The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

by Elyn R. Saks


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A much-praised memoir of living and surviving mental illness as well as "a stereotype-shattering look at a tenacious woman whose brain is her best friend and her worst enemy" (Time).

Elyn R. Saks is an esteemed professor, lawyer, and psychiatrist and is the Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, Psychiatry, and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Law School, yet she has suffered from schizophrenia for most of her life, and still has ongoing major episodes of the illness.

The Center Cannot Hold is the eloquent, moving story of Elyn's life, from the first time that she heard voices speaking to her as a young teenager, to attempted suicides in college, through learning to live on her own as an adult in an often terrifying world. Saks discusses frankly the paranoia, the inability to tell imaginary fears from real ones, the voices in her head telling her to kill herself (and to harm others), as well as the incredibly difficult obstacles she overcame to become a highly respected professional. This beautifully written memoir is destined to become a classic in its genre.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781401309442
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 08/12/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 62,446
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 10.62(h) x 0.95(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Elyn R. Saks is Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School, an expert in mental health law and a Mac¬Arthur Foundation Fellowship winner. She graduated from Oxford as a Marshall Scholar and received her J.D. from Yale Law School. She has published three books and more than two dozen articles, and serves on the board of several mental health foundations. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Will Vinet.

Read an Excerpt


By Elyn R. Saks


Copyright © 2007 Elyn R. Saks
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4013-0138-5

Chapter One

When I was a little girl, I woke up almost every morning to a sunny day, a wide clear sky, and the blue green waves of the Atlantic Ocean nearby. This was Miami in the fifties and the early sixties-before Disney World, before the restored Deco fabulousness of South Beach, back when the Cuban "invasion" was still a few hundred frightened people in makeshift boats, not a seismic cultural shift. Mostly, Miami was where chilled New Yorkers fled in the winter, where my East Coast parents had come (separately) after World War II, and where they met on my mother's first day of college at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Every family has its myths, the talisman stories that weave us one to the other, husband to wife, parents to child, siblings to one another. Ethnicities, favorite foods, the scrapbooks or the wooden trunk in the attic, or that time that Grandmother said that thing, or when Uncle Fred went off to war and came back with ... For us, my brothers and me, the first story we were told was that my parents fell in love at first sight.

My dad was tall and smart and worked to keep a trim physique. My mother was tall, too, and also smart and pretty, with dark curly hair and an outgoing personality. Soon after they met, my father went off to law school,where he excelled. Their subsequent marriage produced three children: me, my brother Warren a year-and-a-half later, then Kevin three-and-a-half years after that.

We lived in suburban North Miami, in a low-slung house with a fence around it and a yard with a kumquat tree, a mango tree, and red hibiscus. And a whole series of dogs. The first one kept burying our shoes; the second one harassed the neighbors. Finally, with the third, a fat little dachshund named Rudy, we had a keeper; he was still with my parents when I went off to college.

When my brothers and I were growing up, my parents had a weekend policy: Saturday belonged to them (for time spent together, or a night out with their friends, dancing and dining at a local nightclub); Sundays belonged to the kids. We'd often start that day all piled up in their big bed together, snuggling and tickling and laughing. Later in the day, perhaps we'd go to Greynolds Park or the Everglades, or the Miami Zoo, or roller skating. We went to the beach a lot, too; my dad loved sports and taught us all how to play the activity du jour. When I was twelve, we moved to a bigger house, this one with a swimming pool, and we all played together there, too. Sometimes we'd take the power boat out and water-ski, then have lunch on a small island not far from shore.

We mostly watched television in a bunch as well-The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Leave It to Beaver, Rawhide, all the other cowboy shows. Ed Sullivan and Disney on Sunday nights. When the Perry Mason reruns began, I saw them every day after school, amazed that Perry not only defended people but also managed to solve all the crimes. We watched Saturday Night Live together, gathered in the living room, eating Oreos and potato chips until my parents blew the health whistle and switched us to fruit and yogurt and salads.

