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About Mental Health


A Conversation on the Edge of Human Perception

By Christopher Bollas

The Opinion Pages: The Opinionator

Lucy wrote to me at my farmstead in North Dakota and asked if I was prepared to psychoanalyze her. She lived on a remote island in a Norwegian fjord. A 55-year-old writer, she was supported by a family trust. Her parents were deceased, she had no siblings and she rarely spoke to the 60 or so islanders who were her neighbors.

Her companionship came from a highly active mind devoted to endless reworkings of memories and sudden epiphanies. When she went down memory lane she inevitably retrieved a distressing encounter with another person — a teacher who had not understood her, an editor or publisher who had slighted her. Her epiphanies would be abrupt brainstorms in which she saw configurations in the landscape that momentarily objectified an unknown secret about herself: A wave crashing against a cliff, for example, took the shape of her mother leaning over her crib, trying to suffocate her.

Lucy phoned me at 8 o’clock in the evening, five days a week, always on the dot. She would speak nonstop. Usually she announced an agenda. “Today,” she would say, “I am going to tell you about Sister Underwood and the day she told me that I had to write ‘I cleanse my mind of evil thoughts’ 100 times on parchment in a very cold room when I was 13.”  Read More