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Speaking to My Madness: How I Searched for Myself in Schizophrenia Paperback – October 16, 2013
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About the Author
Roberta Payne has studied at some of the nation's top universities, earning a BA in classics from Stanford, an MA in Italian from UCLA, an MA in romance languages from Harvard, and a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Denver -- but it is from her personal life that she's gained the knowledge most pertinent to her recent memoir, Speaking to My Madness: How I Searched for Myself in Schizophrenia. While experiencing alcoholism, schizophrenia, and cancer, Payne sustained a peripatetic career teaching college English, Latin, and Italian, and this brings unique perspective to her book. Payne makes her home in Denver, Colorado, where she serves on the board of directors of the Mental Health Center of Denver. Her published work includes literary translations from Italian, short stories, and articles on schizophrenia. Her "outsider art," or the art of the mentally ill, has appeared on the cover of the mental health journal Schizophrenia Bulletin. Retired, she teaches Latin and Greek privately.
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In this memoir, Dr. Roberta Payne celebrates the “newfound delights” of her brain. After struggling with the sheer terror of her descent into madness, masked in part by self-medication with alcohol, and the strain of demanding graduate studies and teaching jobs while desperately trying to find a way our of the trap of “this endless illness,” she can finally give a name to the secret she had carried alone for years. The knowledge of her correct diagnosis, unfortunately (but not atypically) delayed by years, provided a framework to explain what had previously been unexplainable - the psychotic symptoms and inability to think clearly that had plagued her for so long. Most of all, it gave her, her family, and her friends a vocabulary for “schizophrenia,” and it opened the door to treatments that provided substantial relief. Initially, this relief came with a tradeoff - relief of terrifying psychotic symptoms and self-hatred in exchange for having her “brain clogged like glue.” Eventually, she was put on clozaril, which was instrumental in allowing Dr. Payne to reclaim her brain and her life.
It is a testimony to Dr. Payne’s resilience that she is able to tell her story with such courage and self-exposure. This in itself is a triumph over paranoia that demands respect. It is refreshing to read how unusually gifted clinicians were able to help her feel a sense of control over, and insight into, her most frightening psychotic symptoms by talking about them with someone who was not terrorized by them. Those who dismiss the importance of relationships in the lives of individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia have much to learn here. Those who equate schizophrenia with blunted affect fail to appreciate the depth of the connection to people who are loved and the depth of the loss that comes with rejection or death.
This memoir is the culmination of many years of reflection and introspection about the author’s experiences with a terrible disease. It is a symbol of her own journey through recovery, made possible in part by remembering, and through remembering, learning to love and forgive both herself and others. There is nothing redeeming about schizophrenia. This book makes it abundantly clear that platitudes like “psychosis is a deeply enriching experience” are both patronizing and misguided. Yet this book also makes it abundantly clear there is plenty of reason to treasure those who struggle with this terrible illness and to rejoice in their commonality with everyone else. In this richly textured account, it is clear that Dr. Payne has made for herself a life well-lived.