There was always a lot of music around the house. My dad in particular was a jazz fan, explaining to us that when he was young, claiming a fondness for jazz had been considered fairly rebellious. My record collection overlapped with Warren's-The Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Janis Joplin. We drew the line at the Monkees (I liked them, he absolutely didn't), and he teased me mercilessly about the poster of Peter Noone from Herman's Hermits up on my bedroom wall.

And there were movies, which my parents attempted to supervise by appropriateness: Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music were OK for me, but one James Bond movie (I don't remember which one now, except it was Sean Connery) caused a battle royal with my dad: I wasn't yet seventeen, and Bond, with his martinis and his bikini-clad girlfriends, was out of bounds.

For a while in high school, I worked at a candy counter at a local movie house-"Would you also like a Coke with that?"-which meant I saw every movie I wanted to see, and many of them more than once; I think I saw Billy Jack more than a couple dozen times. It didn't take long, though, to decide that I didn't like movies that were scary or tension-filled-horror movies were out, and Clint Eastwood's Play Misty for Me, with its crazy woman stalker, freaked me out for weeks. When the theater manager was robbed after closing one night, my parents made me quit the job.

I confess to an energetic sibling rivalry with Warren. As the oldest, I did my best to stay ahead of him, working to excel at things a younger brother couldn't yet do. I learned to ride my bike first. Once he was riding one, too, I simply rode mine faster and farther. I water-skied first, and then more furiously than he did. I got good grades and made sure he knew it; he worked just as hard and made the grades, too. Dad was not a praiser (he thought it would invite the evil eye), so he never complimented anyone. But Mom did, and Warren and I competed for her attention.

As for Kevin, there were enough years between us that for a long time I thought of him as my child. One of my earliest, clearest memories is when he began to crawl, and how thrilled I was about that, to see him learn to make his way from one place to the other. Not only was he younger than Warren and I, he was intrinsically more sociable, too-easier to get along with and more interested in just hanging around with us rather than competing with us.

As somewhat observant Jews, we went to Temple and observed the High Holy Days. We kids were sent to Hebrew school, and we also made our Bat and Bar Mitzvahs. Although it was never spoken in so many words, I was somehow given to understand that in many places and circumstances, Jewish people were not very popular, and one needed to be both discreet and respectable in order to make one's way in life. We didn't keep kosher (although my father's parents did); another part of the mom-and-dad myth was that in order to impress her future in-laws with how observant she was, my mother-whose family had never kept kosher and didn't really know the rules-had misguidedly ordered lobster on the evening my father introduced his parents to her.

On the face of it, then, our family life was congenial-a Norman Rockwell magazine cover or a gentle fifties sitcom. Indeed, my mother was what today would be called a stay-at-home mom. She was there when we came home from school and always made sure we had a snack-to this day, cold cereal is my comfort food of choice. Our family ate its meals together, and although my mother didn't cook much (a housekeeper did, and in time, my father took it up, and excelled at it), there was always cake in the pantry (albeit store-bought), fresh fruit in the fridge, and clean laundry in our closets.

Under that pleasant surface, however, things were more complex, as family matters inevitably are. Like all parents, mine had their strengths and their weaknesses. They were profoundly close to each other; in fact, they've always enjoyed being with each other more than they like being with anyone else, including, sometimes, their children. In the style of many 1950s couples, they seemed not to exist in any way independent of each other. My mother was always very physically affectionate with my dad in public; he was less so with her, but never dismissive or rude. It was just always clear that he was the boss. For my mother, it was always "Anything you want, dear," just as it had been for her mother. If she'd had any particular professional ambition when she went off to college, I've never known what it was, although she was a central part of a successful antiques business she and my father started together. Still, nothing's changed much in their dynamic in the intervening years. Recently, my mother announced that she'd given up her own political opinions in order to share my father's.

