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"The Yellow Wallpaper" was written in the late nineteenth century. In that period of time hysteria was thought to occur through irregular blood flow from the uterus to the brain. Over the years the definition of hysteria has changed. Today hysteria can be defined as, "a state of mind, one of unmanageable fear or emotional excesses"("Hysteria biography"). From the research I have done it seems that the fear the person has is usually centered on a certain body part even though there is nothing wrong with it, "a patient experiences physical symptoms that have a psychological, rather than an organic, cause"("Hysteria"). The story does give some evidence of her showing hysterical behavior. For example, in the beginning of the story she tells us she is sick but her husband, John, who is a physician, does not believe there is anything wrong with her, "You see he does not believe I am sick!"(Gilman 103). Although the narrator does show these symptoms of hysteria her overall symptoms lead me to think that she may have postpartum depression.
Before going into why I think the narrator has postpartum depression, I would like to discuss what it is. Postpartum depression is, " a complex mix of physical, emotional and behavioral changes that occur in a mother after giving birth"("WebMD"). The causes of this illness can be hereditary and can be changes in most women's hormones. Most mothers who experience postpartum depression love their children but feel that they won't be good at mothering. (HealthyMinds.org). An example of this in the story is when the narrator is discussing what little she can do and says, "It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous." (Gillman 105) We see from this quote that the narrator doubts her ability to take care of her baby.
Most symptoms that come with postpartum depression can be seen in the narrator throughout this story.
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Some more symptoms that distinguish postpartum depression in the story are an irregular appetite and sleeping pattern ("HealthyMinds"). When she is talking to John about how the house was not making her any better even though he feels that she is getting better she says, " my appetite may be better in the evening when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are away!" (Gillman 109). The narrator's appetite is not the same as it was when she was well, although in the evenings it is fine, it is not in the morning. She is experiencing irregular sleeping patterns when she begins to get very interested into the wallpaper and says, " I'm feeling ever so much better! I don't sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch the developments; but I sleep a good deal in the daytime" (Gillman 111).
Crying is another symptom related to this illness of postpartum depression ("HealthyMinds"). At one point in the story she states, " I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time. Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone" (Gillman 107). One final symptom of postpartum depression is getting mood swings ("HealthyMinds"). For example when she is trying to tell John that there is something creepy about the house and he does not really pay attention to what she is telling him, "I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive"(Gillman 103). Here we see her moods changing from what they used to be.
In some cases of postpartum depression features of psychosis can occur ("HealthyMinds"). Psychosis is, "An illness that prevents people from being able to distinguish between the real world and that imaginary world" ("Clinical Depression Information and Terms"). I believe that the narrator suffers from this postpartum psychosis ("HealthyMinds"). In the story she suffers from the symptoms that come with psychosis. One symptom of this illness is losing touch with reality ("AllRefer Health"). An example of the narrator losing touch with reality is when she is saying how much better she is and John made a joke that it was the wallpaper, " I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wallpaper- he would make fun of me" (Gillman 111). A big symptom of this illness is hallucinations or seeing, hearing, and feeling things that are not there ("AllRefer Health"). For example when she is talking about how she thinks there are many women behind the paper and the pattern moves because one woman's crawling shakes it, " And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads" (Gillman 112). Fear and suspicion are also associated with this illness ("AllRefer Health"). For instance when she is talking about how she thinks Jennie is taking interest with the wallpaper and says, " I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!" (Gillman 110). From this line she seems very suspicious about what others are doing when around the wallpaper.
Mania is also found in psychosis. This is seen in her increased energy and excitement for ripping down the wallpaper in the bedroom ("AllRefer Health"). When Jennie saw that she had ripped the paper down and said she would have done it herself the narrator replies, " But I am here, and no person touches this paper but me, - not alive!" (Gillman 113). Another big symptom is depression and suicidal thoughts ("AllRefer Health"). At the end of the story she says, "I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump of a window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try" (Gillman 114). Then she goes on to say, "But I am securely fastened now by my well hidden rope "(Gillman 114). From this end of the story the narrator seems to be trying to hang herself as her husband is trying to chop down the door with an axe.
As you can see all the symptoms that the narrator is suffering from do not lead to the illness called hysteria. By what I have read in the story and the symptoms she seemed to be experiencing, I would say she suffered from postpartum depression. Towards the end of the story it seems her symptoms got worse. Her symptoms seemed to display the illness psychosis. My over all diagnosis is that she was suffering from postpartum depression that over time seemed to develop psychotic symptoms.