The Judge in the Asylum (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part One

As for Schreber himself, his mental health remained rocky even after his release.  Despite a brief separation from his wife while he lived with his mother and sister, he and Sabine eventually moved into a house in Dresden.   They also adopted a teenage girl, Fridoline, in 1906.   It was Fridoline who would later report that Daniel was "more of a mother to me than my mother."    He stayed active in legal work (though his career as a judge had been ended by his hospitalization) and also managed to keep his psychotic symptoms under control.   Schreber was still prone to occasional shouting episodes and be was often bothered by hearing voices though he rarely talked about his symptoms with family members.   Despite these symptoms, he continued to read avidly, spent time with his wife and adopted daughter, played chess and the piano, and generally lived as well as he could.

In November 1907, Sabine Schreber suffered from a serious stroke and her husband's mental condition declined rapidly soon afterward.  He was hospitalized for the third and last time at a new state asylum near Liepzig.  Among the different symptoms reported in the available records on Shreber were "outbursts of laughter and screaming, periods of depressive stupor, suicidal gestures, poor sleep, and delusional ideas of his own decomposition and rotting."   He was also preoccupied with auditory hallucinations which he interpreted as being supernatural in origin.  Though his condition fluctuated, he never really recovered and died in the asylum on April 14, 1911.

Schreber's Memoirs would have numerous fans over the years but  it was the essay written by Sigmund Freud that would make Schreber internationally known.  Never having actually met Schreber,  Freud based his 1911 essay on Schreber's Memoirs.    Since the patient, along with with many members of his  family were still alive at the time the essay came out, Freud needed to be cautious in what he wrote.  More familiar with neurotics than psychotics, Freud was introduced to the Memoirs by his then-pupil Carl Jung.   In writing about Schreber, Freud hoped to make him a test case on his own theories about human libido and "the riddle of paranoia."    It would be his most detailed essay on psychosis and, not surprisingly, attempted to explain the psychosis developed by Schreber as a defense against the homosexual urges that he had for his therapist, Dr. Flechsig.   He focused on Schreber's sense of emasculation and his preoccupation with turning into a woman.   Freud identifed Flechsig as being at the root of this delusion and that it reflected Schreber's inability to handle his homosexual libido.  

While Freud's interpretation certainly had its critics, it  ensured that more people read Schreber's Memoirs and also inspired numerous books on Schreber, his Memoirs, and his psychotic symptoms.    For many Germans, Daniel Paul Schreber would be the most famous mental patient of the early 20th century.   Perhaps more importantly, given the countless mental patients who vanished into asylums never to be heard from again, patients such as Schreber  who managed to recover enough to write about their experiences ensured that mental patients weren't completely forgotten.   That someone as highly placed as Daniel Paul Schreber could develop mental illness helped  remind the rest of society of the need for better mental health care.  

That reminder would be quickly forgotten however, especially following the collapse of Weimar Germany and the rise of Nazism and the promotion of eugenic campaigns that condemned declared mental patients and other "hereditary defectives" such as people with physical and mental impairments.   Representing them as dregs of society who were squandering resources better spent on "healthy" Germans,  Aktion T4 was born to purge Germany of these problem patients. Between 1940 and 1941, more than 13,000 people, most of whom were mental patients just like Schreber, were killed in gas chambers at the very institution where Schreber had been committed.  Though Aktion T4 would eventually be officilly abolished, one of the few instances where popular pressure forced the Nazis to scrap plans for mass murder, it still quietly continued, often as part of the far greater Holocaust that followed.   For those patients who managed to survive, the legacy would persist long after the end of World War II.

While improvements in the treatment of mental illness have largely reduced the role of the mental hospital in dealing with patients like Daniel Paul Schreber, his Memoirs still provide a glimpse at the often-anonymous existence mental patients faced during the era.   They also represent a last look of life in mental hospitals before the horrors of World War I and II, not to mention Aktion T4, would transform patient life. 

Though putting a human face on mental illness is still important in combating the stigma that often surrounds mental illness worldwide, stories such as Schreber's are still far rarer than they need to be.  Even with the quiet pressure on many mental patients to remain silient about their illness remaining strong even today, more mental patients are describing what they are experiencing and being far more open about their symptoms.   Daniel Paul Schreber's legacy lives on.  

 

                   

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