Here are a few notes from the book Girl, Interrupted. It is a story about an adolescent who was in a mental hospital. Special thanks my friend who typed them in and sent them to me.
People ask, how did you get in there? What they really want to
know is if
they are likely to end up in there as well. I cant answer the real
question. All I can tell them is, its easy.
(Susanna talking about her roommate Georgina)
She was in a theater watching a movie when a tidal wave of
over her head. The entire world was obliterated for a few minutes. She
knew she had gone crazy.
In the parallel universe the laws of physics are suspended. What goes up
does not necessarily come down; a body at rest does not tend to stay at
rest; and not every action can be counted on to provoke an equal and
opposite reaction. Time, too, is different. It may run in circles, flow
backward, skip about from now to then. The very arrangement of molecules is
fluid: tables can be clocks; faces, flowers. Another odd feature of the
parallel universe is that although it is invisible from this side, once you
are in it you can easily see the world you came from.
You have a pimple, Said the doctor.
Id hoped nobody would notice.
Youve been picking it, he went on.
Youve been picking at yourself, the doctor said.
(Susanna talking about a girl named Polly who was in the hospital for
setting herself on fire)
Why did she do it? Nobody knew. Nobody dared to ask. Because
Who had the courage to burn herself? Twenty aspirin, a little slit alongside
the veins of the arm, maybe even a bad half hour standing on a roof: weve
all had those. And somewhat more dangerous things, like putting a gun in
your mouth. But you put it there, you taste it, its cold and greasy, your
finger is on the trigger, and you find that a whole world lies between this
moment and the moment youve been planning, when youll pull the trigger.
That world defeats you. You put the gun back in the drawer. Youll have to
find another way.
I had an inspiration once. I woke up one morning and I knew that today I had
to swallow 50 aspirin. It was my task: my job for the day. I lined them up
on my desk and took them one by one, counting.
Other people stormed and cringed and cried; Polly watched and smiled. She
sat by people who were frightened, and her presence calmed them. Her smile
wasnt mean, it was understanding. Life was hellish, she knew that. But, her
smile hinted, shed burned all that out of her.
(Susanna talking about Lisa, a girl in the hospital that ran away)
Lisa wouldnt be hard to identify. She rarely ate and she
never slept, so
she was thin and yellow, and the way people get when they dont eat, and she
had huge bags under her eyes.
We watched Cynthia come back crying from electroshock once a week. We
watched Polly shiver after being wrapped in ice-cold sheets. One of the
worst things we watched, though, was Lisa coming back from seclusion two
Lisa always knew what she needed. Shed say, I need a vacation from this
place. And then shed run away.
I asked the person on checks, Whats she doing in the bathroom?
This was a new person. Am I supposed to open bathroom doors too?
I did what we often did to new people. Somebody could hang herself in there
in a minute! Where do you think you are anyhow? A boarding school? Then I
put my face close to her. They didnt like that, touching us.
(Susanna talking about something Lisa did to the TV room)
She had wrapped all the furniture, some of it holding
catatonics, and the TV
and the sprinkler system on the ceiling in toilet paper. Yards and yards of
it floated and dangled, bunched and draped on everything, everywhere. It was
(Susanna talking about Pollys roommate)
Her roommate was a new anorexic named Janet who was scheduled
feedings the moment she dropped below 75.
Suicide is a form of murder premeditated murder. It isnt something you do
the first time you think of doing it.
Sometimes they called it a personality disorder. When I got my diagnosis it
didnt sound serious, but
after a while it sounded more ominous than other peoples. I imagined my
character as a plate or shirt that had been manufactured incorrectly and was
Here comes the Im-no-good thought. That takes care of today. All day the
insistent dripping of Im no good. The next thought, the next day, is Im
the angel of death.
Once, these thoughts must have had a meaning. They must have meant what they
said. But repetition has blunted them. They have become background music, a
muzac medley of self-hatred.
Valerie was strict and inflexible and she the only staff person we trusted.
We trusted her because she wasnt afraid of us.
