Gilman and Mental Illness

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is praised for accurately describing one woman’s terrifying and slow descent into madness from her own perspective, no less. She unknowingly describes her unusual symptoms, too distracted by the ugly wallpaper around her to reflect what’s actually happening to her. But what actually is happening to her?

Gilman writes with such conviction that it is not too hard to believe the short story was inspired by her own personal experiences with curing mental health illnesses. As Christina said in lecture, she was treated with the same tedious “rest cure” described in the story and was also prescribed with cocaine and morphine – pretty weird stuff. It’s obvious during her time no one had any close guess as to what causes mental illness or what it actually is. One hypothesis suggests it is the effect of low energy in the nervous system, giving patients weak spines among other symptoms.

The complete misunderstanding of her case was most likely a driving force behind “The Yellow Wallpaper”.

I don’t have the knowledge to diagnose the protagonist of the story but my best guess is that she experienced uncontrollable episodes of daydreaming – also known as Maladaptive daydreaming. (Disclaimer: I don’t know a lot about this but I read a couple articles and they seemed interesting.) A study in 2002 claims the condition causes people to have “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal or vocational functioning”. People who suffer from this experience “hyper real, minutely detailed scripts that played on the walls of their minds for most of their waking hours.” Which could be compared to the main character’s hallucinations of the woman behind the wallpaper, and her reappearing outside all the windows. Even more relevant to the story, the study describes one common symptom: “As they fantasised, they engaged in repetitive movements –from pacing, rocking and spinning to throwing a ball up in the air.” Similar to the protagonist of the story’s obsessive crawling/creeping around the room in circles.

Gilman’s short brings up many questions about mental illness and how it should be treated properly. It’s almost implied in the story that the main reason for the main character’s mental state was because of her entrapment and improper care. I hope you found this interesting! Here’s the link to the full article on Maladaptive Daydreaming:
http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/a-world-of-their-own

One thought on “Gilman and Mental Illness”

  1. This is really interesting! I had never heard of Maladaptive Daydreaming, but it certainly fits some aspects of the story. The narrator says her husband rebukes her for engaging in too much fancy and imagination, which also fits.

    I do think the story suggests there’s more to it than just the daydreaming, but this is really interesting to connect to the story nevertheless!

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