and general weariness of the hand set in, there came a gradual flagging of my creative impulse, until a very sane unproductivity supervened. Thus I had and have now a safe mental barometer and can judge my degree of normality -- for no one is absolutely normal -- by the intensity of my desire to write. This is fortunate; for surely he who can detect an abnormal impulse in so innocent a manner, and correct it when discovered, simply by writing it to sleep, is not likely to experience more trouble in this world than he whose inevitable ills present themselves in more conventional and usually painful ways.

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