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The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness Paperback – August 12, 2008


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The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness + An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness + Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; Reprint edition (August 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401309445
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401309442
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (296 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this engrossing memoir, Saks, a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Southern California, 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

At eight years old, Saks began suffering hallucinations and obsessive fears of being attacked. An adolescent experimentation with drugs provoked her parents to enroll her in a drug treatment program. But Saks' incredible self-control masked the fact that she was suffering from a debilitating mental illness. By the time she entered graduate school at Oxford University, her symptoms were so severe—including full-blown psychotic episodes and suicidal fantasies—that she was hospitalized. Through Oxford, law school at Yale, and a move to Los Angeles to work in the law school of the University of California, Saks struggled mightily to balance her ambitions with her illness, which was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenia. Never wanting to concede to her mental illness, Saks founds calm and comfort in a rigorous work routine. An analyst characterized her as having three lives: as Elyn, as Professor Saks, and as the Lady of the Charts mental patient. As Saks battled to get off medication and leave behind the Lady of the Charts, she fought for the rights of mental patients, and came to terms with her own limitations. Bush, Vanessa
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Elyn R. Saks is the Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Law School and a research clinical associate at the Los Angeles Psychiatric Society and Institute. She is the author of Jekyll on Trial: Multiple Personality Disorder and Criminal Law and Interpreting Interpretation: The Limits of Hermeneutic Psychoanalysis.

Customer Reviews

I thank Elyn for sharing her life story with the world.
D. Chapman
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand mental illness.
Azlaurie
When I started to read this book, I couldn't put it down.
Catherine Griffith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

239 of 249 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In "The Second Coming," Yeats writes: "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." From this evocative poem comes the title of this searing "journey through madness," by the brilliant and courageous Elyn Saks. The author had an idyllic childhood in a loving and prosperous Miami home. However, when she was eight, she began to experience intense compulsions, night terrors, and most frightening of all, a feeling that her mind "was like a sand castle with all the sand sliding away." "Sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings [didn't] go together." When she was twelve, she stopped eating properly and lost an alarming amount of weight. Elyn feared that something was terribly wrong with her, and she did her utmost to hide her condition from her friends and family.

When she was a teenager, Saks experimented briefly with drugs, and this brought on more unpleasant symptoms. Things deteriorated further when she entered Vanderbilt University, where "schizophrenia [rolled] in like a slow fog," and she began to neglect her personal hygiene, forgetting to bathe and change her clothes. As a college freshman, she miraculously earned top grades while she struggled to keep her hallucinations at bay. Her "illness was beginning to poke through the shell" that helped her separate fantasy from reality. As long as the shell was intact, she could fool the world. When the shell broke down, so did she.

In "The Center Cannot Hold," Saks describes a see-saw existence in which she excelled at her studies while trying to keep her mental illness from disabling her.
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111 of 118 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Schonbek on September 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What's the "that" referenced above? The answer is provided in the previous sentences, "Over and over, I replayed the previous five years, trying frantically every single moment to keep the demons in my head from invading the plane and savaging the other passengers. From time to time, I considered asking the flight attendant whether she would mind if I jumped out the emergency door".

This is a book about living with schizophrenia, and it is a great book, remarkable in many respects.

Elyn Saks, endowed professor at USC's Gould School of Law, has written a gripping memoir of a life spent grappling with and eventually coming to terms with this disease.

Here's her description of what she was up against, "Schizophrenia rolls in like a slow fog, becoming imperceptively thicker as time goes on. At first, the day is bright enough, the sky is clear, the sunlight warms your shoulders. But soon, you notice a haze beginning to gather around you, and the air feels not quite so warm. After a while, the sun is a dim light bulb behind a heavy cloth. The horizon has vanished into a grey mist, and you feel a thick dampness in your lungs as you stand, cold and wet, in the afternoon dark."

Or said another way, "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".

The juxtaposition of the uncanny on the mundane is stark and arresting.
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104 of 115 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on August 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Elyn R. Saks is an accomplished USC professor of law and psychology. She is working on her PhD in psychiatry, has dual appointments in academia, graduated with honors from Yale Law School, and was a Marshall scholar at Oxford. The publication of her memoir of a life with schizophrenia and acute psychosis marks the first time that her colleagues in the professional world will know of her diagnosis. For decades, Saks lived as a mental patient (the Woman of the Charts), as a shy woman with a small circle of close friends, and as a high-achieving academic who protected her psychological privacy at all costs. Upon learning that she was writing a memoir, friends wondered if Elyn would be reduced to "that schizophrenic with a job" when her story hit the bookshelves.

Saks will never be "that schizophrenic with a job," and she has made a fantastic contribution for the psychiatry community, for patients suffering from social stigma, for anyone who interacts with those who have a diagnosed psychological disorder, and for fans of memoirs. Saks writes candidly about the workings of her mind, which made her such a success in philosophy, law, and psychology, but which also crippled her with delusions and hallucinations. She had a formative experience at a 1970's drug rehab camp (after a minor indiscretion with marijuana) which taught her that drugs were bad and any obstacle could be overcome with sheer force of will. For a schizophrenic, of course, medicine is an absolute necessity, and the disorder can not be overcome with will. Nevertheless, Saks spent decades trying to do just that, fighting her doctor's prescriptions at every turn, secretly reducing her dosages, until finally settling into her career in California with a low dosage of modern medicine and on-going talk therapy.
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