I recently read this book as an outside read for my English class and devoured the short work in a matter of days. Author Susanna Kaysen uncovers the true meaning of “crazy” in her memoir Girl, Interrupted, which has also been made into a movie starring Winona Ryder. By age 18, Kaysen had attempted suicide by swallowing 50 aspirin at once, had an affair with her high school English teacher, and completely given up on school. Her parents preferred to remain happily oblivious to the pain that their daughter was in and sent her to a psychiatrist for help. The doctor, who Kaysen never acknowledges by name, suggests her admittance to McLean Mental Hospital just outside of Boston after only 20 minutes of evaluation. McLean has a history of employing modern methods for “curing” mental illness, and has treated some of America’s most influential figures including Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles. Susanna complies with this request because she no longer cares the path that her life takes, in fact, there is very little that can evoke an emotional response from her.
During her almost two years spent at the hospital, Kaysen forms important bonds with her fellow patients and has her eyes opened to how many different forms that mental illness can take. One of her close friends is treated with electrotherapy once a week, and another prides herself on the number of times she has been able to escape the hospital. Most surprising to the reader is the fact that the majority of these patients are not all that different from the average teenager. Many parents during the 1960s chose to shut their children up in mental institutions and boarding schools if they exhibited any “abnormal” behavior. Rather than working with their children to get to the root of what was really going on, these parents chose to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach that in turn just made their kids feel more isolated and helpless. As Susanna flourished with the support and organization she had so needed before, she began to realize that everyone is a little crazy in their own way, and without society’s labels and stereotypes, we are all just people trying to live our lives.