“Voluntary Madness” by Norah Vincent
Norah Vincent’s first book, “Self-Made Man,” became a New York Times bestseller. In the book, she lived as a man for a year to expose myths of masculinity and femininity. The process of researching the book drove her into a downward spiral that wound up with her checking herself into a psychiatric ward. While there, she realized that the potential in these institutions was too good to pass up, and the idea for another book was born.
“Voluntary Madness” is the story of a year in Vincent’s life in which she checked herself into three psychiatric wards of differing theories and finances. One is a big-city public hospital, the second is a homey Catholic hospital, and the third is just a few steps away from where celebrities would check themselves into rehab – complete with pool. From each, Vincent comes away with keen observations and new acquaintances, even as she deals with her own internal issues.
Towards the end of the book, her writing becomes self-focused and less about the actual institutions than her own private struggles, but it works. Vincent is a narrator on the edge, and as we read we follow her in the hopes that she’ll get something more out of the experience than insight into the insurance companies.
The point of these places is to help cure the ailing, and the lessons Vincent learns are certainly worthwhile. The main lesson she learns is that regardless of how much money the institution or person has, the only people who are going to be able to heal themselves are those who want to. There are low-income people in the public hospital who will be able to adapt back to society better than some of the spoiled, rich folks at the swanky facility, simply because they’re determined and care about changing.
If you have an interest in this topic, or health care reform in the U.S., I’d suggest this book for you.
Be warned, it’s not a light or easy read, and some of the topics are difficult to deal with.
That said, it’s totally worthwhile.