For his part, in spite of a sense of humor that often verged on the bawdy, my father could be quite absolute in his opinions and reactions. There was also a touch of suspiciousness in his interactions with others, particularly when the subject at hand was money. In this, he was just as his own father had been.

My parents were both outspoken in their disgust for religious or racial bigotry. For example, we could swear all we wanted, but the use of racial or ethnic slurs was utterly and always forbidden. As provincial as Miami seemed back in those days (my father often said that it had all the disadvantages of a big city and none of the advantages), the tension between the city's African-Americans and Cuban immigrants, and the riots in 1970 (during which our African-American housekeeper was harassed by the police), taught us that even a familiar landscape could turn violent and unpredictable in the fog of prejudice.

Whatever their faults (or ours), there was no shortage of "I love you's" from my parents when I was a child, nor is there one now; to this day, they're openly affectionate with all of us, and even my friends are greeted with a hug and a kiss. My parents were never cruel or punitive, and never physical in the ways they disciplined us; they simply made it known from our earliest days that they had high expectations for our behavior, and when we missed the bar, they brought us up short.

Nor did we ever want for anything material. My family was solidly in the middle class, and as time went on, our means increased. My father's law practice dealt primarily with real estate, land deals, and some personal/estate planning, all of which expanded as Miami itself did. When I was thirteen, my parents opened a small antiques and collectibles shop a five-minute trip from our house. It, too, thrived, and they began to collect and sell items from Europe, which in time meant two or three trips to France each year and a lot of time spent in New York City as well.

So there were never any concerns about having a nice place to live, or good food to eat, or missing our yearly family vacation. It was expected that we would attend college; it was a given that our parents would pay for it. They were loving, hardworking, comfortably ambitious (for themselves and for their children), and more often than not, kind. To borrow a phrase from the psychological literature, they were "good enough"-and they raised three decent children, no easy feat in that or any age. My brothers grew up into fine men; Warren is a trader on Wall Street, and Kevin is a civil engineer in Miami. Both are accomplished in their professions, with wives and children they love and who love them in return. And my own penchant for hard work and my drive to succeed is traceable directly, I know, to my parents.

In short, they gave me and taught me what I needed to make the most of my talents and strengths. And (although I couldn't have predicted or understood back then how vitally important this would be to my life) they gave me what I needed to survive.

* * *

When I was about eight, I suddenly needed to do things a little differently than my parents would have wished me to do them. I developed, for loss of a better word, a few little quirks. For instance, sometimes I couldn't leave my room unless my shoes were all lined up in my closet. Or beside my bed. Some nights, I couldn't shut off my bedroom light until the books on my shelves were organized just so. Sometimes, when washing my hands, I had to wash them a second time, then a third time. None of this got in the way of whatever it was I was supposed to be doing-I made it to school, I made it to meals, I went out to play. But it all required a certain preparation, a certain ... precaution. Because it was imperative that I do it. It simply was. And it taxed the patience of anybody who was standing outside the bedroom door or the bathroom door waiting for me. "Elyn, come on, we're going to be late!" Or "You're going to miss the bus!" Or "You were sent to bed forty minutes ago!"

"I know, I know," I replied, "but I just have to do this one more thing and then everything will all be OK."

Not long after the little quirks became part of my life, they were joined by nights filled with terror, which came in spite of all the precautionary organizing and straightening. Not every night, but often enough to make bedtime something I didn't welcome. The lights would go out and suddenly it was darker in my room then I could bear. It didn't matter (if I could just ignore the sound of my heart thudding) that I could hear my parents' voices down the hallway; it didn't help to remember that my dad was big and strong and brave and fearless. I knew there was someone just outside the window, just waiting for the right moment, when we were all sleeping, with no one left on guard. Will the man break in? What will he do? Will he kill us all?

After the first three or four nights of this, I finally drummed up whatever courage I had left and told my mother about it. "I think somebody has been outside my window," I said in a very small and shaky voice. "In the yard. Waiting for you and Daddy to go to sleep at night, so he can come in and get us. Or hurt us. You have to find somebody to make him go away. Do you think we should call a policeman?"

