Center Cannot Hold, The

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Elyn R. Saks is an esteemed professor, lawyer, and psychiatrist and is the Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Law School, yet she has suffered from schizophrenia for most of her life, and still has ongoing major episodes of the illness. The Center Cannot Hold is the eloquent, moving story of Elyn's life, from the first time that she heard voices speaking to her as a young teenager, to attempted suicides in college, through learning to live on her own as an adult in an often terrifying world. Saks discusses frankly the paranoia, the inability to tell imaginary fears from real ones, the voices in her head telling her to kill herself (and to harm others); as well the incredibly difficult obstacles she overcame to become a highly respected professional. This beautifully written memoir is destined to become a classic in its genre.

Customer Reviews:

  • The Center Cannot Hold
    Most incredible psychological story I have ever read. A must read for a better understanding of what can go on and wrong with the human brain. ...more info
  • Cannot Put It Down
    This book is quite possibly the most clear-cut account of any mental illness, from the inside out. In psychology classes, no one can ever completely explain what schizophrenia is like, other than 'chaos in ones mind'. Saks completely diminishes the stereotypical crazy woman who is hearing voices and tearing out her hair. Not only does it give a sense of understanding of the illness, but also a real person, not just the homeless man on the street that we can forget about as soon as we drive by. This is a book that will stay with you and make you think twice before making any snap judgements of anyone, but especially the mentally ill. It is an easy, compelling read, to everyone, not just those with ties to the mental health community....more info
  • Caution!
    First of all, she seems like a remarkably brilliant, hardworking and resilient person with not only personal accomplishments, but also with significant contributions to the legal and mental health fields. It is great to hear success stories of people with severe difficulties. Having said that, I think that memoirs of this kind needs to be read with caution as it present subjective, anecdotal, case examples of an individual, in this case a person with exceptional abilities and resources that are desirable, but rare among the mentally ill population that are dependent on social security disability benefits and are not able to afford years of almost daily psychoanalysis. Who would disagree that it is inhumane to restrain another human being, or that it is better to respect pt's autonomy about taking medications? But these need resources, for example, patients without restraints, particularly when they are unstable as the author was, need one on one supervision to secure their safety, which means hospital staffing. Also think about all the possible lawsuits (in our society) that health care providers have to worry in case something happens to patients or staff? Think about the duration of hospital stay if pts do not take medications and the health care costs? How about the public and media that blame doctors when the patients leave hospital because of their legal rights and then kill somebody? (remember the new york commuter that was pushed down and killed in subway by a paranoid mental patient? NBC aired very skewed and biased reports on one of their news shows) I am by no means justifying these reasons, however, it is the reality affecting the quality of mental healthcare. This book presents valuable, yet only limited fragments of the mental health issues. My caution is--if this book interested you, then do not stop, but keep reading other books on mental health in order to get comprehensive understanding of the lives of the people with mental illnesses. (for example, "Crazy" by Pete Earley) I gave only 2 stars because after reading many memoirs about mental illness, I expected this one to be more intellectual and sophisticated by a prefessor, but found the writing disappointingly simple and unremarkable....more info
  • Simply an astonishing book
    It is impossible to overpraise this book, which is the only book I know of that takes you deep into the torments of the schizophrenic mind. What's astonishing about it is simply that Elyn Saks wrote it...and wrote it so engagingly and compelling. It staggers the imagination that she has achieved what she has given the colossal difficulties presented by her illness. There have been lots of books, as Saks points out near the end of hers, about mental illness, especially by mentally ill patients, but most of these have been by depressives and bipolar patients. These are mood disorders, but schizophrenia, as she so powerfully shows us, is a thought disorder which impairs the cognitive abilities of the brain and which substitutes a delusional world for the "reality" most of us experience. Damn I hope more and more people read this so that we might better understand the dark recesses of madness that threaten to engulf those afflicted with this terrible illness. This book is one for the ages. It belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the capabilities of the human mind....more info
  • wonderful read
    I could not put this book down. I was enthralled throughout.

    Being a retired cop, I've done my share of committing mentally ill people into Psych facilities. I was not real aware of what happened after I dropped people off, however. According to this book, that all depends on the institution - which is as unfair as getting 10 years prison time in Michigan when the same criminal offense would have gotten less than a year county time in California. I sure wish the USA could get its act together and treat people equally and fairly throughout the country.

