The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks is an astonishing work of art with vivid description of what it is like to be a person with schizophrenia. The topic is, for obvious reasons, very dear to my heart and I wholeheartedly recommend the book to those who still fear mental patients for their unpredictable psychotic behaviour. Many times, it is us who are the ones with the shorter end of the stick, experiencing the illness, discrimination from other, healthy people, or downright abusive behaviour at the mental hospitals. Ones who suffer from any kind of mental illness will find this book like a breath of a fresh air. Even though it is popular nowadays to have these topics talked about in modern literature, the authors who haven’t got the slightest idea of how it is to be treated for a mental illness will try to incorporate a very poetic, life changing story that carries some romanticised and profound meaning hidden behind the illness itself. I don’t ascribe to such grandiose ideas. However, as Saks puts it, there is a different kind of meaning behind the madness. It’s the same with philosophy, both of them seem incomprehensible at first, however there is a rule, only known to the person who is experiencing it. One needs to find it in order to understand it.
To be completely honest, the last thought often pops into my mind even now. How much of my psychotic behaviour was consisting of metaphors, delusions, tropes that continue to haunt me to this day. There is, hovewer, not a single profound meaning of life I gathered from my experiences. I am simply ill, and much of my time was wasted being treated, oftentimes wrongly, for my illness.
Just like Mrs. Saks who herself was a victim of bad handling of her psychotic states, being tied and in constraints, I saw the mistreatment that goes on at mental wards. Students of medicine poking fun of their cases, a demented old lady or a schizoaffective patient who was deep in her delusions. The nurses turning blind eye to caged patients, treating them very much like animals in the zoo. Refusal to let the patients gain some knowledge about how their treatment is going and what they are actually being treated for. The help which we needed was in the end returned to us in form of ridicule or complete ignorance.
But Mrs. Saks doesn’t stop there. She openly admits to her unhealthy relationship with her therapist, who she was obsessed with, to her refusal to take meds and living a productive, and one could even venture to say with outstanding accomplishments (which I very much aspire to) like completing defgrees at Oxford University and Yale Law School among others. Her life is nothing short of the beauty, ups and lows, hard work, anything that other, healthy people experience.
This was overall the best book that came through my hands in 2016. I read it voraciously and without stopping, seeing that somebody finally validated my own experiences and shined a light on a not so pleasant part of mental health institutions. It is admirable that Mrs. Saks lives her life without medication and even though I know this is a personal choice for every patient, I wish there was more freedom in terms of medicating people with drugs most of the time doctors have very little knowledge of their effect on us. The brain is such a peculiar and delicate instrument and there are many studies that show that medicating will have a long term effects on us, not to mention becoming addicted to some of the chemicals.
In the end, I recommend this book to any one of my followers of people who are interested in reads about mental health, those who wish to see the reality of it and who aren’t afraid of putting down their rose coloured glasses in order to understand us, the patients, a little bit better.