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The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madnessby Elyn R. Saks
Synopses & Reviews
Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she's an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She has managed to achieve this in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a "grave" prognosis — and suffering the effects of her illness throughout her life.
Saks was only eight, and living an otherwise idyllic childhood in sunny 1960s Miami, when her first symptoms appeared in the form of obsessions and night terrors. But it was not until she reached Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar that her first full-blown episode, complete with voices in her head and terrifying suicidal fantasies, forced her into a psychiatric hospital.
Saks would later attend Yale Law School where one night, during her first term, she had a breakdown that left her singing on the roof of the law school library at midnight. She was taken to the emergency room, force-fed antipsychotic medication, and tied hand-and-foot to the cold metal of a hospital bed. She spent the next five months in a psychiatric ward.
So began Saks's long war with her own internal demons and the equally powerful forces of stigma. Today she is a chaired professor of law who researches and writes about the rights of the mentally ill. She is married to a wonderful man.
In The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks discusses frankly and movingly the paranoia, the inability to tell imaginary fears from real ones, and the voices in her head insisting she do terrible things, as well as the many obstacles she overcame to become the woman she is today. It is destined to become a classic in the genre.
"In this engrossing memoir, Saks, a professor of psychiatry at U.C. San Diego, demonstrates a novelist's skill of creating character, dialogue and suspense. From her extraordinary perspective as both expert and sufferer (diagnosis: 'Chronic paranoid schizophrenia with acute exacerbation'; prognosis: 'Grave'), Saks carries the reader from the early 'little quirks' to the full blown 'falling apart, flying apart, exploding' psychosis. 'Schizophrenia rolls in like a slow fog,' as Saks shows, 'becoming imperceptibly thicker as time goes on.' Along the way to stability (treatment, not cure), Saks is treated with a pharmacopeia of drugs and by a chorus of therapists. In her jargon-free style, she describes the workings of the drugs ('getting med-free,' a constant motif) and the ideas of the therapists and physicians (psychologist, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, cardiologist, endocrinologist). Her personal experience of a world in which she is both frightened and frightening is graphically drawn and leads directly to her advocacy of mental patients' civil rights as they confront compulsory medication, civil commitment, the abuse of restraints and 'the absurdities of the mental care system.' She is a strong proponent of talk therapy ('While medication had kept me alive, it had been psychoanalysis that helped me find a life worth living'). This is heavy reading, but Saks's account will certainly stand out in its field." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"What is it like to battle a severe mental illness? In 'The Center Cannot Hold,' Elyn R. Saks describes the terror and turmoil of psychosis as she wrestles with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. When she is ill, Saks rocks back and forth, raves about murdering babies and fights off her demons with heavy doses of Navane. Then, in periods of recovery, she enjoys a top-flight career as... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) a professor of psychiatry. Her lucidity and intelligence allow her to describe her ordeal with precision and sensitivity. Saks insists that talk therapy helps her ward off psychosis, 'to see the meaning in my struggles — to make sense of everything that happened before and during the course of my illness, and to mobilize what strengths I may possess.' After a couple hundred pages, the accounts of her repeated psychotic breaks and recoveries start to wear on the reader. Her narrative could be tighter. And yet she also writes with affecting emotion, especially in the passages that describe the healing power of friendship and love. Susan Adams is an editor at Forbes magazine. " Reviewed by Susan Adams, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Schizophrenia is an ominous word — and we too often equate it with a life of misery, isolation, and psychotic torment. I know of no better corrective to this than The Center Cannot Hold, a detailed memoir of how, with medication, sensitive support (and, in Professor Saks's case, psychoanalysis), a deeply schizophrenic person can achieve a life full of creative work and love and friendships. It is the most lucid and hopeful memoir of living with schizophrenia I have ever read." Oliver Sacks, M.D., author of Awakenings and Musicophilia
"In The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks describes with precision and passion the tribulations of living with schizophrenia, and conjures in explicit detail a world that has gone unseen for far too long. In narrating her own capacity for success in the face of the illness, she holds out a beacon of hope for those who suffer with psychosis." Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
"An extraordinary, gripping account of Saks's struggle with mental illness — she refutes fearful prejudices and demonstrates the respect deserved by all people with serious mental illness." Robert A. Burt, professor of law, Yale Law School
"The extraordinary story of how an extraordinary human being responded to adversity, not once, but over and over and over again." Lissy Jarvik, M.D., Ph.D., professor emeritus, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA
"A remarkable narrative of a lived life — as profoundly provocative as it is satisfying, it is to be read and savored." Leo Rangell, honorary president, International Psychoanalytic Association
"The Center Cannot Hold should be read by anyone interested in mental illness, its treatment, the laws concerning it, extraordinary lives, or simply a good read." Robert Michels, M.D., Walsh McDermott University Professor of Medicine, and University Professor of Psychiatry, Cornell University
"This book will inspire everyone who reads it to believe that people with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, can attain the highest levels of professional accomplishment and personal happiness." Paul S. Appelbaum, M.D., professor of psychiatry, Columbia University, and past president, American Psychiatric Association
"A courageous, bold, touching, brutally honest, and inspiring account of a lifelong struggle against demons of the mind and the body." Dilip V. Jeste, M.D., director, Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging
"In this articulate and at times profoundly disturbing memoir, Saks...recounts her nearly lifelong struggle with schizophrenia, including voices, visions and profound depersonalization....As readers, we can be thankful that she has survived to tell her tale." San Francisco Chronicle
"Saks's narrative is dramatic, detailed, honest, and extremely readable." Library Journal
Saks managed to achieve both professional and personal success in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a "grave" prognosis. In this memoir, she frankly and movingly discusses the disease, and the treatments that helped her to cope and thrive.
About the Author
Elyn R. Saks is a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. She is a research clinical associate at the New Center for Psychoanalysis. Saks lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Will.
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