Essay on The Teenage Life of the American Borderline Personality Patient in the 1960s
There exists this leap, a comforting and sheltering one, that takes place when someone of a higher authority utters anything, the leap where one believes them almost immediately and unquestionably due to what was taught since infancy, those above you always know more. As a child you obey your parents or teachers and they are awarded the trust that whatever they say is the way of things. It is typically during adolescence when one’s own beliefs blossom that it becomes gradually more difficult to take that jump and one reaches the intimidating depths of one’s mind where there lay doubts and questions that shatter that sheltering.
It is not easy to recognize when disbelief is legitimate because it is far too easy to slip into the flow, no interruptions, no questions. Susanna Kaysen depicts the evolution of her distrust in her memoir Girl Interrupted of her young adulthood within the walls of a mental institution demonstrating the word of the mentally ill versus doctors and society. Her candor while claiming her awareness at the time to her abnormalities along with her medical records placed between chapters allows the audience to act as the jury between Kaysen and her many physicians. Kaysen’s transparency grants the audience freedom to develop their own decisions as to who to believe, the girl who chews her hands searching for bones or the doctor who sent her to a mental institution with a coincidental past of sexual harassment?
The pivotal moment that initiated Kaysen’s curiosity about the diagnosis that led to her admission at McCleans was the same moment that she and her medical records seem to disagree upon. One of her difficulties while dealing with her borderline personality disorder was her concept of time. Kaysen was struck with fear by her disability to measure the time of an event or task, it felt as though it were being stolen from her. Her most imperative instance with tracking time was the appointment with the doctor that shoved her in a taxi and sent her off to McClean. She seems to recall that the entire appointment lasted under thirty minutes while the doctor, who had never previously treated her, chose to diagnose her with symptoms of borderline personality disorder.
The doctor then recorded that the appointment was a length of three hours. Whether it be thirty minutes or three hours neither of those windows are sufficient time to admit someone into an institution with such urgency and a serious diagnosis. This interaction between doctor and patient shows the doctors inadequacy to address a mentaly ill patient whether it be due to the lack of information on the issue during that decade or the abuse of a higher power not just of a doctor over a patient, but a grown male over a young female. The doctor held a condescending presence in the way he hovered rather closely over her as, “He took me by the elbow- pinched me between his large stout fingers… Keeping hold of my arm, he opened the back door of the taxi and pushed me in.” (Kaysen 9)
He was not only authoritative in his patient analysis, but he physically forced her to institution taking advantage of her vulnerability, the fact that she was alone, and that she was a young female. Kaysen later in life discovered that the same doctor who shipped her off had a history of sexual harassing patients. It is absolutely possible that just like any memoir Kaysen is missing key parts to her story, however, she also added authentic medical records of her time of admission that prove the length of the appointment. Breaking it down, it is a young girl with a complicated mental disorder, on her own, and aware of her abnormal behaviors against that of a patronizing and sexually harassing male doctor in the sixties.
Currently, light has been shown on the significance of not only talking about mental health, but recognizing symptoms and knowing proper treatment, this does not erase the lingering stigmas surrounding mental health issues that were so prominent in the sixties. When it comes to anxiety and depression are two mental issues that have been devoted a great amount of attention and tend to be the main idea of the several new articles. Borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, or antisocial personality disorder are still not the ones being so openly discussed.
These are more difficult to live with yet society will still neglect this group of people and like Kaysen are often sent away or hidden. Once exposed to the public those suffering from greater mental issues are isolated from the world around them as everyone purposefully insists on disassociating themselves from being even near a person suffering, even the nurses who, “... were silent and closed in on us, and they had assumed the Nonchalant Look, an expression that said, I am not a nurse escorting six lunatics to the ice cream parlor. But they were, and we were their six lunatics, so we behaved like lunatics.” (Kaysen 51) How someone is treated reflects in their behavior. Those mentally ill are continuously isolated, mistreated, and dehumanized which could only worsen their condition driving them away from ever believing they could find a place in society.
There is no doubt that a portion of Kaysen’s audience is disbelieving part of her story due to the simple fact that she has borderline personality disorder because that is the stigma that has been created. Kaysen is unique because she is conscious of her necessity of proper care in order to carry on her life, she is well aware that mental disorders are not temporary, but maintainable, and she is aware that at the time in which she was diagnosed she was a member of a society who disregard her problems and isolate her. Kaysen is not a lunatic nor is she any longer doped up on thorazine. Outside of McClean she was able to reflect on the series of events that led her to two years in a mental institution and realize that from the moment she walked into that doctors office she was not in the hands of someone who could provide her with accurate care.
It is difficult to piece together a memoir, that naturally has some gaps of memory, while simultaneously forcing your brain to step out of the stigmas surrounding the fact that the author has borderline personality disorder. Kaysen should be respected as if she were any author not as though she were different from human beings because of something she could not possibly control. That is to say that ignoring someone with cancer was okay. Agreeing with a doctor who was obviously a male chauvinist, knowing the time setting is agreeing to the societal trends of the time, with the men being superior to women and health issues seen as an embarrassment. In no part of the memoir did Kaysen claim that she did have mental health issues, in fact she clearly depicted several instances where she acted out and analyzed research of her disorder. The purpose was not to convince the audience that she was perfectly fine, she is well aware that she is not, the point was to demonstrate the injustice towards the mentally ill and the damage that false care can do to a person’s health and soul.