I guess we’re all afraid of Room 101 - for those of you who don’t know what Room 101 refers to, it was the place where the non-conformists, the questioners were taken in the novel 1984 to break their spirit. In Room 101 whatever frightens the most is used to convince the wayward thinking individual to conform and stop questioning, Room 101 is where the spirit and mind is broken.
In my youth, I carried around an unwritten list of my top 10 most traumatic events, at some points I even considered extending it to my top 20. On my list was the usual supply of death, beatings, divorces, injuries, abuse and I used that unwritten list as protection against future trauma, in much the same way a man will tattoo demons on his flesh to ward away evil spirits. I was convinced that as many times as I had been knocked down, I would always get back up and not just get back up, but rise stronger than before.
In the early days of psychiatry a myriad of torturous treatments were devised to aid in creating sound mental health - from dunking patients repeatedly in ice water, to removing parts of the brain. And I have often wondered if those inhumane trials were where Orwell gleaned his inspiration for Room 101.
The word alienist (which I find to be a darkly strange, yet appropriate word) means - A physician accepted by a court of law as an expert on the mental competence of principals or witnesses. And alienist Dr. Henry Aloysius Cotton decided in the early 1900s that the cause of mental illness was unseen infections in the body, with his cure being to remove the offending parts. He would begin simply enough with the teeth and tonsils, but if he found no improvement with the patients mental state he would move on to the sinuses or the stomach, cervix, spleen and colon. The mortality rate of Dr. Cotton’s cure to mental illness was about 45%, but of those who survived, many were miraculously cured. I wonder which lost organ snapped them back into conformity? Could it have been losing their colon or their stomach that broke their spirit enough to allow them to step out of Room 101?
For myself, I used to hold the medical community in high regard, although I am sure I was viewed as a difficult patient, I questioned, demanded and complained. I held the mistaken conclusion that I was in control and that my health and well-being was just as important to the physician, as it was too me. When they removed my ovaries, cervix and uterus, I thought nothing of it, although at 30 I was quite young to be looking at a lifetime of synthetic hormones. And I didn’t know it at the time, but later when they removed a large portion of my colon and my appendix, gluing a bag on my side to capture my waste, I had stepped into Room 101.
Although it is said the medical community has moved away from the archaic practices of the past, I hesitate to believe that after spending time in my own personal Room 101. I also find it interesting that those who profess to be the victim of alien abduction report strange medical procedures and the doctor who decides our level of sanity is referred to as an alienist. It seems someone in this great carnival has a dark sense of humor.
Unfortunately, after spending time in Room 101, we are never really free again; they demand we return for additional humiliations and modern ways to break the spirit and the mind. New tests must be administered and the loss of privacy is just happenstance as every orifice in probed and analyzed, while toxic chemicals are injected into the blood. We call this health maintenance these days, but I call it torture and it is a torture that costs us outrageous amounts in energy, spirit and cash.
I found that no list of previous traumas could protect me from the mindless brutality of Room 101, no physical pain before or since could compete with the agony of disembowelment, which interestingly enough is defined as: To remove the entrails from or To deprive of meaning or substance. And what I find even more frightening than what occurs in Room 101, is the fact that we both eagerly and blindly step into this room, trusting our torturers to lead us to salvation.