Method in her Madness


Over the weekend, the Guardian printed an excerpt from a book which is about to be published by an author called Nora Vincent titled ‘Voluntary Madness : My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin’.

Apart from squirming at the title for a number of reasons, the premise of the book also  makes me uncomfortable. This is a woman who has made a decision to enter a psychiatric hospital.

image tahitianlime at Flickr

It is not a pleasant experience, unsurprisingly. The author had spent time previously as an in-patient and had wanted to come back with a journalist’s eye to present the wrongs that were being practiced in these institutions.  As she says in the extract

In November 2004 I had checked myself into a locked psychiatric ward as a patient. I was in that zombie parlour for four days, and returned home a wreck, swearing that I would never willingly go into such a place again. And yet there was the lure of the spectacle, and what I saw as the outright wrongs of the insanitarium, wrongs I longed to write about and hold up to public scrutiny. Which was how I now came to find myself back in a big city public hospital – this time as a journalist.

It is clear that the hospital in which she was treated was without doubt practising the type of ‘care’ that belies the meaning of the word itself.

She rails against the situation that she is forced into as a patient

There was so much you weren’t allowed to do. There was little exercise – we were taken up to the roof for 15 minutes a day – no smoking and a no-touching rule between patients. A necessary rule, in some ways, in a world where people had few boundaries, but to deprive desperate human beings of the healing comfort of a hand on the shoulder or a kindly hug was, at times, just another reason the place made you feel less than human.

Definitely food for thought but everything has a layered value and risk and hospital is and really should be a place for the people who are most acutely unwell that care cannot possibly be provided by any other means.

I am somewhat sympathetic to Vincent’s view and experiences. It is something I think about a lot when determining the need for someone to be detained on a compulsory section in hospital.

I read a little more about Vincent’s background and the book as I had not come across her.

Her first bestselling book was called The Self-Made Man : My Year Disguised as a Man which pretty much does what it says on the tin, so to speak.

According to US News, the experience of disguising herself as a man for a year, instigated a period of depression and Vincent’s first admission to hospital which she revisited for the purpose of writing this book.

Vincent …  decided to have herself voluntarily committed to three different institutions. (She declined to provide their real names to protect the privacy of doctors and patients she met there.) She first faked her way into a big city public hospital by pretending to have a recurrence of her previous depression. She then intentionally caused a relapse of her depression by going off her antidepressant, which led to her being admitted to a small private hospital. Finally, she tried a recovery facility replete with yoga classes, gym, and facials.

This book hasn’t been published yet so naturally I haven’t read it. I did feel a little uncomfortable about having the luxury of writing about a situation that you have chosen to put yourself in, but on the other hand, I would absolutely not want to condone inhumane treatment on any level and perhaps attention and discomfort are needed to draw attention to poor practice.

Or perhaps it is just the name of the book that makes me feel uncomfortable. I am relatively curious to read it  but probably not curious enough to buy it. I suppose some of my discomfort also comes from the choice to be ill which is not present to the other patients with whom she is living and about whom she is writing.

Meanwhile, Time Magazine print a review of the book (provided by someone who has read it!)

As for a possible alternative, I read Poppy Shakespeare a couple of months ago after missing the TV programme. I was hugely impressed by Clare Allen’s take on the system. I know it’s a difference premise and it’s fiction rather than non-fiction but to  me it had an absolutely genuine ring to it. Unsurprisingly, as Clare Allen is a very engaging writer with personal experiences which include admission to hospital.

I am definitely intrigued as to what the reception will be to Vincent’s book here and will try and chase some more reviews when they emerge.

If the attention does garner an introspective into the running of some hospitals that engage poor practice and care then that will, indeed, be a fine achievement but I am not entirely convinced by the motivation (possibly again relating to the title).

8 thoughts on “Method in her Madness

  1. It sounds really interesting and I’ll also be watching out for reviews of this. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid any IP stays myself, but having found what it is like to be in the system, out of the system, I can imagine some of the battles that she had to contend with.

    Lola x

  2. I was just looking at this book in the bookstore on Saturday. I thought it looked intriguing. I like it when people dare to jump into an experience to properly write about it, although I was wondering who would purposefully put themselves in a mental hospital. I have to read it now. I love controversial….

  3. The title does have a bit of an oppressive tinge to it. I’ll probably check it out, though.

    On a side note, I am currently reading Poppy Shakespeare. Some of the lingo in it makes it difficult to read, but I’m liking it now. It’s a fun read.

  4. I will reserve judgement until I read it, but one issue I have is the fact that she manipulated the system to get herself admitted. My first reaction was to think, “Wow! There are so many people that NEED to be in an in-patient psychiatric setting and there aren’t beds available to them. Was it right for her to take up a space?” I’m not saying that it was totally wrong. There are legitimate issues with in-patient psychiatric settings, I’m sure, that need to be brought into the light, but taking up space in publicly funded beds…it just makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

  5. Of course, what I failed to mention is that the book has already been published in the US and is awaiting publication over here!
    And I do have a hint of discomfort with the premise and the title but am just very interested to know how the book reads.. in fact, I’m sure I will end up buying it (or maybe ordering it from the local library.. actually.. I’ve just had a Good Idea!)

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