    I have much more to say but it would give the book away.

    As Saks readily admits, she was "lucky" because she had and has no many advocates in her corner, not to mention a brilliant mind. She has certainly opened up mine....more info
  • A woman worth admiring... not a writer worth emulating
    My mother suffered from psychosis (most likely schizophrenia), so
    I read about it with interest, particularly when a sufferer shares the
    experience from the inside out. Prof. Saks' academic accomplishments
    in the face of her illness are truly astounding. I know how hard it is
    to get into Yale/Harvard/Stanford Law
    Schools - to get into all three is quite a feat.
    Yet I agree with another 3 star reviewer
    that somehow the book feels a bit repetitive
    and fails to give me as much insight
    into Prof. Saks' mind as I had hoped.
    I also agree with the reviewer who indicates
    the writing is somewhat tedious (for example
    the book is full of parentheticals that seem unnecessary.) I am puzzled that a woman with so much education and such a powerful intellect
    is not a more engaging writer.
    That said, the book is worth reading if
    the subject interests you. My hat is
    off to the professor for what she has
    done and continues to do....more info
  • Altered States
    I found it hilarious in the midst of a memoir about living with schizophrenia we switch to another book entirely (Big Russ and Me) for about 31 pages. A great joke, but it does feed into the misconception that schizophrenics are multiple personalities. ;-)

    Yes, I have contacted the publisher and I think they may be aware of their production problems as they have a dedicated link for defective books.

    I am not reviewing the text of this book as I don't have anything constructive to add to the pile....more info
  • I enjoyed it
    I enjoyed this book and I recommend it. I feel as if I had been taken on an educational and emotional journey through Elyn's life. At times it was frightening, at other times it was inspiring. Sometimes I found myself becoming irritated, when Elyn attempted over and over again to stop taking the medicine and would immediately plummet into the depth of schizophrenia. I wanted her to give up her arrogant and stubborn conviction that she didn't need help. But when I pondered it further, I could understand her reasoning behind the relentless insistence to give up the meds. We all wish to believe that no illness defines us, and no one wants to feel at the mercy of outside intervention. But sometimes "surrendering" is the true victory. I personally, am not a fan of allopathic medicine, but this book opened my eyes to its potential in certain cases. It can literally give new life to people who would otherwise be at complete mercy of their psychotic afflictions. And of course, coming from an affluent background, she had more treatment options available to her, which others do not have. Elyn is a brave woman who achieved a full, rewarding life despite her illness (but also thanks to her wealthy family). I know many people who give up when confronted with much, much smaller challenges in life.
    There were some unanswered questions which I wish the author addressed more in depth. For example, the relationship with her parents. Why did they not wish to be by her side when she was planning a wedding or when she was diagnosed with cancer?? I would like to hear the story from their perspective. I also wanted to know more of what became of her psychoanalytical career. Did she become a psychoanalyst? What was it like for her and her patients? Obviously she cannot discuss personal things about her clients, but I was left wondering what that part of her life was like. Towards the end, she just skimmed over certain aspects of her life without elaborating further. Yet other aspects were repetitive. But over all, this is a pretty good book. ...more info
  • Exceptional read!!
    One of the best of all the books I have read over the 15 years my son has been struggling to find his place in a society that refuses to care for his needs. It gave me tremendous insight into his struggles, and I am now reading Sak's third book, "Refusing Care." I have suggested "Center Cannot Hold" to the local chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, so that families can borrow the book, read it, and gain their own "insight" into the details our loved ones are unable to tell us about. It certainly will help me to change the way I interact with my son, as I learn to let go of my fears for him and encourage him to make his own choices in dealing with such a devastating brain disorder.

    ...more info
  • An emotionally moving and inspirational book
    I was so moved by Dr. Saks story, I couldn't put this book down. She is so brave to write her life's story and risk so much. Despite all her challenges, she is extremely accomplished as well as hopeful, courageous, honest, resilient, sensitive and generous. She exposes the mental health system in this country and compares it to England's. Every word in the book is meaningful. Dr Saks tells the story in a clear, precise, and simple to understand way. I found Elyn an inspirational role model. I have recommended this book to many relatives and friends. I even bought it as a gift for close relatives. I hope one day to meet her....more info
  • Remarkable, Courageous, Well-Written
    You don't have to be a Psych major to appreciate this book, nor do you need a lot of technical vocabulary--this is entirely accessible to all literate readers. Most importantly, it is accessible as a mind-opening story about what it is to "grow up crazy." As the author makes clear, most people who suffer from psychosis do not have stories with happy endings; the brutality and frequent insensitivity of the treatment she underwent and saw inflicted upon others, is reason enough to read this book.