The expression on her face was so kind that it made it hard for me to look directly into her eyes. "Oh, buby"-her term of endearment for me-"there's nobody out there, there's nobody in the bushes. There's nobody who would hurt us. It's in your imagination. Hmmmm, maybe we shouldn't have so many stories before bed. Or maybe we're eating dinner too late, and it's your tummy playing tricks on your brain. Don't be silly now." As far as she was concerned, that was the end of it.

I tried to believe her, I really did. And I fessed up to my fear to my brother Warren when the two of us were at home alone, and we tried our best to reassure each other-together, we'd muster up our courage to go see if someone was indeed standing just outside the front door. And of course, no one ever was. But my feelings didn't go away, and for a long time, falling asleep felt like sliding into a place of helplessness. I fought it every night, my head under the blankets, until finally, sheer exhaustion and a tired growing body just took me under.

I am seven, or eight, standing in the cluttered living room of our comfortable house, looking out at the sunny day.

"Dad, can we go out to the cabana for a swim?"

He snaps at me, "I told you I have work to do, Elyn, and anyway it might rain. How many times do I have to tell you the same thing? Don't you ever listen?"

My heart sinks at the tone of his voice: I've disappointed him.

And then something odd happens. My awareness (of myself, of him, of the room, of the physical reality around and beyond us) instantly grows fuzzy. Or wobbly. I think I am dissolving. I feel-my mind feels-like a sand castle with all the sand sliding away in the receding surf. What's happening to me? This is scary, please let it be over! I think maybe if I stand very still and quiet, it will stop.

This experience is much harder, and weirder, to describe than extreme fear or terror. Most people know what it is like to be seriously afraid. If they haven't felt it themselves, they've at least seen a movie, or read a book, or talked to a frightened friend-they can at least imagine it. But explaining what I've come to call "disorganization" is a different challenge altogether. Consciousness gradually loses its coherence. One's center gives way. The center cannot hold. The "me" becomes a haze, and the solid center from which one experiences reality breaks up like a bad radio signal. There is no longer a sturdy vantage point from which to look out, take things in, assess what's happening. No core holds things together, providing the lens through which to see the world, to make judgments and comprehend risk. Random moments of time follow one another. Sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings don't go together. No organizing principle takes successive moments in time and puts them together in a coherent way from which sense can be made. And it's all taking place in slow motion.

Of course, my dad didn't notice what had happened, since it was all happening inside me. And as frightened as I was at that moment, I intuitively knew this was something I needed to hide from him, and from anyone else as well. That intuition-that there was a secret I had to keep-as well as the other masking skills that I learned to use to manage my disease, came to be central components of my experience of schizophrenia.

One early evening, when I was about ten, everyone else was out of the house for a while, and for some reason I can't recall now, I was there all alone, waiting for them to come home. One minute it was sunset; the next, it was dark outside. Where was everybody? They said they'd be back by now ... Suddenly, I was absolutely sure I heard someone breaking in. Actually, it wasn't so much a sound as a certainty, some kind of awareness. A threat.


Excerpted from THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD by Elyn R. Saks Copyright © 2007 by Elyn R. Saks. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Oliver Sacks

"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)

Leo Rangell

"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)

Andrew Solomon

"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)

Lissy Jarvik

"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, and distinguished physician emeritus, Department of Veterans Affairs)

Robert A. Burt

"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)

