A Mind That Found Itself

A Mind That Found Itself

CLIFFORD WHITTINGHAM BEERS
With a preface by Robert Coles
Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh54c
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    A Mind That Found Itself
    Book Description:

    At once a classic account of the ravages of mental illness and a major American autobiography,A Mind That Found Itselftells the story of a young man who is gradually enveloped by a psychosis. His well-meaning family commits him to a series of mental hospitals, but he is brutalized by the treatment, and his moments of fleeting sanity become fewer and fewer. His ultimate recovery is a triumph of the human spirit.The publication ofA Mind That Found Itselfdid for the American mental health movement what Thomas Paineís Common Sense did for the American Revolution. Moreover, it grips the imagination of readers not because it is a document of social reform but because it is a superb narrative. As the distinguished psychiatrist and writer Robert Coles has noted, the book ìprovides the virtues of clinical analysis, as well as personal reminiscence, all rendered with a novelistís eye for the particular, for emotional nuance, for chronological progression. . . . Steadily, forthrightly, we come in touch with the nature of delusions and hallucinations: the complex, symbolically charged, nightmarish world of fear, suspicion, irritability and truculence.îRecovered from his illness, Beers began a lifelong crusade, through the National Committee for Mental Hygiene and the American Foundation for Mental Hygiene, to revolutionize the care and treatment of the mentally ill. The persuasive chronicler of mental illness became a sophisticated, pragmatic organizer and reformer.A Mind That Found Itselfwas first published in 1908 but remains compelling and clinically accurate-an unforgettable reading experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-8060-5
    Subjects: Health Sciences, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    William T. Beaty II

    A Mind That Found Itselfhas been reprinted forty-one times since its publication in 1908.

    Why is it that this volume continues to command the attention of the public after so many years? There are a number of reasons, and these become clear as one reads this fascinating and gripping autobiography of a man who suffered a severe mental illness, who recovered and set about to revolutionize and improve the care of the mentally ill both in this country and around the world.

    A Mind That Found Itselfis as engrossing today as when it burst upon the professional and...

  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Robert Coles
  4. I
    (pp. 1-8)

    This story is derived from as human a document as ever existed; and, because of its uncommon nature, perhaps no one thing contributes so much to its value as its authenticity. It is an autobiography, and more: in part it is a biography; for, in telling the story of my life, I must relate the history of another self—a self which was dominant from my twenty-fourth to my twenty-sixth year. During that period I was unlike what I had been, what I have been since. The biographical part of my autobiography might be called the history of a mental...

  5. II
    (pp. 9-15)

    On the thirtieth day of June, 1897, I graduated at Yale. Had I then realized that I was a sick man, I could and would have taken a rest. But, in a way, I had become accustomed to the ups and downs of a nervous existence, and, as I could not really afford a rest, six days after my graduation I entered upon the duties of a clerk in the office of the Collector of Taxes in the city of New Haven. I was fortunate in securing such a position at that time, for the hours were comparatively short and...

  6. III
    (pp. 16-20)

    It was squarely in front of the dining-room window that I fell, and those at dinner were, of course, startled. It took them a second or two to realize what had happened. Then my younger brother rushed out, and with others carried me into the house. Naturally that dinner was permanently interrupted. A mattress was placed on the floor of the dining room and I on that, suffering intensely. I said little, but what I said was significant. “I thought I had epilepsy!” was my first remark; and several times I said, “I wish it was over!” For I believed...

  7. IV
    (pp. 21-26)

    Naturally I was suspicious of all about me, and became more so each day. But not until about a month later did I refuse to recognize my relatives. While I was at Grace Hospital, my father and eldest brother called almost every day to see me, and, though I said little, I still accepted them in their proper characters. I remember well a conversation one morning with my father. The words I uttered were few, but full of meaning. Shortly before this time my death had been momentarily expected. I still believed that I was surely about to die as...

  8. V
    (pp. 27-30)

    After remaining at home for about a month, during which time I showed no improvement mentally, though I did gain physically, I was taken to a private sanatorium. My destination was frankly disclosed to me. But my habit of disbelief had now become fixed, and I thought myself on the way to a trial in New York City, for some one of the many crimes with which I stood charged.

