“You don’t have to be a room to be haunted by ghosts,” Emily Dickinson said. Few people in the world of poetry have been so mysterious from a psychological point of view.
According to several experts, works like I felt a funeral, in my brain offer a glimpse into why she decided to lock herself in her room all day and isolate herself from the world and society.
There has been much speculation about the possible mental disorder that the famous American poet may have suffered from. Her seclusion began in 1864 when she was about 30 years old and ended on the day of her death when she was 55. During her seclusion, she chose to wear white and never leave her room.
However, this isolation allowed her to fully immerse herself in her literary work. Her loneliness has no doubt led to enough inspiration for her artistic creations.
Little by little, however, she turned into little more than a ghost behind a window. She couldn’t even attend her father’s funeral service, which was held in the living room of her own home.
In 2003 Dr. David F. Maas, professor at Texas A&M University published an interesting piece titled Reflections on self-reflexiveness in literature . Maas analyzed Dickinson’s emotional state.
Since then, more studies have been conducted. This will give you a rough idea of the inner demons that devoured Emily Dickinson’s life. Ironically, it’s the same demons that undoubtedly gave her a creative impulse.
Emily Dickinson and her inner demons
Poets have always had the extraordinary ability to immerse themselves in their complex minds. For example, Edgar Allen Poe himself wrote in his poem Alone :
For some reason, many of these poets were extremely brilliant, but also mentally ill. They were also always aware of their unique circumstances.
Emily Dickinson wrote in her poem I felt a funeral in my brain that her madness was her most divine sense. It made her write about the deepest hardships she felt.
Something to understand about Emily Dickinson was that, like many other people, she did not suffer from a single psychological condition. There is evidence that she suffered from many other types of problems, such as migraines.
Social Anxiety Disorder and Agoraphobia
Certain experts on Emily Dickinson’s work suggest a particular idea. According to them, choosing to isolate herself from the world and seclude herself in her room was a way to better focus on her work.
However, certain aspects must be taken into account, such as:
- In the first place, her seclusion was absolute. She never received visitors or saw her family, despite living in the same house.
- She preferred to communicate with her brothers and nephews from behind her door whenever possible.
- She also wrote letters to her friends.
Modern doctors told her family that Emily was suffering from a rare illness they called a nervous breakdown. Today, most psychiatrists link these symptoms to social anxiety disorder and severe agoraphobia.
Schizotypal Personality Disorder
In her book Wider than the sky: Essays and meditations on the healing power of Emily Dickinson , Cindy MacKenzie talks about how Dickinson managed to control her illness through poetry.
She was always aware that there was something wrong with her. She also knew that those inner demons, as she called them, were clouding her mind, senses, and balance.
Steven Winhusen, a physician from Johns Hopkins University, conducted an interesting study on Emily Dickinson. According to him, the poet suffered from a schizotypal personality disorder.
There are several examples that support his conclusions, including the very detailed information she reveals in her poems, her need for isolation, and the way her writing skills deteriorated. Her thoughts, her creative brilliance, and the emotions that permeate her poems undoubtedly fit this diagnosis.
Emily Dickinson died of Bright’s disease on May 15, 1886. It was the same kidney disease that, interestingly, also ended Mozart’s life. She was buried in her town’s cemetery, in a white coffin with a vanilla scent, according to the instructions she left behind.
The reason for her seclusion is and remains a mystery. Although that secret went to the grave with her, she left a great legacy. Despite the immense suffering she experienced, no doubt from her inner demons, she left us the great gift of her work.