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1.The “My Diagnosis” chapter of Girl Interrupted (150-164) examines Susanna Kaysen’s hospital file that stated she had Borderline Personality. On page 151 she writes: “What does borderline personality mean, anyhow?” The DSM has lots of neat categories for all sorts of mental conditions but I feel that human beings are much more complex than a list of definitive signals that result in being “labeled” with one disorder or another. What about overlapping conditions? How do you feel about Susanna’s lengthy hospitalization? Was it warranted or an overreaction to the emotional struggles of a sensitive and intelligent young woman who felt lost and trapped by her circumstances?

2.Kaysen mulls over the chaos going on in her mind in the chapter called Velocity vs. Viscosity (75-78). I found the last line of this chapter particularly moving. Susanna is wondering what the catalyst to her next depressive episode will be and she says: Endogenous (internal) or exogenous (external), nature or nurture – it’s the great mystery of mental illness. So, in your opinion, what causes some people to succumb to depression and sometimes even give in to the suicidal impulse and others to simply cope with all kinds of suffering and come out unscathed?

Submitted by Bonnie Akkerman I pledge…

1. Quoting her psychiatrist, Susanna Kaysen states that the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is “what they call people whose lifestyles bother them” (151). She goes on to suggest that since homosexuality is no longer in the DSM (formerly considered aberrant behavior, too) that BPD should no longer be in it either (152). I believe she misses the point here. Removing homosexuality from the DSM helps to remove the stigma from homosexuality, which may alleviate the mental stress homosexuals might otherwise have for being labeled deviant. On the other hand, those who have BPD suffer significant distress due to their thinking and behavior. It is possible to correct a person’s cognitive processes and behavior; it is not possible to fix a person’s sexual orientation. Therefore, I think BPD should be kept in the DSM. What do you think?

2. Kaysen admits that she “had boyfriends by the barrelful,” but doesn’t go into much detail into the nature of those relationships (155). One of the key features of BPD is unstable relationships, which are a source of stress for those with BPD (147). Kaysen seems almost proud of the fact that she’s had a lot of boyfriends, rather than be upset about it. Do you think that these numerous relationships were happy, or not?

Submitted by Chris O'Neill

1. I came into this reading with a somewhat sympathetic perspective, considering I was also hospitalized for BPD symptoms. The disease is incredibly complex, mainly because–like other diseases such as Anxiety, Depression, and ADHD–people around you can often claim to 'have experienced what you're feeling.' “Everyone has trust issues.” “Everyone goes through rocky relationships, sometimes.” You hear those near-constantly when you're explaining your feelings to close family members. While this is true, most people can sift through their rational and irrational thoughts and cope with their emotions relatively easily. It is often difficult for neurotypical people to understand how tough it can be to learn social skills, boundaries, and emotional regulation when you didn't grow up inherently knowing them. A good analogy would be to compare it to learning a language most people just grew up speaking as kids.

2. A trope I've noticed throughout these mental health/asylum biopics is the complicated relationship the author can have with their fellow patients. Just like it may not be a great idea to put violent individuals together in a prison, perhaps forcing individuals with milder symptoms around those with let's say “chronic diseases” might impede on the sense of normalcy/equilibrium they're trying to achieve. On the flip side, I can attest to having met some of my favorite people in the psych ward. Sometimes, other people “going through it” are the only ones who understand your experiences. Is there a feasible middle-ground here? Does it all come to funding and the organization of internal “wings” of a psych ward?

-Submitted by Theron Gertz I pledge…

1. Do you think insurance companies treat mental health better, worse, or the same compared to 1967?

2. How many men had borderline personality disorder but were never diagnosed?

3. Why was the doctor so quick to get Susanna committed?

Submitted by Audrey Schroeder. I pledge…

When talking about Lisa’s change in her behavior they remark that they must have put her on some form of drug or medication. Due to this do you think that some of those that sat around the TV were simply victims of this drug regimen or were they truly catatonic?