They had a special language: regression, acting out, hostility, withdrawal,
indulging in behavior. This last phrase could be attached to any activity
and make it sound suspicious: indulging in eating disorder, talking
behavior, writing behavior. In the outside world people ate and talked and
wrote, but nothing we did was simple.
(Susanna talking about the student nurses who the patients always acted
As soon as they left, things went quickly back to worse than
usual, and the
real nurses had their hands full. Thus, our keepers. As for finders well,
we had to be our own finders.
For many of us, the hospital was as much a refuge as it was a prison. Though
we were cut off from the world and all the trouble enjoyed stirring up out
there, we were also cut off from the demands and expectations that had
driven us crazy. What could be expected of us now that we were stowed away
in a loony bin?
If our families stopped paying, we stopped staying and were put naked into a
world we didnt know how to live in anymore. Writing a check, dialing a
telephone, opening a window, locking a door these were just a few things
we all forgot how to do.
After they left Torrey would give a report in her tired drawl. Then mom
said, You made me into an alcoholic, and then dad said, Im going to see
you never get out of this place. And then they sort of switched and mom
said, Youre nothing but a junkie. And dad said, Im not going to pay for
you to take it easy in here while we suffer.
The nurses agreed with Lisa. They told Torrey she was mature for agreeing to
see her parents when she knew they were going to confuse her. Confuse was
the nurses word for abuse.
You spent nearly two years in a loony bin! Why in the world were you in
there? I cant believe it! Translation: If youre crazy, then Im crazy,
and Im not, so the whole thing must have been a mistake.
You spent nearly two years in a loony bin? Hmmm. When was that exactly?
Translation: Are you still contagious?
Id had two jobs in my life: three months selling gourmet cookware, much of
which I dropped and broke; and one week typing in the Harvard billing
office, terrifying students by sending them term bills for $10,900 that were
meant to read $1,900. I made these mistakes because I was terrified by the
I lay in bed smoking and thinking about the office. The more I thought about
it the more absurd it became. I couldnt take all those rules seriously. I
started to laugh, thinking of the typists jammed into the bathroom, smoking.
A writer, I said when my social worker asked me what I planned to do when
I got out of the hospital. Im going to be a writer.
Thats a nice hobby, but how are you going to earn a living? My social
worker and I do not like each other. I didnt like her because she didnt
understand that this was me, and I was going to be a writer; I was not going
to type term bills or sell au gratin bowls or do any other stupid things.
Part of the point was that nobody knew about my suffering. If people knew
and admired or abominated me, something important would be lost.
I was trying to explain my situation to myself. My situation was that I was
in pain and nobody knew it; even I had trouble knowing it. So I told myself
over and over, you are in pain.
I can honestly say that my misery had been transformed into common
unhappiness, so by Freuds definition I have achieved mental health. And my
discharge sheet, at line 41, outcome with regard to mental disorder, reads
I read everything, I wrote constantly, and I had boyfriends by the
By my senior year I didnt even bother with excuses, let alone explanations.
Where is your term paper? asked my history teacher.
I didnt write it. I have nothing to say on that topic.
You could have picked another topic.
I have nothing to say on any historical topic.
One of my teachers told me I was a nihilist. He meant it as an insult but I
took it as a compliment.
I was the first person in the history of the school not to go to college. Of
course, at least a third of my classmates never finished college. By 1968,
people were dropping out daily.
I was stunned. Who did they think I was? Im sure they didnt think about me
much. I was that one who wore black and really, Ive heard it from several
people slept with the English teacher.
Emptiness and boredom: what an understatement. What I felt was complete
desolation. Desolation, despair, and depression.
(Susanna runs into Lisa and her son a while after they were out of the
They were going back to Brooklyn on the subway. At the top of the stairs
Lisa turned around toward me again. You ever think of those days in there,
in that place? She asked.
Yes, I answered. I do think of them.
Me too. She shook her head. Oh well, She said rather jauntily. Then the
two of them went down the stairs, underground.