The breakdown came on Monday morning

The breakdown came on Monday morning. I was sitting at home in the big room on the first floor, reading a book and listening to music. Ingrid had gone to a meeting with the lawyers. I felt nothing. I was quite collected but somewhat dopey from sleeping pills, which at that time I was not in the habit of using. The music ceased and the tape stopped with a small bang. It was absolutely quiet, the roofs on the opposite side of the street white and the snow falling slowly. I stopped reading. Anyhow, I was finding it hard to take anything in. The light in the room was sharp, with no shadows. A clock struck a few times. Perhaps I was asleep, perhaps I had taken that short step from the accepted reality of the senses into the other reality. I didn’t know and now I was deep down in a motionless vacuum, painless and free of emotions. I closed my eyes. I thought I had closed my eyes, then sensed there was someone in the room and opened my eyes. In the sharp light, a few metres away, I myself was standing looking at myself. The experience was concrete and incontestable. I was standing on the yellow rug looking at myself sitting in the chair. I was sitting in the chair looking at myself standing on the yellow rug. So far, the I who was sitting in the chair was the one in charge of reactions. This was the end, there was no return. I could hear myself wailing. I have once or twice in my life toyed with the idea of committing suicide and at one time in my youth I staged a fumbling attempt, but I have never taken these games seriously. My curiosity has been too great, my love of life too robust and my fear of death too childishly solid. My attitude to life, however, presupposed a proper and continuous control of my relation to reality, imaginings and dreams. When that control did not function – something which had never happened to me before, not even in my early childhood – the machinery exploded and my identity was threatened. I could hear my whining voice. I sounded like an injured dog. I got up out of my chair to leave through the window. What I didn’t know was that Ingrid had come home. Suddenly Sture Helander, my best friend and doctor, was there. An hour later I found myself in KarolinskaHospital psychiatric clinic. I was put by myself into a large room with four other beds in it. A professor doing his rounds spoke kindly to me and I said something about the shame, drawing on my favourite quote about fear manifesting what is feared, petrified by grief. I was given an injection and fell asleep. The three weeks in that ward passed pleasantly. We were a meek collection of drugged zombies following an undemanding daily routine without protest. I was given five blue Valiums a day and two Mogadons at night. If I felt in the slightest uneasy, I went at once to the nurse and was given an extra dose. I slept heavily and dreamlessly at night and dozed off for several hours a day. In between times, with what remained of my professional curiosity I explored my surroundings. I was living behind a screen in my large empty room, mostly reading without registering what I was reading. Meals were taken in a small dining room, the conversation polite, putting one under no obligation. No emotional outbursts were obvious, the only exception being a famous sculptor who became disturbed one evening and almost ground his teeth to pieces. Otherwise I can remember a sad girl who continually felt the need to wash her hands, a gentle six-foot young man who had jaundice and was on Methadone. He was taken once a week to UllerakerMental Hospital where much-discussed research was being carried out. There was also a silent older man who had tried to commit suicide by sawing at his wrists with a handsaw. A middle-aged woman with a stern lovely face was suffering from motor-anxiety and walked in silence for miles and miles through the corridors. In the evening, we assembled in front of the television and watched the World Ice Skating Championships on a ramshackle old black-and-white set with fuzzy pictures and bad sound, but that didn’t matter, nor did it give rise to any comment. Ingrid visited me a couple of times a day and we talked calmly in a friendly way. Sometimes we went to a matinee at the cinema, sometimes Sandrews arranged a showing in their screening room. The young man on Methadone was allowed to come to that. I read no papers, and neither saw nor heard any news programmes. Slowly and imperceptibly, my anxiety disappeared – my life’s most faithful companion, inherited from both my mother and my father, placed in the very centre of my identity, my demon but also my friend spurring me on. Not only the torment, the anguish and the feeling of irreparable humiliation faded, but the driving force of my creativity was also eclipsed and fell away. I imagine I could easily have become a ward case for the rest of my life, as my existence was so woefully pleasant, so undemanding, so lovingly protected. Nothing was either real or urgent any longer, nothing worrying or painful. I moved with caution, all my reactions delayed or non-existent; sexuality ceased, life became an elegy sung by a madrigal choir far inside under some echoing arch, the rose windows glowing and telling fairy tales no longer any concern of mine. One afternoon, I asked the friendly professor if he had ever in his life cured anyone. He thought seriously and replied, ‘Cure is a big word.’ Then he shook his head and smiled encouragingly. Minutes, days and weeks went by. I don’t know what made me break out of this hermetically sealed security. I asked the professor if I could move to Sophiahemmet, on trial. He gave me permission, at the same time warning me insistently not to break off my Valium cure too abruptly. I thanked him for all his kindness, said goodbye to my fellow patients and donated a colour television to our day room. One day at the end of February, I found myself in a quiet comfortable room at Sophiahemmet. The window faced out onto the garden. I could see the yellow parsonage, my childhood home, up there on the hill. Every morning, I walked for an hour in the park, the shadow of an eight-year-old beside me; it was both stimulating and uncanny. Otherwise this was a time of violent torment. In protest against the professor’s instructions, I stopped taking both Valium and Mogadon and the effect was immediate. My suppressed anxiety shot up like the flame of a blowlamp, insomnia was total, my demons raging. I thought I would be torn apart by internal detonations. I started reading the papers, involving myself in all that had happened in my absence, reading kind and unkind letters that had piled up, talking to lawyers and making contact with friends. This was neither bravery nor desperation, but the instinct for self-preservation which, despite or rather thanks to being unconscious at the psychiatric clinic, had had time to collect itself into some resistance. I went on to the attack against the demons with a method that had worked well in previous crises. I divided the day and the night into definite units of time, each of which was filled with activities organized beforehand, alternated with periods of rest. Only by rigidly following my day and night programme could I maintain my sanity against torments so violent that they became interesting. To put it briefly, I returned to planning and staging my life with great care.

– Bergman, The Magic Lantern (tr. J. Tate)

Advertisements

Comments are closed.