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As her time at the hospital approaches its end, Kaysen
begins to plan her next steps. She thinks back to the job she held
before hospitalization—typing student bills at Harvard. Kaysen was
surprised by the sexism she encountered there. The typing and supervisory
staff was strictly segregated by gender, and the male and female
staff was subject to different rules. Women obeyed a conservative
dress code and were not allowed to smoke except in the bathroom,
while men enjoyed much more freedom. Eventually, Kaysen simply stopped going
to work. She notes that she was the only woman on the job who objected
to the rules and wonders whether this was a mark of illness or a
just reaction to sexism. Finally, the job search is put to rest
by her boyfriend’s proposition of marriage.
Kaysen describes meeting her husband before she entered
the hospital. A friend’s brother introduced her to him. They watched
a French film and spent the night together. After her future husband
returned to Reed College, Kaysen began the mental decline that led
her to McLean. He insisted on visiting her in the hospital, despite
her worsening situation and occasional refusal to see him. Over
time, Kaysen’s mental health improved, and she was able to visit
him outside the grounds of the hospital. Eventually, he proposed
marriage. Kaysen admits that she had given the realities of marriage
very little thought before accepting his proposal. To her, marriage
was escape and freedom. The marriage eventually ended in divorce.
Kaysen considers the relative importance of the “brain,”
composed of a series of complex neurochemical processes, and the
“mind,” the invisible mechanism that creates consciousness. She
isn’t sure whether the two can be divided. Perhaps there are two
levels of interpretation occurring in our heads, she theorizes,
one that processes basic data, and another that considers it. She
imagines that mental illness appears when the two interpreters can’t
communicate. Sometimes, however, confusion exists that doesn’t indicate mental
illness. People might sense that a train in which they’re sitting,
although stopped in a station, is moving, simply because the train
next to them is moving. Kaysen describes this gray area as the edge
of psychiatric disturbance. She points out that treatable mental illness
is always signaled by a patient’s doubts about what she is seeing
or imagining. Those who do not doubt are most likely untreatable.
Kaysen draws a distinction between therapists, who treat the mind,
and physicians, who prescribe psychoactive medications. She considers
the long-term effects on patient treatment caused by neurochemists.
With her twentieth birthday approaching, Kaysen prepares
to leave McLean. The employment opportunities available to her are
undesirable and remind Kaysen of her brief employment as a typist
in a Harvard office. There, she noticed that typists (all women)
and supervisors (all men) obeyed entirely different sets of rules.
The experience was a crystal-clear example to Kaysen of the overt
sexism still in practice in the American workplace. Kaysen wonders why
she was the only employee to object to the rules. Was this a sign of
her illness? This episode illustrates one of the book’s major themes—that
of society’s insistence on classifying those who reject conventional
behavioral norms as odd or crazy. She encounters a similar response
from her social worker at the hospital. The adults around her have
a difficult time understanding why Kaysen rebuffs the job opportunities
typically available to a woman of her age at that time. Even Valerie,
now a confidante of sorts, tries to steer her toward a career as
a dental technician. The world in Kaysen’s eyes operates similarly
to the typing office: women should expect to take up an undemanding
service job and to live within a set of boundaries set by men. Only
a marriage proposal, the most traditional role for women, releases
Kaysen from the hospital and earns the approval of everyone around
Kaysen decides to marry with little thought of consequences. Marriage
is socially palatable to her parents and doctors. Once married,
questions about Kaysen’s life choices and future will subside; traditional
society will consider her life’s path settled. More importantly,
the marriage proposal is Kaysen’s instant ticket out of psychiatric
care. “I guess my life will just stop when I get married,” she says.
Certainly Kaysen’s life will continue, but probing questions about
her prospects will indeed cease.
The psychiatric establishment’s growing reliance on neurochemical
solutions to mental illness interests Kaysen. Pharmaceutical remedies
have replaced entire classes of mental illness that once required
lengthy therapy. Most forms of depression and manic depression no
longer require long periods of hospitalization; the nearly two years
that Kaysen spent in a residential program would be unheard of today,
except in the most dire cases of illness. Kaysen believes that the mind interprets
chemical processes that occur in the brain. This
interpreter gives us a rough report of the brain’s actions and reactions
to stimuli. Kaysen thinks that there are countless interpreters
checking the work of the one that came before, thereby refining
our conclusions about what we see. Mental illness occurs when there
is a break in the interpretive chain, resulting in “false impressions
have all the hallmarks of reality.” She notes that Freud believed
that patients who had no doubts about their own delusions were untreatable.
Ultimately, Kaysen looks at the gap between the therapeutic and
neurochemical schools of thought with some alarm. More cooperation
between the two would, in her opinion, be better for patients.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Girl, Interrupted!