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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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Friends called to see me, and at their own, or my suggestion, I was invited for dinner outside the walls of my "cloister." At one of these dinners an incident occurred which throws a clear light on my condition at the time. The friend, whose willing prisoner I was, had invited a common friend to join the party. The latter had not heard of my re-commitment. At my suggestion, he who shared my secret had agreed not to refer to my situation unless I first broached the subject. There was nothing strange in the fact that we three should meet. Just such impromptu celebrations had before occurred among us. We dined, and, as friends will, indulged in that exchange of thoughts which bespeaks intimacy. After hours of delectable communion I so shaped the conversation that a consideration of my past experiences and the possibility of their recurrence followed. The uninformed friend derided the idea.


"Then, if I were to tell you," said I, "that I am at this moment supposedly insane -- at least not normal -- and that when I leave you to-night I shall go direct to the very hospital where I was formerly confined, there to remain until the doctors pronounce me fit for freedom, what should you say?"


"I should say that you are a choice sort of liar," he retorted.


This genial insult I swallowed with gratification. It was, in truth, a timely and encouraging compliment, the force of which its giver failed to appreciate until my host had corroborated my statements.


If I could so favorably impress an intimate friend at a time when I was elated, it is not surprising that I should subsequently hold an interview with a comparative stranger -- the cashier of a local bank -- without betraying my condition. As business interviews go, this was in a class by itself. While my attendant stood guard at the door, I, a registered inmate of an asylum, entered the banking room and talked with a level-headed banker. And that interview was not without effect in subsequent negotiations which led to the closing of a contract amounting to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.


The very day I re-entered the hospital I stopped on the way at a local hotel and procured some of the hostelry's stationery. By using this in the writing of personal and business letters I managed to conceal my condition and my whereabouts from all except near relatives, and a few intimate friends who shared the secret. I quite enjoyed leading this legitimate double-life. The situation appealed (not in vain) to my sense of humor. Many a sly laugh did I indulge in when I closed a letter with such ambiguous phrases as the following: "Matters of importance necessitate my remaining where I am for an indefinite period." . . . "A situation has recently arisen which will delay my intended trip South. As soon as I have closed a certain contract -having in mind my contract to re-establish my sanity- I shall again take to the road." . . . To this day few friends or acquaintances know that I was in semi-exile during the month of January, 1905. My desire to suppress the fact was not due, as already intimated, to any sensitiveness regarding the subject of insanity. What afterwards justified my course was that on regaining my freedom I was able, without embarrassment, again to take up my work. Within a month of my voluntary commitment, that is, in February, I started on business for the Central West and South where I remained until the following July. During those months I felt perfectly well, and have remained in excellent health ever since.


This second and last hospital experience was most fortunate. It came at a time and in a manner to furnish me with strong arguments wherewith to support my contention that madmen are too often man-made, and that he who is potentially a madman may keep a saving grip on his own reason if he be fortunate enough to receive that kindly and intelligent treatment to which one on the brink of chaos is of right entitled. Though during this second period of elation I was never in a mood so reckless as that which obtained immediately after my recovery from depression in August, 1902, I was at least so excitable that, had those in authority attempted to impose upon me, I should have thrown discretion to the winds. To them, indeed, I frankly reiterated a terse dictum which I had coined during my first period of elation. "Just press the button of Injustice," said I, "and I'll do the rest!" This I meant, for fear of punishment does not restrain a man in the daredevil grip of elation.


What fostered my self-control was a sense of gratitude. The doctors and attendants treated me as a gentleman. Therefore it was not difficult to prove myself one. But, had they for one moment treated me as a criminal, or a dumb brute, I should have resented their action as vigorously as I had the action of their predecessors upon prior occasions. Instead of regaining my normal poise and securing a complete freedom within a month, in all probability I should have gone from bad to worse, lashing myself into a justifiable fury that undoubtedly would have necessitated my being confined for perhaps an indefinite period. Fortunately, my case was treated on its merits. I was given individual treatment. My every whim was at least considered with a politeness which enabled me to accept a denial with a highly sane equanimity. Aside from mild tonics I took no other medicine than that most beneficial sort which inheres in kindness. The feeling that, though a prisoner, I could still command obligations from others, led me to recognize my own reciprocal obligations, and was a constant source of delight. The doctors, by proving their title to that confidence which I tentatively gave them upon re-entering the institution, had no difficulty in convincing me that a temporary curtailment of privileges was for my own good. They all evinced a consistent desire to trust me. In return I trusted them. Nothing so well illustrates my proper treatment, day in and day out, as the fact that I cannot now recall a single denial of a request. Though not a few of my requests were denied, my confidence, at the time, that the denials were fair, has obscured the remembrance of them. My case was a mild one; but I should have fought my way again to freedom had I been met with that curt unreasonableness which characterized the attitude of the doctor who had charge of me during my first period of confinement in this hospital. Doctors and attendants who think it a thankless task to attempt to gain the confidence and good-will of a patient at the beginning of his confinement will do well to ponder the contrast afforded by my actions during my first and my last period of elation; and especially should they remember that psychiatrists of wide experience and the highest standing affirm that an elated or maniacal condition is inevitably aggravated by unsound and tactless treatment. Indeed, one authority with whom I discussed this point went so far as to say that whether an elated patient shall become a madman -- and potential enemy -- or a fairly obedient and interesting friend depends, in a majority of cases, upon the capacity and attitude of the persons in charge of him. This significant fact granted, are not the hospital authorities largely responsible for the perpetuation of the dread of institutions wherein the insane are confined, and will not this dread be kept alive until the thousands of recoverable cases treated each year are so intelligently cared for that, upon discharge, "ex-inmates" may speak well, rather than ill, of an institution and the men in authority?

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