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MARY BARNES: TWO ACCOUNTS OF A .JOURNEY, THROUGH MADNESS.
| By Mary Barnes and Joseph Berke. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, N.Y.: $7.50.
Reviewed by Clare Danielson.
This is a two-author story, remarkable for its spiritual Insights, of one woman's recovery from thirty years of, schizophrenia. Her victory was achieved at Kingsley Hall, a settlement house founded In London at the turn of the century, which sheltered Gandhi during the final six months he Spent negotiating the Independence of India. In 1965-1970, the key period spanned In the book, a community of doctors, paramedical people, and their friends, headed by the Innovative and controversial R. D. Laing, lived, worked and ate with patients in a kind of psychiatric House of Hospitality.
"Mary had her 'trip' all worked out years before she had heard of Laing or myself," writes her co?author and psychiatrist, Dr. Berke. "She was so strong?willed (pigheaded) that she had decided she would try 'to get back Inside her mother, to be reborn, this time, straight and clear of all the mess."' She needed a place where she would be understood and allowed to go down into her madness, and come up again. Kingsley Hall was that place.
Mary's view of the now internationally?discussed Laing approach ?to "anti-psychiatry" not only describes, in often raw and urgent language, her discovery of health but discloses how she and her therapists unlocked her hitherto unrecognised talent for painting. The book includes reproductions of her works, the subjects of most of which are the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.
"'My faith and my madness are the two great inseparable influences in my life," she writes. A reader who sees only the psychological aspects of her voyage would comprehend only part of the book's message. Her spiritual journey closely parallels her journey through madness. In writing of her search through faith to reach the wholeness buried within her, Mary tells of how she was led 'by God's grace to be baptized a Catholic at twenty?six. She then began visiting Carmelite convents, ultimately being admitted to one as a novice.
Five months later she had her first breakdown. As she was to understand fully years later, her retreat into catatonic schizophrenia was her way of dying and starting again. "There was no question of my 'hiding' under a habit, a false divided self. It was my quest for God, for myself, that brought me to this conclusion." Neither a convent, nor the conventional mental hospital, which kept her for a year before judging her fit 'enough to be discharged, would allow her to have a complete psychotic breakdown. Then for twelve years Mary studied and taught nursing, looking all the while for a place and a doctor who would permit her to attempt the uncharted passage she had envisioned.
The Internal disagreements of the therapeutic community trying to live with Mary Barnes (and others) as she was acting?out her various levels of regression is both exciting and exhausting reading. Laing's theory that a "psychosis is a potentially healing experience for a person who has the proper 'life support' to go through it," does not include the agony any such community inevitably suffers in the process. Tolerating and caring for a
forty?year?old ' woman, who often refused to eat or drink for days at a time, then insisted on being bathed and bottle?fed like a baby, and who began "painting" by smearing her excrement on the walls, takes more than human strength. It takes faith to love a neighbour like Mary.
The quote that closes the book is typical Mary Barnes and cans for more such communities. "The (therapeutic) place must be strong In the strength of God. Good enough to take the (pain) of all Its people. It must always be getting better?through the people who are already there, through everyone that ever sets foot In the place. That's the sort of place I want, something sacred, full of love!"
THE CATHOLIC WORKER