Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | My Diagnosis | Summary

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Summary

Susanna accepts that her diagnosis was accurate for her self at age 18, yet she rejects what she calls "the charges against" her current self. While she accepts that she is still struggling with some of the same behaviors 25 years after her time at McLean, she rejects the notion that they are necessarily a sign of mental illness. Stating that a shifting self-image, sexual curiosity, and rebellion against established values are tenets of any adolescence, she wonders if the line between what's normal and what is not can be drawn with certainty. Her psychiatrist's comment that borderline personality is a term for people whose lifestyle bothers the establishment seems supported by the fact that historical diagnoses of madness, such as homosexuality, have since been disproven and the associated behaviors are accepted as normal.

In her own mind, her habit of self-mutilation unambiguously points to her mental disorder, while her refusal to conform to social behaviors does not. In fact, she rejects calling her sexual experimentation promiscuous. She declares that her "self-image" was not unstable; rather, she saw herself accurately as unfit for the conventions of her social world. These conventions led to her feelings of "chronic emptiness and boredom," which led to her depression.

As difficult as it is to draw the line between normal and not, it seems even harder to know why one person recovers and another doesn't. She wonders what recovery even means, and if it means replacing her need to self-mutilate with common misery, which doesn't seem like a recovery. The chapter ends with Susanna's vigilance in checking her behaviors to make sure she'll never have to return to McLean.

Analysis

While Susanna accepts the definition of personality disorder as an accurate image of her teenage self, she does not accept it as evidence for her mental illness. Her disorder is not a chemical imbalance like manic depression and not a psychosis like schizophrenia. It lies in between and is, in part, socially defined. Moodiness, changing allegiances in different relationships, and pushing limits are the signposts of a teenager finding his or her place in the world, not symptoms of illness. A personality disorder, therefore, shifts and changes with the norms of the patient's time.

Yet Susanna states that it is possible to distinguish nonconformist from pathological behavior. Self-mutilation to her is a telltale sign that something is wrong. She was in pain and expressed it in ways that were dangerous to her well-being—spending hours banging her wrist against the metal edge of a chair, for instance. She needed help, and it was her society's responsibility to help her. Recovery, however, is hard to define.

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