From a Q & A with Norah Vincent about her new book, Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin:
The research for Voluntary Madness required that you commit yourself to three various mental institutions. This was a very brave thing for you to do considering your battle with depression. Did you worry that it could have a detrimental affect on your health? How did you prepare yourself mentally for this research?Read the complete Q & A.
Yes. Having been in a psych ward before, and having seen what a detrimental effect it had on my mental health over the course of just four days, I worried a great deal about committing myself again, even if only for research. Initially, this kept me from embarking on the project at all. But then, after a lot of deliberation and back and forth, I finally had to face the fact that this is what I do. I do the things—often dangerous or unpleasant things—that other people don’t want to do, and I report back on what I find. Besides, the subject was and remains very important to me, a central theme of my life, in fact. I thought it especially important to call attention to the shortfalls and sometimes the sheer wrongheadedness of mental health care and mental health practitioners, and what I see as the often greedy, predatory m.o of the pharmaceutical companies.
I prepared myself as best I could, given the physical restrictions I knew I’d be facing. Since physical exercise is very important to my mental health, and since I knew it was unlikely that I’d be able to go outdoors, or that there would be an exercise facility available to me in the hospitals, I prepared a yoga routine that I could do in my room or in the day room. I brought books that I love, so that I could keep myself occupied intellectually and somewhat buoyed emotionally/spiritually. Otherwise, I told the people in my life what I was doing, and right before I went into each facility I informed them of my plans and whereabouts and asked them to be on call, as it were, should I need them. That’s about it. There wasn’t much I could do mentally except screw my courage to the sticking place and jump.
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