After writing Borderline Between What and What I felt inspired to put Girl, Interrupted (by Susanna Kaysen) on my library list, since I’d never read it.
Girl, Interrupted was published in 1993, though many people are more familiar with the film based on Susanna Kaysen’s memoir released in 1999, featuring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.
When it was released, I was obsessed with the film. In fact, I was obsessed with the film all the way up to the point where I was admitted to my first psychiatric hospital. After that, I felt like I was practically living in the story (though in a different time-line) so it kind of fell to the wayside.
The premise of the memoir begins in 1967, when Susanna Kaysen (who was 18 when admitted) spent two years in a psychiatric hospital.
I’m not sure what I expected, maybe a simple, chronological account of what happened, but what I read was so much more!
Every few chapters I’d read something that punched me right in the guts, something that I had felt or thought or said before. The pages are littered with post-it notes that I kept using to mark passages I liked, and now that I’ve finished I’m impressed with how much I marked. Kaysen doesn’t even have bipolar disorder (her diagnosis was borderline personality disorder) but there is definitely a little something for everyone in her memoir.
Here’s a little snippet of one of the first things that stood out to me because I said to myself, “ooh ooh, me too!” She describes one of the two “preconditions” that existed that led to her hospitalization.
“I was having a problem with patterns. Oriental rugs, tile floors, printed curtains, things like that. Supermarkets were especially bad, because of the long, hypnotic checkerboard aisles. When I looked at these things, I saw other things within them. That sounds as though I was hallucinating, and I wasn’t. I knew I was looking at a floor or a curtain. But all patterns seemed to contain potential representations, which in a dizzying array would flicker briefly to life. That could be… a forest, a flock of birds, my second-grade class picture. Well, it wasn’t -it was a rug, or whatever it was, but my glimpses of the other things it might be were exhausting. Reality was getting too dense.”
Susanna Kaysen, Girl Interrupted (page. 41)
This is a phenomenon I’ve been subject to my entire life, and I have often had a very difficult time describing it to doctors and nurses, even other people with bipolar disorder. They aren’t hallucinations, just objects acting or looking like another object, so I’ve never made a big deal out of it. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an account of it!
Anyway, her writing is amazing, and her ability to describe the indescribable is equally as amazing. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a personality disorder, mental illness, or anyone who knows someone in either of those categories. Heck, even if you’re just curious to know what this sort of world is like, check it out!