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Center Cannot Hold 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We have a family member with a mental illness and a close family friend with schizophrenia. Author Saks literally takes your hand and lets you 'feel' what it feels like to be schizophrenic - and live through a psychotic state. I wanted to know what it is like - and this is probably the closest you will ever get. Ms. Sakes deserves great credit for 'coming out of the closet' and taking us all one step further from the stigma of mental illness. She also deserves enormous credit for being a survivor of mental illness. She gives great hope to all of those who suffer from mental illness or have family members who do so. She is a true hero - and truly blessed to be surrounded by so many good people who did not flinch at her illness.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A fascinating, poignant, and uplifting true story about the struggles of an intelligent woman who suffers from schizophrenia, yet creates a fulfilling and satisfying life. Her detailed descriptions about what it's like to experience psychotic breaks are unforgettable. The book evokes compassion in the reader. It is plainly and superbly written. Her path to professional & personal happiness is deeply inspiring. A must-read for anyone interested in mental health issues.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book provides a compassionate insight into what it is like to suffer from schizophrenia. The book also shows that it is possible, albeit difficult, to live a relatively happy and productive life despite being a victim of that illness. The book is a very engaging book, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who suffers from or knows anyone who suffers from any form of mental illness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Elyn Saks shows, demontrates,and revievls through her writting the horror, struggles and victorys of her experience with Schizophrenia. Her story is a testimony of Victory to all of us that are challenged with a mental illnes or brain disorder and those who care about us.
Rossa_Forbes More than 1 year ago
If you read Robert Whitaker's new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, you will see that Elyn Saks' success, messy as it is, may be in large part because she continually refused to take the antipsychotics that were offered her. Whitaker's book extensively documents that long term use of psychiatric drugs leads to poorer outcomes. Psychiatrist Daniel Carlat says: "We often talk about neuro-transmitters like serotonin and noroepharin. But that really ends up being neurobabble. It sounds impressive to patients and it makes them think we know what we're doing when we're prescribing the medications. But we don't really know how these meds work." Side effects, said Carlat, can be serious or in some cases, unknown. "We don't know enough about the side effects to know how many people we're putting at risk." Elyn Saks' refusing to take medications became particularly problematic when she realized that she was in danger of sacrificing her reputation as an academic high flyer to paranoia. From this perspective, it is understandable that something had to be done, which she hadn't managed to accomplish up until then. When I read these first person narratives, I always ask what information is available now that wasn't available then or what did the person not do that might have helped? None of this guarantees, of course, that the outcome would have been any different. Elyn Saks did not explore vitamin therapy, for one. Vitamins in large doses such as vitamin B3 (niacin) act like drugs and there are no negative side effects. Energy medicine, which has also helped my son, was not widely known back then, and so there is no mention is this book of therapies that could correct an energy imbalance I have learned enough through my own investigations to see that certain factors were in her favor outside of just being female. One is that her family let her do her thing. It is sometimes said that the family has to be involved but not over-involved. This is what is called Expressed Emotion (EE). Patients with families exhibiting low EE are found to have better outcomes when it comes to schizophrenia. When I first was trying to find out some useful information about what to do for my son, I was intrigued to read that many doctors feel that people do best whose families don't seem to notice that their relative is ill. Elyn Sak's parents win top prize in that category, though it probably wasn't a deliberate strategy on their part. Once I caught on to this simple but elegant idea, I began practicing it with my son. It seems to work because it thrusts a certain responsibility on the person while they remain clueless about how really worried you are. They are less anxious this way. You will eventually be less anxious, too, by practicing low EE. Saks also points out the schizophrenic problem of over-attachment to parents. Early on, she told a therapist that she no longer wanted to see her (Karen) because her parents were upset that the therapist hadn't figured this out and come up with a plan, and that it cost them too much money to continue to see her. "It never occurred to me back then (and if it occurred to Karen, she didn't say so) that I was taking better care of my parents than I was of myself." I love this book for its insight and honesty, however if people would do well to question whether Saks might have put her demons to rest if she had broadened her therapeutic interventions.
