Elyn Saks’ “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness”

Synopsis: At the age of 8, Elyn  became obsessive over details, and began experiencing horrible nightmares.  She would walk home from school, having the houses on her left talk to her.  Tell her to do things.  She fought them for a while, but eventually told her mother.  Her family, and doctors, passed over it citing “an active imagination” but the truth was, Elyn was terrified and sick.

It wasn’t until she reached Oxford University that she began having episodes.  Incoherent ramblings to herself, and friends.  “We’ve got to case the joint. I don’t believe in joints. But they hold your body together.”

Saks’ episodes ranged from ramblings, to suicidal tendencies, to believing she was God.  Sometimes she was evil resurrected, and everyone was going to die.  Saks’ was never a violent person, these are just things she would say to people.

Things escalated until they could no longer be ignored, when Saks was found singing atop the Yale Law School.  She was taken to the ER, tied down, and was force-fed antipsychotics.  Later, she would be moved to a psychiatric ward where she was again tied up (only for short periods) but did have to remain for 5 months.

Saks describes her troubling, never-ending war with her delusions of reality, constant paranoia and living a life with schizophrenia.

Outlook: Saks’ introduction to her disease plays an important role.  Obviously, it sets up the dynamic for the rest of the book, but from an educational point of view – we see how young schizophrenia really begins.  Schizophrenia is also a deteriorative disease, which Saks talks about.  Similar to the mathematician John Nash (A Beautiful Mind), without treatment things only escalate.

Nash, became ill in the 50’s.  Possibly the worst time to be a schizophrenic as the treatment was in its infancy, and largely Freudian.  Without proper diagnosis, Nash eventually did start to hallucinate.

Saks did not get to this stage, at least, not at this time.  Throughout her novel she toys with the idea that she is not ill at all, as one could imagine.  Through trial and error, she learns some painful truths.

Saks knowledge of her time fighting back the demons is staggeringly accurate.  Although not funny, the things that come out of her mouth were so unique I couldn’t help but laugh aloud.  Not at her expense of course, just at the sheer lunacy of the sentences.

Saks tells her story exactly as she remembers it, and you get every nitty-gritty detail.

“The Center Cannot Hold” does have some slow points, in my opinion.  But the over all read is fascinating as we, the reader, get a first person perspective deep into the broken mind of a schizophrenic.

When my analyst said he was going to close his practice, I fell apart.  Again.  Thankfully, a concerned friend flew out to see me.  What he found was a human being living in complete disarray.  I hadn’t eaten or bathed in over a week, and sauntered around as a withered skeleton. – Elyn Saks

If any form of psychology is the least bit fascinating to you, or your simply curious about Elyn’s life, this is a great read.

From the Wiki: Elyn Saks is an Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioural Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School, an expert in mental health law and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship winner.

Featured image courtesy of the University of Southern California


The Amazon Fairy

A little bird brought me some new bookage!  I’m in the process of reviewing all of my past reads (well, most) so here are 5 new ones that will be coming to A3 over the next couple months.

I’m excited to start Brain On Fire, as I know most of us WP readers have thought it was intriguing.  Its also a continuation from my psychology phase (I have 2 psych. reviews scheduled for next week).

What are you reading this week?

Brain On Fire —

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty! Water: for Health, for Living, for Life —

Asthma, allergies, arthritis, hypertension, depression, headaches, diabetes, obesity, and MS. These are just some of the conditions and diseases that are caused by persistent dehydration. But there is a miracle solution that is readily available, all natural, and free: water.

My Stroke of Insight —

Jill Taylor was a 37-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist when a blood vessel exploded in her brain. Through the eyes of a curious scientist, she watched her mind deteriorate whereby she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Because of her understanding of the brain, her respect for the cells in her body, and an amazing mother, Jill completely recovered. In My Stroke of Insight, she shares her recommendations for recovery and the insight she gained into the unique functions of the two halves of her brain. When she lost the skills of her left brain, her consciousness shifted away from normal reality where she felt “at one with the universe.” Taylor helps others not only rebuild their brains from trauma, but helps those of us with normal brains better understand how we can consciously influence the neural circuitry underlying what we think, how we feel and how we react to life’s circumstances.

Outliers —

In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?

His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladamir Putin —

The Man Without a Face is the chilling account of how a low- level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress and made his country once more a threat to her own people and to the world.

