The Second Mental Hospital Encounter in 1966

At the age of 18, Coelho became a womanizer, going out with Marcia, Renata Sorrah and Fabiola Fracarolli at the same time (Morais, 2009, pp. 110-111). He felt that he was a writer and actor, having acted on stage. Although he still stayed at his parents’ house, he felt free and returned home late at night. This was not acceptable to his father and one night when Coelho came home drunk at 4 o’clock in the morning, breaking the glass windows of the house, Pedro, the father, had had enough: only a few hours later, Coelho was taken to an asylum by a doctor and two male nurses, this time by force. He was kept in the asylum for about 3 months. Some friends came to visit him and he declared his love to Rennie. In hospital, Coelho was given psychiatric medication and spent a lot of time sleeping. Sometimes he read a book, but he did not feel like writing. He just felt lonely and his emotions ranged from enthusiasm to depression and panic attacks about the fact that he had to stay in the asylum (Morais, 2009).

During his talks with the doctor, he talked about his dreams, saying that everything was worth experiencing as long as one followed one’s dreams - particularly if one followed a route rejected by mainstream society (Morais, 2009, p. 134). Coelho felt that he was not insane and was just being punished for following his dream.

Even 40 years (Coelho, 2006) later, he repeatedly states in his novels and autobiographical texts that a person should not listen to what neighbours say (Coelho, 2006, p. 53) or what society defines as normal and thereby lose sight of one’s dream and personal objective. He cites Robert Frost (Coelho, 2006, p. 42):

“Vor mir lagen zwei Strafien.

Ich wahlte die weniger begangene.

Und das genau machte den Unterschied”

“in front of me lay two streets.

I chose the one less travelled.

And this has made all the difference

One day in September 1966 the doctor started electroconvulsive therapy and Coelho felt weakened and could not recognise his environment for some time. When his parents came to visit him, he begged them to take him out of the hospital, but they did not (Morais, 2009, p. 135). The idea grew to try escaping from the hospital, particularly since he had had a haircut and felt he was not recognisable any more. He fled with one of the hospital patients and spent a week wandering around with Renata. After a week he called his parents, who were truly concerned about his physical and mental state and agreed to take him back without sending him to the hospital again. He returned home, but was soon afterwards really convinced that he was not sane: he was apathetic, not reacting to anything for about 2 weeks (Arias, 2001, p. 39).

Only a few weeks later, his maternal grandfather, Tuca, offered Coelho a small apartment to live in on his own right in the commercial centre of Rio (Morais, 2009, p. 139). Coelho accepted and after a while he was involved in his first theatre play for adults: “Captains of the Sands”, a play that had been written almost 30 years before by a Brazilian author, Jorge Amado. It was a success, but after the euphoria of the production, he became deeply depressed, felt lost and empty, mainly melancholic and only sometimes joyful (Morais, 2009, p. 142). Aged 19, Coelho felt empty-handed and lost. He had become anti-religious and anti-Catholic and had abandoned the faith of his parents, although he had not given up certain aspects of his childhood faith (Arias, 2001, p. 115). *

English translation by the researcher.

After his second stay in hospital Coelho developed side effects of retrograde amnesia, which he had experienced after electrical shocks: he felt very close to his psychiatrist and felt particularly secure in his presence. This phenomenon, which is called the “Stockholm syndrome” is the sudden and inexplicable feeling of emotional dependence some hostages feel towards their hostage-takers (Morais, 2009, p. 141). He often still went to see his doctor when he was in a crisis or had problems with his love life.

After a few months in which he had stayed in the grandfather’s house, Coelho moved back to his parents, feeling sad and humiliated, but he could not stand the loneliness and his recurring nightmares (Morais, 2009, p. 143).

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