Pennydart on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elyn Saks is a distinguished law professor at USC, where she holds an endowed chair; she is a published author who has studied psychoanalysis; she is someone with a husband and many dear friends; and she is a schizophrenic. ¿The Center Cannot Hold,¿ her 2007 autobiography, traces her fall into madness, and her slow climb out. Just as Temple Grandin¿s ¿Emergence¿ made it possible to begin to understand what it is really like to be autistic, and William Stryon¿s ¿Darkness Visible¿ did the same for serious depression, ¿The Center Cannot Hold¿ provides a remarkable account of what it is like to experience psychosis¿and what it is like to have the resilience to nonetheless create a successful, productive, happy life. Even as a child, Saks had experiences that may have presaged her later illness, most notably when she came to believe that the houses she passed on her walk to school were sending her messages. However, she made her way through high school, graduated from college, and then moved to Oxford with a Marshall Scholarship before experiencing her first psychotic break. Over the next two decades, she struggled to control her illness. She obtained significant help from psychoanalysis, despite the common belief that the talking cure does little for schizophrenia. She also benefitting enormously from antipsychotic medicine, although she repeatedly tried to wean herself from drugs, both because she was afraid of their side effects and because they clearly represented the diagnosis she did not want to accept. Each time, her illness returned with a vengeance, and she had to return to the drugs, which she finally realized were saving her life.Saks¿ book takes its title from a quotation from Yeats: ¿Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.¿ It¿s a fitting description of Saks¿ psychotic breaks, which are essentially, periods of mental anarchy. As she describes it: ¿Place yourself in the middle of the room. Turn on the stereo, the television, the beeping video game, and then invite into the room several small children with ice cream cones. Crank up the volume on each piece of electrical equipment, then take away the children¿s ice cream.Even more harrowing than Saks¿ psychoses, however, are the ways in which she¿s treated during her psychotic episodes. In contrast to the humane, dignity-preserving treatment she receives at a British hospital while she¿s at Oxford, what happens to her when she goes to the E.R. while at Yale Law School is horrifying. She¿s immediately put into restraints, which make her even more agitated and scared, and is force-fed medicine without her consent. It¿s the first of several such experiences, and it illustrates a particularly poignant problem for psychiatric patients: ¿The conundrum: Say what¿s on your mind and there¿ll be [negative] consequences; struggle to keep the delusions to yourself, and it¿s likely you won¿t get the help you need.¿Saks is determined to have a life despite her illness, and, she succeeds, against the odds. (She reports that only 20% of people with schizophrenia can be expected to live independently and to hold a job. ) As is probably always the case in any remarkable life, she is helped by remarkable people, including her beloved ¿Mrs. Jones,¿ her first psychoanalyst, with whom she develops an intense relationship, treating her almost as a mother figure; Steve Behnke, an extraordinarily close friend whom she meets in law school and on whom she relies on in many ways¿she notes that to the current day, they speak almost daily; and her husband Will, who completes her journey to a full life when he accepts her for who she is and marries her.Reading this book is both profoundly painful, and deeply uplifting.
Crowyhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this memoir to be truly impressive. There are many memoirs that detail the experience of depression and bipolar disorder. There are memoirs on alcoholism, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But there are very few that give the reader insight into what it is like to be schizophrenic. Elyn Saks is an accomplished woman: she graduated from Oxford and Yale, and is a tenured law professor. She has also struggled with schizophrenia since her late teens, and relates her experiences in such a way that the reader will never think of schizophrenia in the same way again. People tend to think of schizophrenics and dangerous, incoherent, low-functioning, "just plain crazy." Saks has been all of those things (although mainly she was a danger to herself), but only a small percentage of the time. Most of the time, she is at least as sane as the people around her, sometimes moreso. The prose here is mainly pretty workmanlike, but Saks does a good job of expressing what it feels like to be having psychotic thoughts and feelings, as well as the experience of being hospitalized and living with the stigma of mental illness. She is a big proponent of psychoanalysis, which is a form of talk therapy that I'm personally leery of, but she does make a good case for the effectiveness of talk therapy in conjunction with medication for those with thought disorders as well as mood disorders (for a very long time, it was thought that talk therapy was basically useless for those who have thought disorders like schizophrenia). Recommended.
