"hysterical women were characterized as oversensitive, self-obsessed, antisocial loners whose symptoms were extreme versions of behavior patterns common to all women. they were mutable, capricious, unpredictable, temperamental, moody. they were nervous weather systems fluctuating between stormy energy and catatonic calm. and it was still thought that the hysterical patient had some space to be filled, a gap in her life to be satisfied. whereas earlier physicians had placed flowers like little offerings between their patients’ legs in an effort to encourage the wandering womb to return to its proper place, the new analytical engine was designed to deal with ‘gaps in the memory,’ to the point at which ‘we have before us an unintelligible, consistent, and unbroken case history.’
anna o. ‘would complain of having ‘lost’ some time and would remark upon the gap in her train of conscious thoughts.’ torn apart by the twin pressures of their own longings for autonomy and the demands of familiar and social expectations, women found themselves living several lives, some of them so secret they didn’t even seem to know what was going on themselves. after each of her momentary ‘absences’—and these were constantly occurring—she did not know what she had thought in the course of it.’
but she continued to play the parts expected of her, and she often played them very well. ‘while everyone thought she was attending, she was living through fairy tales in her imagination; but she was always on the spot when she was spoken to, so no one was aware of it.' she always kept up appearances. did everything she could to save her face. pulled herself together, remained composed, even when she was dying to fall apart. 'social circumstances often necessitate a duplication of this kind even when the thoughts involved are of an exacting kind, as for instance when a woman who is in the throes of extreme worry or of passionate excitement carries out her social duties and the functions of an affable hostess.'
and so she never quite identified with the one-track roles she was supposed to play, the thing for which she was intended to keep fit. ‘throughout the entire illness her two states of consciousness persisted side by side: the primary one in which she was quite normal psychically, and the secondary one which may well be likened to a dream in view of its wealth of imaginative products and hallucinations, its large gaps of memory and the lack of inhibition and control in its associations.'
while many earlier investigators had ascribed such imbalances to the weaknesses and failings of hysterics in particular and women in general, freud and breuer described their patients as having ‘the clearest intellect, strongest will, greatest character and highest critical power.’ emmy von n. had ‘an unusual degree of education and intelligence,’ and anna o. was said to be ‘bubbling over with intellectual vitality.’ if they suffered from anything, it was less a failing than ‘an excess of efficiency, the habitual co-existence of two heterogeneous trains of ideas.’
'the overflowing productivity of their minds,' wrote breuer, 'has led one of my friends to assert that hysterics are the flower of mankind, as sterile, no doubt, but as beautiful as double flowers.' a double flower with a 'double conscience': hysterics are always operating in (at least) two modes, flitting in and out of what breur and freud describes as 'dispositional hypnoid states' which 'often, it would seem, grow out of the day-dreams which are so common even in healthy people and to which needlework and similar occupations render women especially prone.’ indeed there are ‘a whole number of activities, from mechanical ones such as knitting or playing scales, to some requiring at least a small degree of mental functioning, all of which are performed by many people with only half their mind on them.’ the ‘other half’ is busy elsewhere.’
—sadie plant, zeros + ones: digital women and the new technoculture (quoting breuer and freud, “studies on hysteria” and “case histories 1: ‘dora’ and ‘little hans’”)
it’s so weird that i tried to convince my therapist and psychiatrist that i was borderline, bipolar, depressed, and whatever else, when i am obviously just a straight-up hysteric.