Bertha Pappenheim’s illness began in July 1880. She was twenty one and holidaying with her family at the spa town of Bad Ischl.
Bertha’s father developed a severe chest infection and the devoted daughter insisted on remaining by his bedside. Late one night, Bertha began suffering hallucinations. A skull appeared in place of her father’s head. Her fingers turned into snakes and her arm became paralysed.
When Bertha’s father’s health improved and her hallucinations stopped, she moved on, possibly dismissing her hallucinations as the result of exhaustion and stress.
As human beings, we tend to normalise dramatic psychological disturbances. A person may shake with fear during a conflict that does not warrant such terror. Once the situation has eased, they get on with their lives as if nothing has happened. The same can apply to out of control rage. These events may be disturbing, but they are dismissed as not being who we really are. They were caused by particular circumstances and do not require attention.
Bertha would have imagined that the terrible hallucinations were gone for good. However, five months later, when her father again became ill, they returned with a vengeance. It was the beginning of a difficult time.
No matter how we rationalise psychological and emotional disturbances, as Mick Jagger tells us, war is just a shot away.