    My emotions on leaving New Haven were, I imagine, much the same as those of a condemned but penitent criminal who looks upon the world for the last time. The...

  9. VI
    (pp. 31-34)

    During the entire time that my delusions of persecution, as they are called, persisted, I could not but respect the mind that had laid out so comprehensive and devilishly ingenious and, at times, artistic a Third Degree as I was called upon to bear. And an innate modesty (more or less fugitive since these peculiar experiences) does not forbid my mentioning the fact that I still respect that mind.

    Suffering such as I endured during the month of August in my own home continued with gradually diminishing force during the eight months I remained in this sanatorium. Nevertheless my sufferings...

  10. VII
    (pp. 35-38)

    Choice of a sanatorium by people of limited means is, unfortunately, very restricted. Though my relatives believed the one in which I was placed was at least fairly well conducted, events proved otherwise. From a modest beginning made not many years previously, it had enjoyed a mushroom growth. About two hundred and fifty patients were harbored in a dozen or more small frame buildings, suggestive of a mill settlement. Outside the limits of a city and in a state where there was lax official supervision, owing in part to faulty laws, the owner of this little settlement of woe had...

  11. VIII
    (pp. 39-44)

    For the first few weeks after my arrival at the sanatorium, I was cared for by two attendants, one by day and one by night. I was still helpless, being unable to put my feet out of bed, much less upon the floor, and it was necessary that I be continually watched lest an impulse to walk should seize me. After a month or six weeks, however, I grew stronger, and from that time only one person was assigned to care for me. He was with me all day, and slept at night in the same room.

    The earliest possible...

  12. IX
    (pp. 45-51)

    It was at the sanatorium that my ankles were finally restored to a semblance of their former utility. They were there subjected to a course of heroic treatment; but as today they permit me to walk, run, dance, and play tennis and golf, as do those who have never been crippled, my hours of torture endured under my first attempts to walk are almost pleasant to recall. About five months from the date of my injury I was allowed, or rather compelled, to place my feet on the floor and attempt to walk. My ankles were still swollen, absolutely without...

  13. X
    (pp. 52-55)

    I am in a position not unlike that of a man whose obituary notice has appeared prematurely. Few have ever had a better opportunity than I to test the affection of their relatives and friends. That mine did their duty and did it willingly is naturally a constant source of satisfaction to me. Indeed, I believe that this unbroken record of devotion is one of the factors which eventually made it possible for me to take up again my duties in the social and business world, with a comfortable feeling of continuity. I can, indeed, now view my past in...

  14. XI
    (pp. 56-64)

    Though my few hours at home failed to prove that I did not belong in an institution, it served one good purpose. Certain relatives who had objected to my commitment now agreed that there was no alternative, and, accordingly, my eldest brother caused himself to be appointed my conservator. He had long favored taking such action, but other relatives had counseled delay. They had been deterred by that inbred dread of seeing a member of the family branded by law as a mental incompetent, and, to a degree, stigmatized by the prevailing unwarranted attitude of the public toward mental illness...

  15. XII
    (pp. 65-73)

    When I had decided that my chance for securing the little stiletto spike was very uncertain, I at once busied myself with plans which were designed to bring about my death by drowning. There was in the ward a large bath tub. Access to it could be had at any time, except from the hour of nine (when the patients were locked in their rooms for the night) until the following morning. How to reach it during the night was the problem which confronted me. The attendant in charge was supposed to see that each patient was in his room...

  16. XIII
    (pp. 74-78)

    After two years of silence I found it no easy matter to carry on with my brother a sustained conversation. So weak were my vocal cords from lack of use that every few minutes I must either rest or whisper. And upon pursing my lips I found myself unable to whistle, notwithstanding the popular belief, drawn from vague memories of small-boyhood, that this art is instinctive. Those who all their lives have talked at will cannot possibly appreciate the enjoyment I found in using my regained power of speech. Reluctantly I returned to the ward; but not until my brother...

  17. XIV
    (pp. 79-87)

    After being without relatives and friends for over two years I naturally lost no time in trying again to get in touch with them; though I did heed my conservator’s request that I first give him two or three days in which to acquaint intimates with the new turn my affairs had taken.

