The Abyss of Madness -2011

The Abyss of - CHAPTER TWO EXPLORING THE ABYSS OF MADNESS The girl with four imaginary children in her bedroom I saw a 19 year-old woman a great

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CHAPTER TWO: EXPLORING THE ABYSS OF MADNESS The girl with four imaginary children in her bedroom I saw a 19 year-old woman a great many years ago, hospitalized, who refused to speak except to say that there were four children living in her bedroom. According to her parents, she had been entirely normal, reportedly perfectly delightful in fact, until just a few weeks before, but now she was in prolonged silence. The psychiatrist assigned to her gave her a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and she was begun on a course of antipsychotic medications. Her behavior remained the same: long stretches of silence, very occasionally interrupted by short statements that four children were in her room. She would not describe the children, explain their origin, or otherwise engage in any further communication on the matter. When asked if she believed the children were real, actual human beings, a look passed across her face of confusion and dismay. The doctor, after a period of weeks, recommended shock therapy, and a course of 12 electroconvulsive treatments then took place. Following these, she spoke just once to say there were now no children in her bedroom; otherwise the reign of silence continued. Finally she was discharged and her family took her home. We never saw her again. But I was haunted by what had occurred and always wondered about what happened to the young woman and what her behavior could have meant. In the following, I offer some hypotheses about this patient, and her story becomes a point of departure for a journey into the nature of madness. Looking back on this experience from the vantage point of all that I have seen since, there are five items that stand out: first, that she was, according to her parents, a “perfectly delightful” child prior to the transformation in her behavior; second, that the primary change was one of lapsing into silence; third, the sporadic statements regarding there being four children sharing her bedroom; fourth, her apparent confusion in response to being asked about whether she believed the children were real; and fifth,
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following ECT, her report that the children were no longer present in her bedroom. Let us suppose that the perfectly delightful girl her parents knew her to be was the product of a surrender, rooted in very early experiences of great power, a deep-ranging accommodation in which she brought herself into compliance with agendas as to who she was and should be, transmitted to her by her mother and father. The identity that developed would then be one taken over from preexisting images they supplied, rather than from her emergent agency and spontaneous intentionality. The sudden disappearance of that delightful girl would thus be comprehensible as an act of rejecting the false self, of fighting back against the enslaving tie to the maternal and/or paternal agenda, and therefore an effort to rescue possibilities of her own being from annihilation. I would interpret the silence as a negation of her compliance, wherein the
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This note was uploaded on 02/02/2012 for the course 830 340 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '08 term at Rutgers.

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The Abyss of - CHAPTER TWO EXPLORING THE ABYSS OF MADNESS The girl with four imaginary children in her bedroom I saw a 19 year-old woman a great

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