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

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

  1. cwhiteweb says:

    Wow!! I’d definitely love to read this one. Psychology fascinates me. After A Beau Mind, I came accross another biography, The Essential John Nash. Breathtaking ! I’ll have to keep my eyes out for this one.
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joanne says:

    I’m thinking this might be a good book for my daughter. She is finishing her freshman year of college – studying towards a psychology degree. She might like this book. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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