Saturday, February 24, 2018

February 24: Ahab, Mental Illness, Eloise Psychiatric Hospital

"Captain Peleg," said I, "I have a friend with me who wants to ship too- shall I bring him down to-morrow?"
"To be sure," said Peleg. "Fetch him along, and we'll look at him."
"What lay does he want?" groaned Bildad, glancing up from the Book in which he had again been burying himself.
"Oh! never thee mind about that, Bildad," said Peleg. "Has he ever whaled it any?" turning to me.
"Killed more whales than I can count, Captain Peleg."
"Well, bring him along then."
And, after signing the papers, off I went; nothing doubting but that I had done a good morning's work, and that the Pequod was the identical ship that Yojo had provided to carry Queequeg and me round the Cape.
But I had not proceeded far, when I began to bethink me that the Captain with whom I was to sail yet remained unseen by me; though, indeed, in many cases, a whale-ship will be completely fitted out, and receive all her crew on board, ere the captain makes himself visible by arriving to take command; for sometimes these voyages are so prolonged, and the shore intervals at home so exceedingly brief, that if the captain have family, or any absorbing concernment of that sort, he does not trouble himself much about his ship in port, but leaves her to the owners till all is ready for sea. However, it is always as well to have a look at him before irrevocably committing yourself into his hands. Turning back I accosted Captain Peleg, inquiring where Captain Ahab was to be found.
"And what dost thou want of Captain Ahab? It's all right enough; thou art shipped."
"Yes, but I should like to see him."
"But I don't think thou wilt be able to at present. I don't know exactly what's the matter with him; but he keeps close inside the house; a sort of sick, and yet he don't look so. In fact, he ain't sick; but no, he isn't well either. Any how, young man, he won't always see me, so I don't suppose he will thee. He's a queer man, Captain Ahab- so some think- but a good one. Oh, thou'lt like him well enough; no fear, no fear. He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; doesn't speak much; but, when he does speak, then you may well listen. Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as 'mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales. His lance! aye, the keenest and surest that out of all our isle! Oh! he ain't Captain Bildad; no, and he ain't Captain Peleg; he's Ahab, boy; and Ahab of old, thou knowest, was a crowned king!"
"And a very vile one. When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?"
"Come hither to me- hither, hither," said Peleg, with a significance in his eye that almost startled me. "Look ye, lad; never say that on board the Pequod. Never say it anywhere. Captain Ahab did not name himself .'Twas a foolish, ignorant whim of his crazy, widowed mother, who died when he was only a twelvemonth old. And yet the old squaw Tistig, at Gayhead, said that the name would somehow prove prophetic. And, perhaps, other fools like her may tell thee the same. I wish to warn thee. It's a lie. I know Captain Ahab well; I've sailed with him as mate years ago; know what he is- a good man- not a pious, good man, like Bildad, but a swearing good man- something like me- only there's a good deal more of him. Aye, aye, I know that he was never very jolly; and I know that on the passage home he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that about, as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he's been a kind of moody- desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young man, it's better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one. So good-bye to thee- and wrong not Captain Ahab, because he happens to have a wicked name. Besides, my boy, he has a wife- not three voyages wedded- a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man had a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities!"
As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfulness; what had been incidentally revealed to me of Captain Ahab, filled me with a certain wild vagueness of painfulness concerning him. And somehow, at the time, I felt a sympathy and a sorrow for him, but for I don't know what, unless it was the cruel loss of his leg. And yet I also felt a strange awe of him; but that sort of awe, which I cannot at all describe, was not exactly awe; I do not know what it was. But I felt it; and it did not disincline me towards him; though I felt impatience at what seemed like mystery in him, so imperfectly as he was known to me then. However, my thoughts were at length carried in other directions, so that for the present dark Ahab slipped my mind.

The first appearance of Captain Ahab.  It's a mysterious kind of introduction, more legend than reality.  Ahab remains offstage, sort of like Kong in the jungle on Skull Island.  A huge, dark presence.  Of course, we get a few details of his life.  He lost a leg to that "accursed whale" on his last voyage.  Has a young wife and child.  And he's been "desperate moody, and savage sometimes" since that encounter with the white monster.  Peleg even says that he was "a little out of his mind for a spell" on his return to port.  From Peleg's description, Ahab seems to be suffering from some kind of mental health issues.  Depression.  Obsession.  Mania.  Something.

I know that I wrote about the current gun and mental illness debate in my last blog post.  However, I find myself getting really angry when I hear the President of the United States using such words as "sicko" and "crazy" to describe a person who, obviously, has some serious mental illness going on.  In fact, mental illness has become equivalent to illegal immigration and terrorism in political circles right now.  Donald Trump is even calling for funding to create "mental asylums" to lock the mentally ill up.

The United States (and pretty much the rest of the world) has a pretty bad track record in its treatment of the mentally ill.  These "asylums" were simply prisons where those who suffer from any form of mental illness were placed in and forgotten.  There wasn't any kind of treatment going on.  There was abuse, neglect, and, eventually, a lot of deaths.  And this wasn't too long ago, either.  These institutions were still in operation in the 1970s and early 1980s.

And they weren't just for the mentally ill.  People who were different, who simply didn't "fit in" to societal norms, were locked up, as well.  I've taught a literature class that focuses on books dealing with mental illness.  One of the works I taught centered around a huge mental asylum that existed just outside of Detroit, Michigan.  It was called Eloise Psychiatric Hospital, and it operated from 1839 to 1982.  At its height of operation, it was a little city unto itself, housing 10,000 patients and 2,000 staff members.  It was a horrifying place of secret experiments and clandestine burials.  And it was still running when I was in high school.  When I mentioned it to my father, he clearly remembered the hospital and how huge of a facility it was.  People went in.  They didn't come out.

If that is Donald Trump's answer to gun violence and mental illness, I think Donald Trump needs to visit Eloise, hear about its history, visit the graves of people who died and were buried on the grounds.  Maybe he should be locked up there for a day or two.  Receive the same treatment that the patients/inmates received.  Then, maybe, he might understand what treatment for the mentally ill used to be.  Or maybe he won't.

People, mental illness didn't kill those 17 beautiful kids in Florida.  It was bullets.  It was a semiautomatic gun.  That's what needs to be locked up and/or done away with.  Don't buy into the Trump game of bait and switch.  Keep your eyes on the real problem.

Those who struggle mental illness deserve compassion, kindness, and the best treatment in the world.  We all struggle at times with sadness, depression, isolation, loneliness.  The solution to sadness, depression, isolation, and loneliness isn't the sadness, depression, isolation, and loneliness of mental asylum prisons, as proposed by the current leadership in Washington, D. C.

Saint Marty is tired of ignorant people who don't understand mental illness.

Unmarked graves at Eloise Psychiatric Hospital

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