Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Mary Cregan's "The Scar"

Mary Cregan is a lecturer in English literature at Barnard College in New York City. She holds an undergraduate degree from Middlebury College and a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery, her first book, and reported the following:
I’m not sure, although I love the novels of Ford Madox Ford, that I believe in the randomness of his Page 99 Test for “the quality of the whole,” since books don’t generally maintain a single high quality on every page. However, page 99 does reveal something inherent in the quality—and even more in the method—of my book The Scar, which is a personal narrative about a suicidal postpartum depression that enveloped me when my first child died two days after her birth. It is also about my life since then, as I have learned to live with major depressive disorder.

Page 99 falls near the beginning of the fourth chapter, called “The Paradise of Bedlams,” which tells the story of my time and treatment in a psychiatric hospital in White Plains, NY (now called New York Presbyterian-Westchester Division, formerly called the Bloomingdale Asylum). As I have done throughout the book, I’ve woven my own experience in with a larger history of depressive disorders (as well as other mental illnesses) and their treatment. So this chapter includes not only the psychiatric hospital experience in my time there (the 1980s) but the history of the asylum movement that began in the late 18th century, and the profession’s efforts to care for and preserve the lives of people with very severe forms of psychiatric illness.

On page 99, we are in the midst of the story of how the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum moved in 1894 from Morningside Heights in Manhattan, where it had opened in a quiet rural setting seven miles north of the city in 1821, to farmland in White Plains twenty miles north, when the city had grown rapidly northwards and right up to its outer fence. The asylum’s property was purchased by Columbia University, which eventually tore down the residence halls of the asylum for their new campus, so that only one building from asylum days—a brick villa created for wealthy male patients and their servants, now called Buell Hall—remains on Columbia’s campus today.

It was a major undertaking to move one of the city’s major institutions, with all of its patients and their belongings, to a wholly new asylum, planned and built according to the latest ideas of caring for people with psychiatric illnesses, alcoholism, and general paresis of the insane (the insanity of late-stage syphilis). This was the very hospital where I was treated, and where I received ECT, late in the following century, when some of the same treatment rooms had been adapted to new purposes, but where the buildings and grounds were largely identical to what the newspapers reported upon the new asylum’s opening in the fall of 1894 (as quoted on page 99).
Visit Mary Cregan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue