Emily Dickinson and her Mental Demons

Emily Dickison spent the last twenty years of her life locked in her room. She always wore white, suffered from migraines and asked to be buried in a coffin with vanilla fragrance.

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“It is not necessary to be a room to be haunted,” said Emily Dickinson. Few figures in the world of poetry have been so enigmatic from a psychological point of view. Thus, in works like I have a funeral in my brain, lets glimpse, according to various experts, several clues as to why he decided to stay forever in his room, isolating himself from the world and society.

Throughout the decades, there has been much speculation about the possible upheaval that the famous American poet might have suffered. Her imprisonment began in 1864, when she was about 30 years old. He finished the day of his death, when he was 55. He chose to wear white and never cross that line that went beyond the space of his room.

That isolation allowed him to immerse himself fully in his literary work. That solitude offered him, without a doubt, enough inspiration for his artistic creation, but little by little, he also became little more than a specter behind a window. He was not even able to attend his father’s funeral, held in the living room of his own home.

It was in 2003, when Dr. David F. Maas, MD of the University of Minnesota, made an interesting study that would be published under the title Reflections on self-reflexiveness in literature, in which the emotional state of the writer was analyzed.

Since then, more works have been published, thanks to which, we can get a rough idea of ​​those mental demons that devoured the life of Emily Dickinson. The same ones who, in turn, offered an undeniable creative impulse.

“I felt a funeral in my brain,
the mourners came and went
crawling-crawling-until it seemed
that the sense was totally broken –

and when everyone was seated,
a liturgy, like a drum –
began to beat-beat-until I thought
that my mind became silent.”(…)

-Emily Dickinson-

Emily Dickinson and the drums of her mind

Poets have always had the clever faculty of submerging themselves like no other in their complex mental oceans. The own Edgar Allan Poe, for example, wrote in his poem Alone, that of “from my childhood, I have not been like others were, I have not seen how others saw, and everything I wanted, I wanted it alone”.

Somehow, many of these artists, often in equal parts for extraordinary brilliance and also for illness, were always very aware of their singularities. Emily Dickinson gets to write in her poem A Funeral in My Brain, that her own madness is actually the most divine sense. That which allows him to write and which confers deep sufferings. Let’s see them

First of all, something we must understand about Emily Dickison is that (as with many other people) she did not suffer from a single psychological condition. Moreover, other physical, organic, etc. problems are often evident in turn. In the case of the North American poetess, the experts intuit that she suffered numerous episodes of migraines.

“I have a drum in my brain, which beats and hits and leaves my mind numb.”

Social anxiety and agoraphobia

There are scholars on the work of Emily Dickinson who defend a curious idea. According to them, the choice to isolate themselves from the world and seclude themselves in their room was a way to deepen their work better. However, we must take into account various aspects.

  • The first is that his imprisonment was total. He did not receive visits, he did not meet with his family even living in the same house.
  • He preferred to communicate with his brothers and nephews through the door whenever possible…
  • He maintained that yes, a great correspondence with his friends through letters, but never crossed the door of his room when he was 30 years old.
  • The doctors of the time came to inform the family that Emily had a rare disease called “nervous prostration”. Nowadays, most of the psychiatrists associate these symptoms with social anxiety and severe agoraphobia.

Schizotypal personality disorder

In Cindie Makenzie’s book, Wider than the Sky: Essays and Meditations on the Curative Power of Emily Dickinson, the author talks about how this writer used poetry to control her own illness. She was always very aware that something was happening to her, and that those mental demons, as she called them, clouded her reason, sense and balance.

“And me, and silence, a strange race.

Shattered, lonely,


Steven Winhusen, doctor of the Johns Hopkins University, realized an interesting study on Emily Dickinson concluding with something interesting. What (in his opinion) the famous poet suffered was a schizotypal personality disorder. Because of the very graphic information he gives in his poems, the way his calligraphy deteriorated, his thoughts, the need for isolation, creative genius and the emotions that permeate his verses, it would undoubtedly fit into this diagnosis.


Emily Dickison died on May 15, 1886, because of Bright’s illness. It was a kidney disease that, interestingly enough, also ended Mozart’s life. She was buried in the cemetery of her town, following the guidelines she left reflected: in a white coffin with a vanilla aroma.

The reason for his imprisonment is and always will be an enigma, a fantastic mystery, like his own poems. The secret went with her to her grave, but beyond that suffering that, without a doubt, she suffered in life due to her “mental demons”, her legacy remains. We have his extensive work, as well as those brilliant letters, endowed with exquisiteness and absolute creativity.