Girl, Interrupted is Susanna Kaysen’s memoir of spending time in a psychiatric institution in the late 1960s. Having seen the movie a decade ago, I’ve always been interested in the source material. It’s a relatively short book and very easy to read. For delicate eyes, there is some saucy language in a few chapters, but these are quotations from the girls Kaysen was institutionalized with and appear to add authenticity to the text.
In 1967, Kaysen was an 18 year old girl full of ambivalence for her future. After only meeting with her for 15 minutes, a psychiatrist she has never met decides to institutionalize her. She is there for almost two years. There she meets a whole host of colorful personalities and deems herself and her roommate, Georgina, the least crazy of the bunch.
Years later with the help of a lawyer, Kaysen obtains her hospital records and learns she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, something that was never told to her. She was only ever told that she had a Character disorder.
I quite enjoyed Kaysen’s memoir and found the format rather interesting. It is not a linear narrative and instead each chapter is a short story within itself. You can feel the confusion Kaysen felt during those two years because she should have never been institutionalized. She even says that she feels like the hospital actually made her crazy during her time there.
It’s interesting to look back 40 years and know that someone who is diagnosed with a Borderline Personality Disorder is not someone that would ever be institutionalized for years. Most therapists I know believe that there is no treatment, no pill, that can alter this diagnosis. Kaysen says in her book that if she had Bipolar disorder she could just take Lithium and be out of the hospital tomorrow, but BPD is not something you can cure or medicate.
Kaysen took the title of this memoir from Dutch Painter, Johannes Vermeer’s painting, “Girl Interrupted at her Music” and I felt that this title was incredibly appropriate. Kaysen’s story feels like she was a non-conformist adolescent trying to figure out her place in the world when she was interrupted by this hospitalization. Kaysen does not impose any moral judgments into the text and instead lets the reader judge for themselves what is insight and what is insanity.