Category Archives: mental disorders

W.E. Henley’s toxic stoicism

W.E. Henley: emotional constipation

Dalrymple draws attention to the distressing mental disorder exhibited in ‘Invictus’ (1875):

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbow’d.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

He notes that the deranged ‘fortitude’ and emotional repression that the poem betrays are deeply problematic, being

part of what is known, including by the American Psychological Association, as toxic masculinity.

‘Fortitude’ is treason to the self

Dalrymple says that

if only Henley had been true to himself, he wouldn’t have bothered with all that captain-of-my-soul stuff.

Instead he would have gone into

  • counselling
  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • psychotherapy

Courses of treatment of this kind, which might usefully have been accompanied by colectomy, frontal leucotomy, Metrazol-induced convulsion therapy, laxative therapy, and insulin coma therapy (Insulinschockbehandlung),

would really have sorted him out and rid him of the poisonous notion that misfortune was something to be overcome by making the best of things.

Dalrymple points out that in advertising his neurosis by producing verse of such hysterical irrationality, Henley

set a very bad example, for not everyone can overcome misfortune as did he. By becoming famous, by achieving a great deal despite pain and illness all his life, he inhibited myriad others from admitting their vulnerability and victimhood, thereby reinforcing toxic masculinity.

Rather,

it was Henley’s duty to have been angry and resentful at his fate, thereby giving work to psychologists and psychotherapists. If everyone went round being the captain of his soul, what would there be for psychologists to do? They would need counselling about their loss of income.

Henley lived in Woking in the latter part of his life, though he also maintained a flat in this Battersea block

St John the Baptist Churchyard, Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire

The mental disease of happiness

Leafing through a medical journal, Dalrymple comes across a satirical paper by Thomas Szasz to the effect that happiness should be regarded as a mental disease insofar as

  1. it is rare
  2. it is unjustified
  3. the person suffering from it is out of touch with reality

Bureaucratic mentality

H.M. Prison Winson Green, where Dalrymple was a specialist

H.M. Prison Birmingham

Speaking grosso modo, Dalrymple writes that prison officers he worked with were more astute and kinder than staff at psychiatric hospitals.

They had not had their heads filled with psychological jargon. When they came to me to tell me that a prisoner was not himself, or was acting strangely, or that ‘he’s not your typical con’, I soon learnt to take their observations seriously.

Rampton Secure Hospital

Rampton Secure Hospital

Dalrymple says that prisoners he knew were in general

far more afraid of psychiatric hospitals than they were of prisons. One of their most plaintive cries was, ‘You’re not nutting me off, are you, doctor?’

In official reports of disastrous cases in psychiatric hospitals, salient phrases include ‘lessons have been learnt’ and ‘errors of communication’.

One could write almost all reports on disastrous cases before they have occurred. By ‘lessons have been learnt’ is meant ‘it will be exactly the same next time’.

The lesson that has been learnt

is always that a new form, longer and more complex than the old, should be introduced. The form-filling gets in the way of genuine contact with or concern for the patient. The form-filling is the work itself.

Mental mastery

Drawing by Hyacinth Freiherr von Wieser at the Prinzhorn Collection, 'the first, largest, and best collection of art by psychotic patients'. Dalrymple goes on: 'To Dr Hans Prinzhorn [1886-1933] belongs the honour, to my mind a considerable one, of having recognized artistic merit in the productions of psychotic persons and not merely pathological manifestations of grossly disordered psyches. It bespeaks a laudable openness and largeness of spirit in him as well as an admirably independent aesthetic judgment.'

Drawing by Hyacinth Freiherr von Wieser. Held at the Prinzhorn Collection, ‘the first, largest, and best collection of art by psychotic patients’, says Dalrymple. ‘To Dr Hans Prinzhorn [1886-1933] belongs the honour, to my mind a considerable one, of having recognized artistic merit in the productions of psychotic persons and not merely pathological manifestations of grossly disordered psyches. It bespeaks a laudable openness and largeness of spirit in him as well as an admirably independent aesthetic judgment.’

All-pervasive lunacy

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 01.44.48Dalrymple says he doubts, after publication next month of the fifth edition of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, that it will be possible any longer to find anyone, anywhere, who is not suffering from some form of mental illness.