Friday, February 11, 2005

Gracefully Insane

I ditched Housekeeping (after skipping to the end to find out how it finished up – I know, I know, so shoot me…) and picked up Alex Beam’s Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America's Premier Mental Hospital. New England’s McLean Hospital was essentially a mental hospital for the well-to-do, or to quote an Amazon reviewer, “the mental institution equivalent of the Plaza Hotel.” (I’ve had tea at the Plaza and I must say that *that* was pleasant…) All kinds of famous people were treated there, now adding to my list of books-to-read Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen’s memoir of her stay, and Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar, a fictionalized memoir of Plath’s time there. Gracefully Insane is readable, conversational yet professional in tone, and delves into the architectural and civic as well as the medical history of the place.

I must say, I could do with a spell there myself, but since I am anything but gracefully insane ---well, let’s just say that if I were to have been born two centuries earlier, I’d have been locked up in the stereotypical lunatic asylum (like Renfield’s prison in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or even the infamous Charenton Asylum in Marat/Sade). It’d probably be all about wandering around in my nightgown, drooling. No high class treatment for me, if indeed I even made it so far as getting some treatment. As has been sensitively pointed out to me in the past, when you’re a penniless peasant, who has time to be depressed and/or give into your obsessive compulsions? But having the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom with an advanced degree and enough cash, I am perfectly positioned to indulge my inner lunatic.

So when my Zoloft runs out, and I am still waiting for my pharmacy-by-mail order to arrive, and my shrink isn’t in his office to dispense a handy bottle of samples, and I discover that my therapist/shrink bills are no longer fully covered by my insurance, I will just dream of being independently wealthy sometime in the late 1800s, and taking up residence in one of McLean’s lovely residences, complete with private bath and maid. Ah, bliss.

Random lunatic asylum links that I found cool:

Life in a Victorian Lunatic Asylum. Just reading about the Gyration Chair made me want to vomit. Thank God for modern pharmaceuticals. They might make you fat but they shouldn’t make you vomit.

Life at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum
Just the title of this one is enough to scare the crap out of me!

Twelfth Night at the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum
Isn’t this a jolly little picture? Way to keep those lunatics happy.

King of Hearts - I’ve never seen this movie, but I’ve always wanted to. It’s supposed to be hilarious. I mean, what could be funnier than lunatics on the loose?

Anyway, this is simply fascinating to me, and I could go on all night. But I won’t. (I’m not totally crazy…)


Gina said...

I think I would have made a pretty boring lunatic. Then again, maybe the untreated panic attacks would have spiraled into agoraphobia. So A.) I would have turned into something of a Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, where all the neighborhood kids would want to hang out and play and bake with me, or B.) I would have developed into something of a Boo Radley.

I guess Ignatius J. Riley was sort of agoraphobic--I'm not that smart, but I certainly am that deluded. And I share his penchant for eating junk foods (but not hot dogs).

Is it sad that I'm finding this an enjoyable diversion from writing the word's most boring paper? Could we turn this into a game show? Who Wants to Be a Fictional Lunatic?

BabelBabe said...

I want to be Boo Radley. I don't really like most people, so that works, but he gets to be ahero at the end which fits nicely into my wanting-to-be-accepted complex. As long as I don't wind up like Olivia de Havilland in Snake Pit, I'll be ok. But you know I would, because that's the way things happen to me.