The Collected Schizophrenias
Powerful, affecting essays on mental illness, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and a Whiting Award
An intimate, moving book written with the immediacy and directness of one who still struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness, The Collected Schizophrenias cuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esmé Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the “collected schizophrenias” but to those who wish to understand it as well. Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life. In essays that range from using fashion to present as high-functioning to the depths of a rare form of psychosis, and from the failures of the higher education system and the dangers of institutionalization to the complexity of compounding factors such as PTSD and Lyme disease, Wang’s analytical eye, honed as a former lab researcher at Stanford, allows her to balance research with personal narrative. An essay collection of undeniable power, The Collected Schizophrenias dispels misconceptions and provides insight into a condition long misunderstood.
In this penetrating and revelatory exploration, novelist Wang (The Border of Paradise) shows how having a bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder has permeated her life. Stating that "my brain has been one of my most valuable assets since childhood," she writes with blunt honesty about striving to be seen as "high functioning," aware that "the brilliant facade of a good face and a good outfit" drastically affects how she is perceived. She explains her decision not to have children, while recalling time spent working at a camp for bipolar children, and muses about viewing her condition as a manifestation of "supernatural ability" rather than a hindrance. Wang invariably describes her symptoms and experiences with remarkable candor and clarity, as when she narrates a soul-crushing stay in a Louisiana mental hospital and the alarming onset of a delusion in which "the thought settles over me, fine and gray as soot, that I am dead." She also tackles societal biases and misconceptions about mental health issues, criticizing involuntary commitment laws as cruel. Throughout these essays, Wang trains a dispassionate eye onto her personal narrative, creating a clinical remove that allows for the neurotypical reader's greater comprehension of a thorny and oft-misunderstood topic.)