Was the whole talk and experience with Jim Watson a hallucination or actual meeting? And was her denial of going with him a sign of her acknowledging that it was all fictional?

-Parker Siebenschuh I pledge

1. I'd like to talk more about the Etiology page (pg. 15). Kaysen mockingly gives a brief history of the history of mental health in her questionnaire and appears to want her audience to read between the lines by having them question modern psychology and the reliability of diagnosis. Should we accept today’s mental illness diagnoses without question, just as the people of other eras accepted the notion of demonic possession? What makes these previous assumptions about mental illness any better than what we know now? This is considering the dubious nature of diagnosis and how it appears to be constantly changing over time.

2. One of the themes of Kaysen's book appears to be confusions about nonconformity. We have discussed in the past how asylums are places where people were sent because they do not conform to the norms of that society, and Kaysen's case does not appear to be any different in that regard. She talks about the doctor who encouraged her to be placed in McLean and how he recommended this after only twenty minutes of consultation. Do you think Kaysen's experience was a way to encourage her to conform to society's will? How did her position as a woman in a mental institution in the 1960s? How does this compare or contrast to other accounts we have read?

Submitted by Lyndsey Clark. I pledge…

Question 1: are patients often given a list of mental health issues they are diagnosed with? Or do they not receive these reports till after they are deemed “cured”?

Question 2: Pages 92 and 93 give an interesting account from Susanna about the patients at the institution’s reaction to various events that occurred while she was there. While the book talks about the Vietnam war, the death of Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, are there accounts from other people in institutions who gave their reactions to similar events? Did these events affect patients in some way?

submitted by Griffin Nameroff

1. Susanna writes that she felt unfit for the educational and social systems, do you think this was the type of woman who society thought was bound for institutional care?

2. Susanna mentioned that the nurse Valerie was not afraid of the patients or the doctors. Why do you think the nurses would be scared of the doctors? Why do you think that Valerie was able to not be?

Submitted by Jack Kurz. I pledge…

1. In the chapter “Dental Health”, Susanna asked the Dentist how much time she had lost during the procedure. The Dentist refuses to tell her and makes nurse Valerie deal with the issue. Did the Dentist treat Susanna this way on purpose to possibly cause a conflict? Would not the easier solution be to give Sussana a duration even if it was an approximation? If just found the treatment of Susanna to be belittling and I don’t think the Dentist would have treated another, “sane”, patient in that manner.

2. Girl Interrupted was not written in chronological order, so at times it was hard to follow. But one thing I noticed in the second half of the book was Susanna began to gain more freedom. It appeared that she was allowed to leave the hospital to gain employment. Was this a common practice for mental institutions during the mid 20th century?

Submitted by Jayden Jordan

1) In the chapter titled “Nineteen Sixty-Eight,” the last line states, “We looked at him, a tiny dark man in chains on our TV screen with the one thing we would always lack: credibility.” (Kaysen, 93) What identity are they applying the word credibility to? Race? Mental soundness? Have we seen the credibility of a patient questioned before? Discuss.

2) At the end of the book, there are records of Susanna's “outcome with regard to mental disorder” box was listed as “cured.” (Kaysen, 169) What does “cured” mean? Is it applied differently to different people with the same mental illness?

(Submitted by Carson Berrier; I pledge…)

1. I found it interesting that Kaysen didn't really talk about the treatments that they all went through or their effects like in the other narratives that we read for Tuesday. What kinds of treatments were common for people with borderline personality disorder? She said that there was a hydrotherapy room, but never mentioned going to it. Were they relying more on drugs and talk therapy for treatment?

2. Kaysen seemed to have a lot of freedom at the hospital since she needed little supervision and talked about how she could go to her boyfriend's house and had a job. Was this common in mental hospitals? Or was this unique to this hospital because of how Dr. Wick ran it like a bording school?

Submitted by Allison Love (I pledge…)

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