Handpicked as a successor by the “family” surrounding an ailing and increasingly unpopular Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin seemed like a perfect choice for the oligarchy to shape according to its own designs. Suddenly the boy who had stood in the shadows, dreaming of ruling the world, was a public figure, and his popularity soared. Russia and an infatuated West were determined to see the progressive leader of their dreams, even as he seized control of media, sent political rivals and critics into exile or to the grave, and smashed the country’s fragile electoral system, concentrating power in the hands of his cronies.

Beyond the Bright Lights

April 29 1954,

I come to this bridge every night at 0200.  My insomnia is still rampant and ongoing.  Ever since you left, it has escalated.

I stand under the bright lights, staring into the black river below.  The moon illuminates my landing zone.  I want to jump.

I can’t seem to gain closure; you’re always on my mind.  After being gone for so long, you waited.  The only thing that kept me alive, was you.  Writing in my journal to you was the only comfort I had in that hole they put me in.

Closing my eyes put me into your arms.

You would hold me close, comforting my wounds.

You would hold me tight, and drive away my ghosts.

A soft breeze comes by every morning after I arrive.  Shortly after my thoughts begin to override my common sense.

Tonight, the wind is different.  The wind is warm.  Scented wind?

I remember your perfume like it never left my nose.  When the bright lights flickered, I finally let go.

Thinking of you,


via Daily Prompt: Perfume

The Man from Beyond

For days we had been running.

Through an endless void of darkness, we ran.  The trees looked like sky scrapers.  There was no moon, no sun, no day light.  This perpetual darkness was our new home.  Where we were, I did not know.  How we got here, I couldn’t remember.

We had been running for 5 cycles. How long a cycle was, we didn’t know.  We tried to base it as close to Earth time as possible, but with no sun, moon, or stars, we couldn’t verify exactly how long it had been.

Every 46 minutes, a being would appear.  Humanoid in stature, elongated and slender.  Standing 7 to 8 feet tall, dressed all in black, and the only visible facial feature was a luminous set of white eyes.

When he appeared, there was a thundering reverberation.  A blast wave knocked you down.  Much like a small sonic boom.  It’s as if his appearance teared rips through space.

Some would cower.  Some would close their eyes.  Some would scatter.

The ones who scattered survived, the ones who fell were left to this “slender man”.

I always looked back to see which ones finally gave in.  Which ones were too exhausted to continue.  Every time it blinked, the trees blinked too.  Vibrant, blinding flashes of light.  Sound resonated from the trees, like electricity striking the ground.  In perfect synchronicity with the tall beings eye lid flicker.

*Vrmph… vrmph vrmph vrmph*

Quick, consecutive “shocks” combined with light rendered the victim helpless.  Now blind and deaf, what could one do but collapse to its will.

Was it communicating? Reading minds? Killing them? – I didn’t want to know.

Nearing day 6, the flashes grew brighter and more frequent.  Forty six minutes came and went as if they were 5.  Something was happening.

My legs were like jello, I hadn’t eaten anything except “mud cakes” (take some mud, mash it in your hand until flat, and run with it till it dries into a cake) for 3 days.

We had to stop, this couldn’t go on.  My friend Jimmy found a small cave, hidden between two trees.  Isolated.

We could wait here, maybe it would pass us by, give up hope and move on. Too tired to think more, I collapsed.

Jimmy awoke first, poking his head from the small, claustrophobic door.

“Jacobs… Jacobs let’s go.”

I was so out of it, I didn’t respond.  My body felt numb.  I was nauseated and beyond fatigued.

“Let’s go!” Jimmy said, kicking me ferociously in the ribs.

I shot awake, grabbing him by his collar, pulling him into my field of vision.

I began blinking rapidly, the trees illuminated with light and the sound of thunder, synced perfectly to my blinks.

The cave shook violently, spilling dirt onto Jimmy’s saturated face.

He pulled him from the cave like a rag doll, and I went to find more of us.

via Daily Prompt: Knackered

The Beast

My mother always tucked me in at night. A soothing comfort for a child feeling long-lost.

The warmth from a candle on my night stand aided in melting away tomorrows fears.

Tonight’s fears, were a different … beast.

Lone branches rapped on my window. The added tapping only bringing more fear to the forefront of my mind. But I had a secret weapon.

The Beast came when mother left the room. I could hear him breathing, his putrid breath and heavy scent lingered above me. Barbed fingers would touch my legs – but I never screamed; it fed on fear.

