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9 hopeful books about schizophrenia

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The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This is a deeply considered and gorgeously rendered work, part memoir and part clear-eyed assessment of the past, present and future of genetic study. Mukherjee, both a physician and gifted writer, begins by describing the several members of his family whose lives have been devastated by schizophrenia. In order to better understand schizophrenia, he explains all of genetics generally, unraveling the fascinating story of how researchers have come to know what they do about genes. Arriving in the present day about halfway through the book, he then shifts into exploring the ramifications of genetic knowledge today. He discusses such matters as race and gender and identity and intergenerational trauma and psychiatric diagnoses like schizophrenia. I think the world would be a better place if everybody read The Gene.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg

This 1964 novel fictionalizes the author’s self-described descent into and recovery from schizophrenia right before the dawn of psychopharmaceuticals in the late forties and early fifties. The book rivetingly animates the protagonist’s elaborate inner world, and the devoted efforts of her psychiatrist — who is based on a real-life doctor, Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Rose Garden was initially published under a penname at the behest of Greenberg’s mother. It resonated with a surprising number of readers, becoming an unexpected bestseller and inspiring many adaptations. Today Rose Gardenremains something all too rare: a widely read story about schizophrenia written by someone who had herself been diagnosed. It’s a very powerful and formally daring work, one that remains as necessary as ever.

Agnes’s Jacket by Dr. Gail Hornstein

In this memoir, an academic psychologist traces her own journey toward a more scientific and historically grounded understanding of madness. I recommend this book particularly for mental health care professionals seeking to better understand schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses, and to those partaking in the debates about how to best treat people diagnosed. For those interested in psychiatry, I also recommend Dr. Hornstein’s thorough biography of Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (of Rose Garden fame), To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the World.

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Essay: The Side Effect of Living

Editor’s note:

‘Depression’ sets alarm bells ringing in individual and collective minds, raising ogres of doubt, fear, hopelessness… Bijaya Biswal writes a personal account of how ogres can be abolished, at least sometimes, and life lived trekking to the top of the world or simply sitting, legs dangling over terrace ledges.

By Bijaya Biswal

Bijaya Biswal

Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?
Albert Camus

Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?

It seems of the same order to me. It’s been months now that I stand at the terrace, looking at the ground below and wondering if it must take a very long fall – a very long time spent in the air to rethink if the problems were fixable, a very long period of helplessly jerking your arms seeking help with nothing to hold on to, and a quiet last second when you hit the ground and everything blacks out and you finally find out if there was a God at all. You fool yourself into living another day with tiny excuses. Vesting hopes on the last leaf of the tree outside your window till its fall, only to come back from college and see that the storm took down the tree itself. Reaching out for a piece of poetry, or a cigarette butt, another cup of coffee or another romance but the thing about them is, at one point they all come to an end, leaving you sniffing for more and it’s just a vicious cycle that goes round and round. Like days and nights which mean nothing for someone who does not sleep. Like the ceiling fan which gives me company while I stay awake; like my aching heart which beats like it’s a backward countdown every single day but does not dare to stop and ends up counting all over again.

I think they call suicide an act of cowardice, because they know no one is bold enough to succeed in it the first time. We can see it in the signs it leaves behind – the scars of a thousand shallow cuts before a deep one; too many public breakdowns and family embarrassments before your mother can boldly accept something has to be wrong; a lot of worthless questions from the therapist before it’s too late to start with the right ones; too many occasions of having denied sex to the boyfriend before he takes you out one day and with welled up eyes asks you if there is someone else. Your hands intertwined in his tremble like a broken heart and you nod and swallow some of your words and say, “Yes there is. Me.” You hold each other and cry for the rest of the night.

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