hnbrown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderfully non-melodramatic account of living with schizophrenia. There are few accounts of living with psychosis, in part because those who are afflicted with it don't have the means to report back from that terrible land. Saks' keen intelligence, insights, and narrative gifts make this a moving and disturbing look at the life of the mind when that mind is intermittently delusional. Highly recommended.
pamdierickx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Amazing autobiography of a highly intelligent,woman who suceeded as an academic at University of Southern California school of law. She attained the highest honors of the school and attended many other universities and graduated. She became a wife, successful friend, married, all with a diagnisos of schizophrenia.
goofgirl93004 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks is a riveting tale of schizophrenia that is at once nightmarish and inspiring. Alternating between lucidity and delusions, Saks struggles against her illness to complete her education and become a working member of society. Her description of the halucinations, delusions, and madness she experiences gives the reader a rare first person account of what it is like to suffer from schizophrenia. Meanwhile she details her lifelong battle with the need for medication and the vicious circle experienced by so many with schizophrenia: they take medication to feel better, they feel better so they stop taking medication, they lose touch with reality and need to be medicated, and so on. Saks successfully, although frustratingly, navigates through these pitfalls to ultimately succeed in a relationship and her career. The memoir is well written. While she champions for rights for those with mental illness, she raises the bar of functionality and shows us through the story of her strength, determination, and finally acceptance of her illness, that success in life is possible for the mentally ill. I felt completely immursed in her story and found it a difficult book to put down until the end. Anyone with friends or family who are affected by schizophrenia should read this book. It will deepen your understanding of their struggle and give you hope that things can change. Those readers who simply have an interest in mental illness, stories of struggle and inspiration, or just an interesting story would find this book a good read.
4cebwu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to say my opinion about and causal use of the word crazy has changed a lot since i read "The Center Cannot Hold". I have to say I was conflicted about the ethics of Dr. Saks on more than one occasion as she describes her journey through madness. I have great empathy for the folks without her intellect and resources who were not able to work the system both inside and outside like Dr. Saks and I have to wonder if she could have done the same things sooner had she been forced into treatment?On the one hand it was quite remarkable reading what she was thinking during her psychotic breaks. I argued against her advocating for 'patients rights' to refuse hospitalization and medication, but one the other hand shouldn't a patient the right to refuse treatment. We seem to be having this debate on so many levels. I for one am for the right to die, so how can I be against the right to refuse treatment? This book raises several philosophical discussions and my hope is that we do have the debate because there are a lot of lives at stake.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A pretty amazing book by a very very smart lawyer who somehow manages to practice, teach psychiatry, and remember what it feels like and the actual words she uses when she relapses.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
We've seen the schizophrenics on the street corner screaming at cars or arguing with the voices in their head. Elyn Saks is schizophrenic, and after a forced admittance to a hospital connected with Yale University where she was attending law school, she was pretty much assured by psychiatrists that she would be that person. Her parents had some pretty definite shortcomings, but they instilled in her the will and ability to fight and they gave her a strong sense of morality. She fought for herself, for her future and for other people who are ground down by a system that wants to make sure they don't leave the box of their psychiatric diagnosis. She also fought for years against taking the medication that allows her to live the very productive life that she does. Lawyer, advocate, psychoanalyst - with the help of both talk therapy and medical therapy she has managed to make a great success of her life in spite of her body which has betrayed her in many ways. I recommend this book to anyone who want to know more about mental illness and its treatment or about how to live a life of consequence in a demanding world.
