picture of bloodletting procedure
Early illustration of phlebotomy

Hannah Allen was a 17th century Englishwoman who wrote an autobiographical account of her struggle with obsessive thoughts. She describes how her physician used bloodletting (phlebotomy) to treat her condition.

[T]the enemy of my soul . . . cast in horrible blasphemous thoughts and injections into my mind, insomuch that I was seldom free day or night, unless when deep sleep was upon me. . . . I was persuaded I had sinned the unpardonable sin.... I would often in my thoughts wish I might change conditions with the vilest persons I could think of, concluding there was hopes from them though not for me.... (pp. 3-4)

...sometimes the devil tempts me woefully to hard and strange thoughts of my dear Lord, which (through his mercy) I dread and abhor the assenting to more than Hell itself; in a word, every day at present seems a great burden to me.... (p. 17).

When I came to London . . . I took much physick of one Mr. Cocket, a chemist that lived over the way, but still I was, as I thought, always dying, and I yet wearying my mother with such fancies and stories. . . . I practiced many devices to make away myself, sometimes by spiders (as before), sometimes endeavoring to let myself bleed with a pair of sharp scissors, and so bleed to death. Once when the surgeon had let my blood, I went up into a chamber and bolted the door to me, and took off the plaister and tied my arm, and set the vein bleeding again, which Mrs. Walker fearing, ran upstairs and got into the chamber to me. I seeing her come in, ran into the leads, and there my arm bled upon the wall. I pleased myself, often, with contriving how to get into a wood and die there.... (pp. 39,44)

I would often ask my cousin Walker, what those that came to visit me thought of my condition? He would answer, Very well. I much wondered at it . . . . I would sometimes say to my cousin Walker, will you not pity me, that must as sure as that there is a God, for ever burn in Hell; I must confess I am not to be pitied, for did you know me, you would abhor me, and say Hell was too good for me . . . and when you see me come to my horrible end, which I am sure will be ere long, tho' you must loath me, yet I say, pity me. Yes he would say, if I thought it was true I would pity you, but I do not believe it.... (pp. 52-3)

Mr. Walker endeavored to get Mr. Baxter to come to me, but he still missed of him when he came to town. No, (said I) God will not let Mr. Baxter come to such a Wretch as I am; but I had then a secret desire to see him, rather than any one else. And to my best remembrance my cousin Walker told me that he asked me if I would believe better of my self, if Mr. Baxter told me my condition was safe; and that I answered, Yes.... (pp. 55-6)

My Aunt sometimes would tell me, that my expressions were so dreadful she knew not how to bear them. I would answer roundly, but what must I do then, that must feel them. I would after say to my Aunt, Oh, you little know what a dismal dark condition I am in; Methinks I am as dark as Hell itself: my Aunt would say, Cousin, would you but believe you were melancholy it might be a great means to bring you out of this Condition. Melancholy, would I say, I have cause to be Melancholy, that am as assuredly damn'd as that there is a God; and no more hopes of me than of the Devils.... (pp. 60-1)

As my Melancholy came by degrees, so it wore off by degrees, and as my dark Melancholy bodily distempers abated, so did my spiritual maladies also; and God convinced me by degrees that all this was from Satan, his delusions and temptations, working in those dark and black humors, and not from my self.... (p. 72)

From Hannah Allen, A narrative of God's gracious dealings with that choice Christian Mrs. Hannah Allen... (London: Printed by John Wallis, 1683).


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