I pulled my blanket taught over my face and body. No monster with razor-sharp claws could break this impenetrable cotton weave!

“1, 2, 3, you have nothing on me.” I sung over and over.

Curling up in my blanket always kept me safe from the unknown entity piercing through the night. A cold Beast with a heart of stone. If only mother would come back into the room, she could save me. If only the candle was still lit, it would save me. If Ra would rise, he could save me.

Even though The Beast seemed to know my name, I sung my song. With my song sung aloud, I remained strong.

Fighting back only aggravates The Beast.  I lay still, singing my song.  He would soon be gone.

via Daily Prompt: Blanket

Santino’s with a Bed of Roses

Every morning I arrive at Santino’s with a smile on my face, ready to work.  

It’s only been 12 weeks since I inherited the restaurant from my late father, and things are running smoothly.  A large lunch crowd keeps us on our toes, while the dinner rush is more like organized chaos.  Santino’s has been in my family for generations, and as a dedicated Italian I am delighted to be a part of it.  My father would be proud.

Mother always teased me, “who knew that little Lorenzo Santino would actually do something with his life.”

After repairing the store front with proper glass (damn vandals) I changed our logo and font.  I also painted the door red.  One pane of glass has our name, and open for the lunch.  The other, mirrors the same but open for dinner.  “We have to let the locals know our hours, because if we piss them off we’re done.” I always told my staff.

Today, the lunchtime rush never came.  Odd, for a Sunday.  I had to send a busboy home. Only Shannon, my head waitress remained.  I played maitre d’.

Mikey had collected his belongings and was on his way out the new, shimmering red door.

“Mikey, heard anything? Where is everyone? Only a few tourists today?” I asked.

“Sunday boss, don’t know.  Maybe church still? Pastor Greg loves to ramble,” he replied, walking out the door.

Discouraged, I cleaned up.  One bad day in the restaurant business is often a sign of things to come.

“It’s only one day, Shannon, we’ll manage – can you stay for dinner? I’ll pay you over time.” I asked her, looking bleak.

“Of course, I need the money.  Matthew can look after the kids tonight,” she said.

We set everything up for dinner.  The square tables were offset to diamond shape. I placed the chairs neatly along each table, forming the perfect ninety degree angle.  My crushed white table clothes were immaculate.  Crystal polished bright, only the best at my restaurant.

Our in-house band had arrived early to set up, seemed the night was going to go smoothly.

As we opened for dinner, a large, daunting figure was waiting by the door.  He didn’t acknowledge my presence.  To him, I was invisible.  He signalled to the car across the street, and that’s when I saw him.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Shannon! Shannon!” I boomed. “Don Giovanni is here, look sharp!” – I stood tall, straining to look confident.

Giovanni was a slender man, but he could still command a room.  With his towering menace of a guard, they were a nightmarish duo.  The man in black pulled The Don’s seat for him, while I fumbled with the menu.  Giovanni simply grabbed it, ignoring me entirely.

We served Giovanni all night, well past 1:00AM, he was having a great time with his associates, and who was I to tell a syndicate boss to leave my lowly restaurant.

As I sat up from my chair to get another bottle of wine for my guests, a glint in the night caught my eye.  As I turned around, I saw the glistening onyx of a custom Thompson.  Several feet from the door, standing there in all black, was Satan himself.  In the flesh.  Scars replaced facial features.  A true monster of the night.

“Come lo sapeva? eri tu!” (“How did he know? It was you!”) Giovanni cried out.

Antonio “Six Guns” Esposito launched an endless barrage, spraying wildly into the restaurant.  All I could hear was screaming.  I shut my eyes, holding my head.  I fell behind the bar, glass exploding as if detonated by TNT.  The brand new window-pane crashed loudly to the ground with the force of orchestral cymbals.  

A nonstop hail of lead tore the shop the pieces.

Crunching over the glass, sombrely walking towards the men, Esposito reviewed his operation.  As I stood up, the sound of pistol shots rang out.  Esposito disappeared into abyss from which he came, and then I saw her…

Shannon was nearly cut in half.  Her satin white dress, now apple red.  Her body lay softly in a bed of roses.  That’s how I chose to remember it.  Her porcelain white face, brimming with light.  She still looked beautiful.  Exquisite.

“And these are the events as you remember them?” Lieutenant Freedman asked.

“Yes, everything.” I said.

Freedman stood up, and casually removed his sidearm…