Sunday, March 3, 2013

Book Review: The Center Cannot Hold

Well, this isn't so much a book review as a book thought dump, I suppose. I read this book last weekend. It's about 5 years old now, a memoir by Elyn Saks about her life with schizophrenia.

Saks is quite "high functioning" and in fact holds an endowed professorship at USC's school of law. The book's a fast read. Her illness didn't come on full strength until the standard 20s, but she had signs of something being "off" much earlier, including a feeling that the houses in her neighborhood were "menacing" her when she was a young girl.

Her story is interesting because in some ways she's unusual (the academic and career success, her feeling that Freudian-ish talk therapy was helpful to her, her marriage) but in others she's very very typical, if one can be a typical schizophrenic.

She, like many, fought and fought against medication, viewing it as a moral failing, until she finally accepted that her life worked much better while she was on them. She received treatment both in England and in the United States, and found the United States system much more likely to use involuntary restraints, which was somewhat disturbing.

Growing up, I had an aunt who was schizophrenic. She unfortunately killed herself was I was 15, but so much about the way Saks spoke when having a psychotic episode reminded me of my aunt. I wish my aunt been able to find treatment that made her feel her life was worth living.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the book to me is that for years Saks assumed that everyone had the thoughts and voices that she had, but that others were just better at controlling them; this also played into her resistance to medication. I found it particularly interesting because in OCD treatment, we hear that everyone has the kind of thoughts that cause stress in OCD-ers, but that others can just easily brush them away. Sort of an opposite situation.

Anyway, while I don't think I can ever truly understand what it's like to have schizophrenia, this book offered some interesting insights.


  1. I've been wanting to read this book--it's on my "to read" list--so I'm glad to read your thoughts on it.

  2. Thanks for reminding me I want to read this book.....heard of it before and then forgot about it. Sounds interesting.

  3. That is interesting, the comparison of her thinking everyone hears voices to us with OCD. I felt such relief when diagnosed because I felt I was the only one with such odd behavior and thoughts. I will put this on my reading list.