NAMI Bookshelf: September 2007
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness
Elyn R. Saks
(HYPN Hyperion, 2007)
This is one of the best memoirs ever written by a person living with schizophrenia. It has been heralded in Time and Newsweek magazines, as well as newspapers across the country.
The publicity is well-deserved. It is a down-to-earth, insightful account of mental illness, perseverance, and courage, describing not only symptoms, but also personal feelings that are not directly part of the disease. Saks shares the fears, conflicts, frustrations, and hopes of any person who struggles with mental illness. In the process she speaks out for individual dignity, which becomes the focus of her career.
Saks first experienced symptoms at age 8. She graduated valedictorian from Vanderbilt University and received advanced degrees from Oxford University and Yale Law School. Today she is a law professor at the University of Southern California. It is an incredible career trajectory for anyone—even more so for someone whose path is punctuated by psychotic episodes and hospitalizations.
“I wasn’t diagnosed early; I wasn’t treated early; I stumbled around in the dark for years, clutching my Aristotle and negotiating my life as best I could,” Saks writes.
Her psychotic episodes were part of a pattern: “I’d set goals for myself, meet them successfully, then fall apart at the seams. Once again, everything familiar and comfortable in my life was going away or being left behind. What was ahead was new and frightening. The scaffolding had been removed and I wasn’t sure I could sustain the structure all by myself.”
Through it all, Saks never lost her sense of humor.
“Everybody at some level needs a good day care program. Mine was the Yale Law School.”
But the memoir is not about law or a legal career per se. It is a very personal, engaging work that speaks to the experience of consumers in all walks of life.
“I still wasn’t convinced that I had a mental illness,” Saks writes at the point when she begins her teaching career. “Nor was I convinced I really needed medication. To admit to any of it was to admit that my brain was profoundly broken, and I just couldn’t do that. And I couldn’t let others in on the secret.”
“More than anything else, I wanted to be healthy and whole; I wanted to exist in the world as my authentic self—and I deeply believed the drugs undermined that. And so I kept backing away from them, tinkering with the dosage, seeing how far I could go before I got burned.”
“Who was I at my core? Was I primarily a schizophrenic? Did that illness define me? Or was it an accident of ‘being’—and only peripheral to me rather than the ‘essence’ of me? It’s been my observation that mentally ill people struggle with these questions perhaps even more than those with serious physical illness, because mental illness involves your mind and your core self as well.”
The memoir rings true.
In some respects, it is a blow against stigma, and the condescension toward consumers that still exists in too many professional circles. Doctors urged her to discontinue her studies. An emergency room stopped diagnostic work on a brain hemorrhage when they learned she was a mental patient, dismissing her as crazy and faking her complaints.
Today Saks manages her illness through a combination of regular medication, psychoanalysis, close personal relationships, and an active professional life that keeps her mind focused on legal issues rather than imagined terrors.
The “center” today is in balance—how she got there is a story worth reading.
Use this link to purchase The Center Cannot Hold now from Amazon.com, and NAMI will automatically receive a portion of the sale.
The Family Intervention Guide to Mental Illness: Recognizing Symptoms & Getting Treatment
Bodie Morey and Kim T. Mueser, Ph.D.
(New Harbinger Publications, 2007)
Here is a "whole-family" guide to help loved ones and to share with friends who may also confront the onset of mental illness inside their families. It covers a broad spectrum of concerns, including the recognition of symptoms, effective communication, and maintaining wellness. First-hand knowledge, practical information, and a down-to-earth perspective combine to provide concise discussions of overall strategies, good steps, bad steps, wish lists, and pitfalls. Mueser is a professor at Dartmouth Medical School and has served as a NAMI New Hampshire Board Member. Morey, a former NAMI New Hampshire Affiliate President, co-taught the forerunner of NAMI's current Family-to-Family Education Program. Mueser is also the co-author of The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia, reviewed in our May 2007 issue.
Use this link to purchase The Family Intervention Guide to Mental Illness: Recognizing Symptoms & Getting Treatment now from Amazon.com, and NAMI will automatically receive a portion of the sale.
The Bipolar Teen: What You Can Do to Help Your Child & Your Family
David J. Miklowitz and Elizabeth George, Ph.D.
(The Guilford Press, 2007)
Being published in November and available for pre-orders, The Bipolar Teen will help parents distinguish between the typical ups and downs of adolescence and symptoms of depression and mania. Its focus includes early warning signs and intervention; balancing therapy and medication; and tips for getting the most support from doctors and schools. It also suggests practical strategies for maintaining stability in family home life.
Use this link to pre-order The Bipolar Teen: What You Can Do to Help Your Child & Your Family now from Amazon.com, and NAMI will automatically receive a portion of the sale.