    During the latter part of that first week I wrote many letters, so many, indeed, that I soon exhausted a liberal supply of stationery. This had been placed at my disposal at the suggestion of my conservator, who had wisely arranged that I should have whatever I...

  18. XV
    (pp. 88-93)

    A few hours later, without having witnessed anything of particular significance, except as it befell myself, I was transferred to my old ward. The superintendent, who had ordered this rehabilitation, soon appeared, and he and I had a satisfactory talk. He gave me to understand that he himself would in future look after my case, as he realized that his assistant lacked the requisite tact and judgment to cope with one of my temperament—and with that, my desire to telephone my conservator vanished.

    Now no physician would like to have his wings clipped by a patient, even indirectly, and...

  19. XVI
    (pp. 94-109)

    The superintendent now realized that I was altogether too energetic a humanitarian to remain in the ward with so many other patients. My actions had a demoralizing effect upon them; so I was forthwith transferred to a private room, one of two situated in a small one-story annex. These new quarters were rather attractive, not unlike a bachelor apartment.

    As there was no one here with whom I could interfere I got along without making any disturbance—that is, so long as I had a certain special attendant, a man suited to my temperament. He who was now placed over...

  20. XVII
    (pp. 110-115)

    After fifteen interminable hours the strait-jacket was removed. Whereas just prior to its putting on I had been in a vigorous enough condition to offer stout resistance when wantonly assaulted, now, on coming out of it, I was helpless. When my arms were released from their constricted position, the pain was intense. Every joint had been racked. I had no control over the fingers of either hand, and could not have dressed myself had I been promised my freedom for doing so.

    For more than the following week I suffered as already described, though of course with gradually decreasing intensity...

  21. XVIII
    (pp. 116-123)

    The State Hospital in which I now found myself, the third institution to which I had been committed, though in many respects above the average of such institutions, was typical. It commanded a wide view of a beautiful river and valley. This view I was permitted to enjoy—at first. Those in charge of the institution which I had just left did not give my new custodians any detailed account of my case. Their reticence was, I believe, occasioned by chagrin rather than charity. Tamers of wild men have as much pride as tamers of wild animals (but unfortunately less...

  22. XIX
    (pp. 124-128)

    Even for a violent ward my entrance was spectacular—if not dramatic. The three attendants regularly in charge naturally jumped to the conclusion that, in me, a troublesome patient had been foisted upon them. They noted my arrival with an unpleasant curiosity, which in turn arousedmycuriosity, for it took but a glance to convince me that my burly keepers were typical attendants of the brute-force type. Acting on the order of the doctor in charge, one of them stripped me of my outer garments; and, clad in nothing but underclothes, I was thrust into a cell.

    Few, if...

  23. XX
    (pp. 129-134)

    While my inventive operations were in progress, I was chafing under the unjust and certainly unscientific treatment to which I was being subjected. In spite of my close confinement in vile cells, for a period of over three weeks I was denied a bath. I do not regret this deprivation, for the attendants, who at the beginning were unfriendly, might have forced me to bathe in water which had first served for several other patients. Though such an unsanitary and disgusting practice was contrary to rules, it was often indulged in by the lazy brutes who controlled the ward.

    I...

  24. XXI
    (pp. 135-137)

    Neither of the attendants involved in the assault upon me was discharged. This fact made me more eager to gain wider knowledge of conditions. The self-control which had enabled me to suspend speech for a whole day now stood me in good stead. It enabled me to avert much suffering that would have been my portion had I been like the majority of my ward-mates. Time and again I surrendered when an attendant was about to chastise me. But at least a score of patients in the ward were not so well equipped mentally, and these were viciously assaulted again...

  25. XXII
    (pp. 138-144)

    Like fires and railroad disasters, assaults seemed to come in groups. Days would pass without a single outbreak. Then would come a veritable carnival of abuse—due almost invariably to the attendants' state of mind, not to an unwonted aggressiveness on the part of the patients. I can recall as especially noteworthy several instances of atrocious abuse. Five patients were chronic victims. Three of them, peculiarly irresponsible, suffered with especial regularity, scarcely a day passing without bringing to them its quota of punishment. One of these, almost an idiot, and quite too inarticulate to tell a convincing story even under...

