I am currently (for the past few weeks, on and off, very slowly) reading Rebecca Shannonhouse’s anthology, Out of Her Mind, on women and madness. It’s an excellent anthology that chronologically depicts women’s struggle with madness through select excerpts starting in the 15th century with Margery Kempe’s record of madness in women in The Book of Margery Kempe (believed to be the earliest autobiography in English, first published in 1936) and ending with Maud Casey’s A Better Place to Live, 2001. The book, Out of Her Mind, is “a remarkable chronicle of gifted and unconventional women who have spun their turmoil into literary gold” and every excerpt (6-8 pages) makes me want to buy that book and read it.
The book shows how at one time women were labeled “mad” for rejecting socially imposed roles, for having a different opinion about religion, for wanting a career. The questions that inspired Shannonhouse’s anthology were:
- What is “madness”?
- When is it mental illness?
- When is it the circumstances of a woman’s life driving her “out of her mind”?
To answer these questions, Shannonhouse presents the reader with selections from the writings of women who rendered their own psychological turmoil in American literature and also uncovers forgotten writings on madness by women like Zelda Fitzgerald. The excerpts she chooses explore the ever-changing definition of madness. By depicting madness in various times and societies, Out of Her Mind got me thinking about the Kuwaiti woman’s struggle with madness. What does it mean to be insane in Kuwait? How are women diagnosed with mental illness? What are the experiences of women who have been diagnosed with mental illness — more importantly, who diagnosed them? And are they receiving treatment? Were they born this way?
I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place