Emily Dickinson And Her Mental Demons

Emily Dickinson 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-scented white flowers.
Emily Dickinson and her mental demons

“You don’t have to be a room to feel haunted by ghosts,” wrote Emily Dickinson. Few figures in the world of poetry have been so enigmatic from a psychological point of view. In this sense, in works such as Felt un Funeral, nel Cervello , according to some experts, he lets us glimpse, according to some experts, various clues as to why he decided to shut himself up forever in his room, isolating himself from the world and society.

Over the decades, there have been many speculations on the possible upheaval that struck the famous North American poet. His imprisonment began in 1864, when he was about 30 years old. It ended on the day of his death at the age of 55. He chose to always dress in white and never cross that line that went beyond the space of his room.

That isolation allowed her to immerse herself completely in her literary work. Loneliness certainly provided the inspiration for her creativity, but over time, she also became little more than a ghost behind a window. He was not even able to attend his father’s funeral, held in the living room of his home.

In 2003, Dr. David F. Maas, District Manager of the University of Minnesota, conducted an interesting study entitled Reflections on Self-Reflexiveness in Literature , in which the emotional state of the writer was analyzed.

Since then, many other works have been published , thanks to which it is possible to get a rough idea of ​​the inner demons that plagued the life of Emily Dickinson . The same demons who at the same time gave her an undeniable creative impulse.

Emily Dickinson as a child

Emily Dickinson and the drums in the mind

Poets have always had the great ability to immerse themselves like no other in their own complex mental oceans. Edgar Allan Poe himself, for example, wrote in his poem Solo , “ Since childhood I have never been  like the others; I have never seen how others saw (…) everything I have loved, I have loved alone ”.

In a way, these great artists marked, in equal parts, by extraordinary brilliance and disease, have always been aware of their singularities. Emily Dickinson went so far as to write in her poem I Felt a Funeral, in the Brain , that her own madness was actually the most divine sense. The element that allowed her to write and that caused her deep suffering.

Emily Dickinson and the migraine

First, it must be pointed out that Emily Dickison (like many other people) did not suffer from a single psychological condition. There were more than one, and often accompanied by physical, organic, etc. problems. In the case of the North American poet, experts believe she may have suffered from frequent migraine episodes.

Social anxiety and agoraphobia

Some scholars of Emily Dickinson’s work support a curious idea. According to them, the choice to isolate themselves from the world, in their own room, was a way to better deepen their work. However, we must also take into account several aspects:

  • His confinement was total. He did not receive visitors and did not meet his family even though he lived in the same house.
  • He preferred to communicate with his brothers and nephews through the door whenever possible.
  • He maintained a close correspondence with his friends, but never walked through the door of his room after the age of 30.

Doctors told the family that Emily suffered from a rare disease known as “nervous prostration”. Today, most psychiatrists associate these symptoms with social anxiety or severe forms of agoraphobia.

Emily Dickinson photo

Emily Dickinson and Schizotypal Personality Disorder

The essay by Cindie Makenzie, 

Wider Than the Sky: Essays and Meditations on the Healing Power of Emily Dickinson

, states that the writer used poetry to control her illness. She was always aware of her ailment and that those inner demons, as she called them, clouded her reason, senses and balance.

Steven Winhusen, PhD at Johns Hopkins University, conducted an interesting study on Emily Dickinson, coming to a very interesting conclusion. (in her opinion) The famous poet suffered from schizotypal personality disorder.

Because of the detailed information he conveys in his poems, the way his handwriting has deteriorated over time, his thoughts, his need for isolation, his creative genius and the emotions that permeate his lines, he might, in his opinion, say, fit perfectly into this diagnosis.


Emily Dickison died on May 15, 1886 of Bright’s disease. A kidney disease which, curiously, also caused Mozart’s death. She was buried in her hometown cemetery, following the guidelines she left for reflection in her poems: in a coffin with vanilla-scented white flowers.

The reason for his isolation is and always will be an enigma, a fantastic mystery, like his poems. The secret is buried with her in the grave, but beyond the suffering she no doubt endured in life from her “inner demons,” her legacy reaches us intact. Her extensive literary work remains, as well as brilliant letters, endowed with exquisiteness and absolute creativity.

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