Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/22/2009

“Word automatically saved changes to the global template ‘normal.’” My favorite Bill Gates quote.

The insanity...

The insanity...

The t-shirt is not my autobiography in drag. It’s a one-act play Lanie Robertson wrote in 1979. “The play tells the true story of a woman who, in 1790, was committed by her husband to the Pennsylvania Hospital for the mentally insane. The events leading up to her incarceration, and the treatment she received until her death 25 years later… confront her with the pain and hopelessness of her situation. Although set in an 18th century asylum, the thought-provoking question of what constitutes mental illness, and the issues surrounding compulsory detention, are utterly relevant today.”**

The t-shirt was for a performance of the play by students of mine at Bunker Hill Community College in about 1990. My favorite student (perhaps of all time—she is enormously talented AND the daughter of my best friend) played Mary Girard in this wild and terrifying play. Lines cutting into each other, hardly ever a finished sentence—the end of one sentence beginning the next.

The Insanity of Mary Girard.

When my brother and I were young (pre-pubescent), he began having “spells.” He would be out of his mind with pain, screaming insane-sounding nonsense, hardly ever a finishing a sentence. His outbursts were terror-making. In my posting of October 13 (below), I wrote of our kindly family practitioner, Dr. Hanna, and his failure to comprehend my seizures. His partner, Dr. Holmes, diagnosed my brother with hypoglycemia. Treatment was a high-protein diet and “liver and B” shots, and lots of prayers. Years later, my brother was diagnosed with Migraines. That was, of course, his condition all along.

My brother’s description of his experience with doctors in our little Western Nebraska city:

Back in those ancient times, men did not, in good conscience, have migraines. The stigma was so bad thathat Dr. Holmes would not embarrass the “preacher’s family” by giving us the burden of a male with migraines. The treatment for migraines and hypoglycemia were the same back then, so I had hypoglycemia. I never got the feeling that I shouldn’t have migraines, I just had the other thing. I never felt like anyone thought I was making up symptoms, but it was a long time before I met anyone who had the same symptoms. And, it wasn’t until 1968 that a brash young doctor just out of residency diagnosed “migraines” and explained why I had not been told earlier.  

The Insanity of Mary Girard. 



My sister has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. One doctor’s opinion about the relationship between fibromyalgia and migraines, is on the internet.*** I, of course, have no idea who Dr. Petty is. He may be as much a quack as that Persinger guy in Canada (see my posting of October 11, below). But the brain can misfire in as many ways as there are people. I’ve seen plenty of evidence up close and personal. 

Temporal lobe epilepsy, migraines, and fibromyalgia all have to do with neurological misfirings, and. apparently, the three can present with similar symptoms:
Major depressive disorder
Bipolar disorder
Comorbid anxiety disorders including panic disorder, social phobia,
     posttraumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder
Eating disorders
Substance abuse

I am once more doing what no person diagnosed with any disorder (especially one having to do with one’s brain) should do. Dr. B~~ strongly advised me against it, but I can’t resist. The information I’ve come up with about these connections comes from the internet. Science or invention? 

Or The Insanity of Mary Girard? 

Insanity. A nineteenth-century phenomenon? Fear of diagnosing a boy with migraines because it’s a “woman’s disease?” The disbelief that Fibromyalgia even exists? The ten-foot pole some of my colleagues place between themselves and me because I am (hush-hush) bi-polar? 

Did Michael Cacoyannis’ 1971 film of Aechylus’ The Trojan Women, the powerful story of Greek war, love, and madness, fail because it is not a great film? ****   Or did it fail because no one (in 1971 or in 2009) wanted (wants) to watch, to see, to understand the horror of the madness that Cassandra saw and no one else did? Is The Trojan Women a morality play for our time? Cassandra is not mad. She sees the madness of the world around her. 

The Insanity of Mary Girard. 

Mary Girard’s husband, rather than accept, love, and make room in his life for her “sins,” has her locked up. The easy way out for dealing with each other’s quirks. Lock them (us) up and pretend we are unfit for society, or tell us we’re like Cassandra—crazy—or that our disorders are not real. Is it so bad to see the world through a glass darkly instead of always, forever, “…automatically sav[ing] changes to [make] the global template ‘normal.’” 

 trojan women

“Have I missed the mark, or, like a true archer, do I strike my quarry? Or am I prophet of lies, a babbler from door to door?” (Cassandra. Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1194). 

Mary Girard. Change the global template to “normal.” The global template. We’re all “normal.”

 **Warner, Lesley. “Edinburgh fringe review 2005.” Mental Health Practice 9.2 (Oct 2005): 28(2).
*** Petty, Richard G. MD. “Healing, meaning & Purpose.” September 13, 2006.
**** See a clip at of Geneviève Bujold as Cassandra and Katharine Hepburn as Hecuba


  1. I have some of Cassandra’s gifts, one might say: an ability to see what the likely outcome of a situation is going to be when others cannot and will not see it. It’s not altogether supenatural but largely based on instinctive understanding of how people react, as well as a good “gambler” instinct for the unexpected. It wins you no friends, so I generally only make my predictions among those who already know and love me. I knew what was going to happen this year when someone who dislikes me was promoted to be my boss; there’s no pleasure in being right in this case. But by some also strange coincidence, the very day I came in to work to tell my higher boss I needed to quit(i’d reached breaking point) it turned out my tormentor had quit.
    I get migraines too but that’s “normal” for ladies, I guess.


  2. […] written before about one of my favorite plays, The Insanity of Mary Girard, by Lanie Robertson. Mary is a sane woman (based on a true story) committed to an insane asylum by […]



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