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Girl, Interrupted

Girl, Interrupted - Susanna Kaysen Girl, Interrupted is a difficult book to rate. I found Kaysen's writing style at times distracting and the lack of a timeline confusing. For instance, one of the patients dies in one chapter and suddenly she is alive again in the next chapter or so. I kept questioning whether I was recalling the right names/situations at times because of this (I was). I also question Kaysen's ability to remember conversations from roughly 25 years earlier verbatim, perhaps I was supposed to just believe it was the "gist of the conversation" but the way things are said changes a lot.

Overall I found the cast of patients interesting and I rather caught myself wondering how much of their illnesses were in direct relation to their confinement in this mental hospital and/or the treatments they received there. Honestly it seemed as though just being there could put a person on edge and start wearing away at your sanity. There is also the issue of who got to decide if you needed to be in such a hospital. The doctor that decided Kaysen would be placed in McLean Hospital did not know her, barely spoke to her and simply seemed to make assumptions about her. It reminded me greatly of the treatment of women in the 1800s, where pretty much anything that bucked "polite" society or seemed eccentric from a woman caused you to be deemed under the influence of "hysteria" and needed treatment. Interestingly enough many of the treatments often considered to work in the 1800s were also used at McLean Hospital. I could not help but wonder if the same treatments were used on the male patients at McLean, only one of which was ever mentioned in the book. I'm not saying that many, if not all, of these women were not in need of help but I have my suspicions that most of them needed a different kind of help that wasn't found in the 1800s.

Honestly Kaysen made a number of interesting points about mental illness and how one can ever truly know if they are mad themselves. Can a person even really determine that on their own? Who else would be more qualified? I enjoyed that Kaysen seemed to use the book in essence to analyze her own stay at McLean and her subsequent release. I also found it interesting that some of the patients were allowed to come and go during the day and stay at the hospital at night, using the hospital as their address (with obvious stigma attached, as everyone knew where that address was).

Also, Kaysen mentions a "Jim Watson" visiting her early in her stay at McLean. She also mentions the Nobel Prize. Now, is that Jim Watson genuinely the Watson of Watson & Crick of the DNA structure fame? Truly? How the hell did she know him, if so, and why the random comment??

Overall, Girl, Interrupted was a very interesting look into a genuine mental hospital stay during a time that many people were being diagnosed as needing to be in such a place. The cast of characters was compelling and the overall story believable. I just might have to watch the movie.

Interesting quotes:

The interpreter is convinced it’s unmappable and invisible. “I’m your mind,” it claims. “You can’t parse me into dendrites and synapses.” It’s full of claims and reasons. “You’re a little depressed because of all the stress at work,” it says. (It never says, “You’re a little depressed because your serotonin level has dropped”) Sometimes its interpretations are not credible, as when you cut your finger and it starts yelling, “You’re gonna die!” Sometimes its claims are unlikely, as when it says, “Twenty-five chocolate chip cookies would be the perfect dinner.” Often, then, it doesn’t know what it’s talking about. And when you decide it’s wrong, who or what is making that decision? A second, superior interpreter? Why stop at two? That’s the problem with this model. It’s endless. Each interpreter needs a boss to report to.

Mental illness seems to be a communication problem between interpreters one and two.

What does borderline personality mean, anyhow? It appears to be a way station between neurosis and psychosis: a fractured but not disassembled psyche. Though to quote my post-Melvin psychiatrist: “It’s what they call people whose lifestyles bother them.” He can say it because he’s a doctor. If I said it, nobody would believe me.