  26. XXIII
    (pp. 145-147)

    I refused to be a martyr. Rebellion was my watchword. The only difference between the doctor’s opinion of me and mine of him was that he could refuse utterance to his thoughts. Yes—there was another difference. Mine could be expressed only in words—his in grim acts.

    I repeatedly made demands for those privileges to which I knew I was entitled. When he saw fit to grant them, I gave him perfunctory thanks. When he refused—as he usually did—I at once poured upon his head the vials of my wrath. One day I would be on the...

  27. XXIV
    (pp. 148-151)

    A few days before Christmas my most galling deprivation was at last removed. That is, my clothes were restored. These I treated with great respect. Not so much as a thread did I destroy. Clothes, as is known, have a sobering and civilizing effect, and from the very moment I was again provided with presentable outer garments my conduct rapidly improved. The assistant physician with whom I had been on such variable terms of friendship and enmity even took me for a sleigh-ride. With this improvement came other privileges or, rather, the granting of my rights. Late in December I...

  28. XXV
    (pp. 152-154)

    Though I continued to respect my clothes, I did not at once cease to tear such material as would serve me in my scientific investigations. Gravity being conquered, it was inevitable that I should devote some of my time to the invention of a flyingmachine. This was soon perfected—in my mind; and all I needed, that I might test the device, was my liberty. As usual I was unable to explain how I should produce the result which I so confidently foretold. But I believed and proclaimed that I should, ere long, fly to St. Louis and claim and...

  29. XXVI
    (pp. 155-164)

    Early in March, 1902, having lived in a violent ward for nearly four months, I was transferred to another—a ward quite as orderly as the best in the institution, though less attractively furnished than the one in which I had first been placed. Here also I had a room to myself; in this instance, however, the room had not only a bed, but a chair and a wardrobe. With this elaborate equipment I was soon able to convert my room into a veritable studio. Whereas in the violent ward it had been necessary for me to hide my writing...

  30. XXVII
    (pp. 165-168)

    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 regain my liberty and re-establish myself in myoid world. I therefore quitted the role of reformermilitant; 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...

  31. XXVIII
    (pp. 169-172)

    For the first month of regained freedom I remained at home. These weeks were interesting. Scarcely a day passed that I did not meet several former friends and acquaintances who greeted me as one risen from the dead. And well they might, for my three-year trip among the worlds—rather than around the world—was suggestive of complete separation from the everyday life of the multitude. One profound impression which I received at this time was of the uniform delicacy of feeling exhibited by my well-wishers. In no instance that I can recall was a direct reference made to the...

  32. XXIX
    (pp. 173-183)

    After again becoming a free man, my mind would not abandon the miserable ones whom I had left behind. I thought with horror that my reason had been threatened and baffied at every turn. Without malice toward those who had had me in charge, I yet looked with abhorrence upon the system by which I had been treated. But I realized that I could not successfully advocate reforms in hospital management until I had first proved to relatives and friends my ability to earn a living. And I knew that, after securing a position in the business world, I must...

  33. XXX
    (pp. 184-190)

    On more than one occasion my chameleonlike 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 institution 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 arouse a feeling of discontent,...

  34. XXXI
    (pp. 191-201)

    On leaving the hospital and resuming my travels, I felt sure that anyone of several magazines or newspapers would willingly have had me conduct my campaign under its nervously commercial auspices; but a flash-in-the-pan method did not appeal to me. Those noxious growths, Incompetence, Abuse, and Injustice, had not only to be cut down, but rooted out. Therefore, I clung to my determination to write a book—an instrument of attack which, if it cuts and sears at all, does so as long as the need exists. Inasmuch as I knew that I still had to learn how to write,...

  35. XXXII
    (pp. 202-205)

    “My heart’s desire” is a true phrase. Since 1900, when my own breakdown occurred, not fewer than one million men and women in the United States alone have for like causes had to seek treatment in institutions, thousands of others have been treated outside of institutions, while other thousands have received no treatment at all. Yet, to use the words of one of our most conservative and best informed psychiatrists, “No than half of the enormous toll which mental disease takes from the youth of this country can be prevented by the application, largely in childhood, of information and practical...

  36. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 206-206)