Girl, Interrupted

Free Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

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Authors: Susanna Kaysen
taking over universities and sticking their tiny tongues out. We thought eventually they’d get around to “liberating” us too. “Right on!” we’d yell at them.
    Fantasies don’t include repercussions. We were safe in our expensive, well-appointed hospital, locked up with our rages and rebellions. Easy for us to say “Right on!” The worst we got was an afternoon in seclusion. Usually all we got was a smile, a shake of the head, a note on our charts: “Identification with protest movement.” They got cracked skulls, black eyes, kicks to the kidneys—and then, they got locked up with their rages and rebellions.
    So it went on, month after month of battles and riots and marches. These were easy times for the staff. We didn’t “act out”; it was all acted out for us.
    We were not only calm, we were expectant. The world was about to flip, the meek were about to inherit the earth or, more precisely, wrest it from the strong, and we, the meekest and weakest, would be heirs to the vast estate of all that had been denied us.
    But this didn’t happen—not for us and not for any of those other claimants to the estate.
    It was when we saw Bobby Seale bound and gagged in a Chicago courtroom that we realized the world wasn’t going to change. He was in chains like a slave.
    Cynthia was particularly upset. “They do that to me!” she cried. It was true that they did tie you down and put something in your mouth when you had shock, to stop you from biting your tongue during the convulsion.
    Lisa was angry too, but for another reason. “Don’t you see the difference?” she snarled at Cynthia. “They have to gag him, because they’re afraid people will believe what he says.”
    We looked at him, a tiny dark man in chains on our TV screen with the one thing we would always lack: credibility.

Bare Bones
    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 we 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?
    The hospital shielded us from all sorts of things. We’d tell the staff to refuse phone calls or visits from anyone we didn’t want to talk to, including our parents.
    “I’m too upset!” we’d wail, and we wouldn’t have to talk to whoever it was.
    As long as we were willing to be upset, we didn’t have to get jobs or go to school. We could weasel out of anything except eating and taking our medication.
    In a strange way we were free. We’d reached the end of the line. We had nothing more to lose. Our privacy, our liberty, our dignity: All of this was gone and we were stripped down to the bare bones of our selves.
    Naked, we needed protection, and the hospital protected us. Of course, the hospital had stripped us naked in the first place—but that just underscored its obligation to shelter us.
    And the hospital fulfilled its obligation. Somebody in our families had to pay a good deal of money for that: sixty dollars (1967 dollars) a day just for the room; therapy, drugs, and consultations were extra. Ninety days was the usual length of mental-hospital insurance coverage, but ninety days was barely enough to get started on a visit to McLean. My workup alone took ninety days. The price of several of those college educations I didn’t want was spent on my hospitalization.
    If our families stopped paying, we stopped staying and were put naked into a world we didn’t know how to live in anymore. Writing a check, dialing a telephone, opening a window, locking a door—these were just a few of the things we all forgot how to do.
    Our families. The prevailing wisdom was that they were the reason we were in there, yet they were utterly absent from our hospital lives. We wondered: Were we as absent from their lives outside?
    Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy,

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