Safe Havens Come in All Guises

30 Sep


The Awl, which has interesting reading habits especially of the British kind, linked to this letter (scroll down to “Keep Me In!”) to an editor from a man who’s been repeatedly hospitalized for suicidal depression:

I have been in and out of NHS mental hospitals for more than forty years. The first, following a suicide attempt, was Bethlem Royal, the old Bedlam, by then moved to a huge semi-rural site near Beckenham. On arrival my first feeling was of immense relief; I was in a safe place and didn’t have to worry any more… The fact that discharge was never mentioned merely increased my feeling of safety; when after six months I felt ready to face the world again I had no idea how to arrange to be discharged and was a touch afraid that if I asked they might try to keep me in – ‘section’ me, as it’s called. So one day I just walked out. No one came after me.

It really was the best thing I’ve read this nothing-happen day. And in a weird way, it reminded me of The Yellow Wallpaper.

Which is not so unusual, I suppose. I don’t know if this holds true for men, but for the women I know at least, it’s one of those stories that have a profound effect on you:

If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency – what is one to do?
My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.
So I take phosphates or phosphites – whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.
Personally, I disagree with their ideas.
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
But what is one to do?
I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal – having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.
I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus – but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.


Posted by on September 30, 2009 in Life


11 responses to “Safe Havens Come in All Guises

  1. memsaab

    October 1, 2009 at 9:37 am

    I think it was when I told my shrink that I thought being in a mental hospital would be a great way to live—watching TV, smoking cigarettes, sleeping, no responsibilities—that she started me on meds.

    • Amrita

      October 1, 2009 at 3:02 pm

      I just made my home into a mental hospital. Worked for me!

      • memsaab

        October 1, 2009 at 4:34 pm

        Actually, come to think of it I did that too! 🙂

      • Aye Ash!

        October 1, 2009 at 6:29 pm

        “Smoking cigarettes”? Naaahiiin, Amrita…it’s not what I insinuated by sending that line of lyric from “Oorvasi Oorvasi” your way. Kabhi kabhi apni non-mental health ka bhi kuch fikar kiya kar. 😀

        Didn’t you learn anything at all from Magnificent Bosom masquerading as John’s secretary in hot red glasses (in No Smoking)? When asked “Do you smoke?” she deadpans, “I sweat…” If that’s (r)evolution enough for one woman, it’s (r)evolution enough for all women, I say — ash-trays and all other “novel” accessories be damned! 😛

        • AA

          October 2, 2009 at 12:58 pm

          p.s: On second thoughts, culpability is all mine — after all, there *is* the “spirit of freedom” blue-and-white billboard ad touting Charms cigarettes, right in the middle of the “Oorvasi” song, so… Oh my gawd, what I have I done? 😀

  2. Amrita

    October 2, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Memsaab – amirite?!

    AA – ahahahah, nahin nahin, Oorvasi didn’t leave such a deep impact on me. Quite apart from being the child of a man who had to quit smoking overnight or die, I’m entirely too cheap to cultivate an expensive, recurring habit. The day they make cheap, healthy cigarettes that taste yummy though – I’ll be on them like a shot. Of course, since I’m the only one I know who doesn’t smoke, I’ll probably be dead of second hand smoke by then. C’est la vie.

    • memsaab

      October 2, 2009 at 7:35 pm

      Well I don’t smoke either but I drink like a fish. Kind of the same thing. Many people have told me that I seem like I should be a smoker, and I take that as a compliment.

    • AA

      October 4, 2009 at 1:19 am

      “The day they make cheap, healthy cigarettes that taste yummy” – wow, optometrist! 😛 Since you “see” that happenin’, let’s make a pinky promise and stick to Pez till then, okey dokey? “Jug jug jiyo” as they say (and no pun intended this time, but… oh well!).

  3. Amrita

    October 5, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Memsaab – well, snap! 😀

    AA – “jug jug” is exactly how I live 😛

  4. sachita

    October 6, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    “watching TV, smoking cigarettes, sleeping, no responsibilities” – i hear you guys, “”my home into a mental hospital” – i did this too, but have been unable the shut the window on “responsibilities” – that thing keeps creeping in and spoils my party.

    • Amrita

      October 7, 2009 at 1:37 pm

      You’re not “committed” enough!

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