campingmomma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So while it was a pretty intense book, it was less scientific or technical than An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. Saks seemed to have the same perfect career (ultimately) as Jamison. Saks was much more into isolation and that is it what I sympathized with. Though she worked hard during her schooling I don't know how she did it. I already feel like I have a sticker on my head some days announcing my bipolar. I can't imagine what it would be like if I verbalized or acted it out as Saks did, unwilling.It is definately a book worth reading regardless of your diagnosis (or lack there of). She makes it very relatable and not so technical like Jamison. Please don't think, by the way that I didn't enjoy An Unquiet Mind equally as much. Honestly, I looked for some hint of a ghost writter in Saks book the two books were written from such different perspectives.
kristinbell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(5 stars) The Center Cannot Hold is a remarkable memoir about an amazing woman who lives with schizophrenia. The author, Elyn Saks, describes her years with schizophrenia and how she eventually managed to control most of her symptoms through medication and therapy. Not only is she healthy, she has also accomplished a great deal. She finished law school and is now a professor in California, not to mention being an author of several books! She also has an active social life which is somewhat rare for people with schizophrenia. Above all else, I think this book gives people with schizophrenia and their loved ones hope that things can improve. Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to manage their symptoms as well as Professor Saks, but hope is still hope, and in the world of schizophrenia we will take that kind of inspiration wherever it comes from! I found the book to be highly engaging--a real page-turner for sure. I also had other family members read the book and they thoroughly enjoyed it as well. For people who know nothing about mental illness and schizophrenia in particular, they may be blown away by this book. For people who deal with schizophrenia in their home or work lives, they will surely be blown away. This book is really worth your time and money. One of the best books I've read in ages! I hope you'll love it as I do.
kageeh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An amazing woman has written an eye-opening book!No review is going to do justice to this incredible book by Elyn Saks, an academic dean, tenured law school and medical school professor, psychoanalysis student, and, not incidentally, a raving (at times of stress or change) schizophrenic. For readers who assume schizophrenics live out their lives, if we can really call their bare existences lives, shackled literally by physical restraints or zombie-d by antipsychotic drugs, always perched to incite violence against themselves or others, or slinking along building walls muttering about being god and killing people with their thoughts, this is a must-read book unlike any other in the field.More amazing than the author's current positions in the academic and psychiatric world, the author has had "florid" schizophrenia starting when she was about 8 years old, although it didn't fully appear until she was studying at Oxford U. on a Marshall scholarship. She got her BA at Vanderbilt, graduating valedictorian, and after Oxford, got her law degree at Yale. This is no mediocre woman! Her vivid and precise descriptions of her hallucinations and psychotic breaks are like nothing I have ever read before. Her incredible ability to cover up "the voices" and disorganized thoughts to enable her to progress through life more successfully than most "normal" people, is unmatched, although change and stress will still make her rave like a maniac. It takes Ms. Saks almost 20 years of failures and forced hospital commitments to finally realize she needs to take medication for her entire life. But, unlike most people with schizophrenia one is likely to meet or read about, she was helped tremendously by psychoanalysis and talk therapy, treatments that have long been thought useless with such patients.I have never before encountered such a book nor such a person as Elyn Saks. She leads an amazing and courageous life and has published numerous academic treatises about the forced institutionalization, restraint, and medication of the mentally ill. I know there is a lot more to come from this astonishing mind.
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As someone who has lived with a child with mental illness I can understand the pain and stigma associated with any kind of mental illness. Professor Saks is obviously beyond brilliant yet writes in a way that we can understand. She brings her struggles to life throughout this candid book and makes me want to meet her to say thank you for your vulnerability and honesty.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brilliant book which truly opens one's eyes to the realities of people who live with schizophrenia. Amazing descriptions of schizophrenic episodes paired with a beyond inspiring story of success through determination, support, and of course a couple trips off the beaten path.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book helps give insight into a debilitating disorder, fears associated with the consequences of being labeled, as well as the difficulty in finding appropriate help. Additionally, this book expresses the way "treatments" are processed by a patient. It was also interesting to read about differences in the treatment of mental illness here, versus in the UK. Her story gives hope to those who have been given a label that comes with a terrible prognosis. Thank you, Elyn Saks, for sharing your story.
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