    I cannot praise Ms. Saks enough for her willingness to write this story. It will help many people, and open at least a few minds formerly closed to the possibility that "the mentally ill" are persons with value who deserve respect and compassion. ...more info
  • "I want my life back."
    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. Over the years, she saw various therapists (some of whom were insensitive and even cruel, others warm and protective), was institutionalized and physically restrained repeatedly, and reluctantly tried different psychotropic medications, some of which had debilitating side effects. If her life were a bar graph, it would look like a series of peaks followed by precipitous drops. Any stress or sudden change would send her into a severe tailspin, and for a long time, she believed that her delusional behavior resulted from her weakness and worthlessness.

    Saks is an eloquent writer who allows the reader to share her most personal and painful secrets; how difficult it must have been to reveal so much of herself after years of presenting a fa?ade of normalcy to the world. This is an engrossing and poignant account of psychotic breaks, hospitalizations, and regressions, as well as of social, academic, and professional achievements. A less determined individual might have avoided challenging herself, but Saks was a serious scholar who studied philosophy, psychology, and law in such prestigious schools as Oxford and Yale. She also formed and maintained close friendships and sought a man who could love and accept her. Slowly, she climbed her rock-strewn path, suffering many distressing setbacks, but ultimately prevailing.

    The author insists that the mentally ill are not inherently different from any of us. Schizophrenia favors no intellectual or social class; it can strike anyone. Saks has worked for years advocating for men and women with psychological illnesses, and she wrote this brutally honest book partly to make a public statement that no one suffering from any disorder, mental or physical, should be stigmatized. Saks sheds light on the ways in which schizophrenia afflicts young men and women, robbing them of everything that they need to take their place in society: an education, normal relationships, and a profession. Unfortunately, most schizophrenics do not have Elyn Saks's intellectual, emotional, and financial resources, nor do they have her strong support system. However, with ongoing research and more effective drug treatments being devised every year, there is hope that this heartening success story will someday be the norm, not the exception.
    ...more info
  • Just as promised
    The book arrived in a reasonable amount of time, in good condition just as promised....more info
  • Insightful Read
    This is a must read for anyone interested in mental illness. It takes you deep into the world of schizophrenia and the demons that they deal with on a regular basis. It will inspire those who suffer with the illness to attain high levels of professional and personal happiness....more info
  • It leavs you with a deeper understanding
    We often associate mental disorders with people who cannot function in life. Getting this insight from a person who is not only very intelligent but able to live a productive life provides the reader with a new outlook and understanding of this disruptive disorder. In addition it is well written and keeps your attention from beginning to end.
    ...more info
  • Coming out of the Closet
    Ms Saks has written a very important book that demonstrates that people with schizophrenia can achieve a great deal in life with proper treatment and support. The problem is that she and others like her are in a minority. In her address to the American Psychological Association in 2007, she told the story of how a colleague at the University of Southern California had said that they would not have gone to dinner with her had they known she was schizophrenic.

    This is an attitude that is all too common in society not only from those not trained in medicine but from medical personnel as well. The stigma on the part of those who should know better and that I discuss in my own book Schizophrenia: Medicine's Mystery - Society's Shameis shameful. Because of that attitude, young people who may be exhibiting early signs of schizophrenia and psychosis are often ignored either out of ignorance or fear of labeling them with a stigmatizing illness.

    With early identification and treatment, far more people who now wind up homeless on the streets or in jails could achieve more. Ms Saks has demonstrated what is possible. Now, we must work to ensure that there are more success stories and fewer people with this terrible disease homeless, in jail, and not leading fulfilling lives.

    Marvin Ross, author of Schizophrenia: Medicine's Mystery - Society's Shame ...more info
  • Amazing book
    This is an amazing book which gives us a glimpse into the mind of a person with schizophrenia. It also reveals that a diagnosis of schizophrnia is not a death sentence, you can do many things. ...more info
  • Something is missing here.
    What everyone who reviews this book and Ms. Saks herself untterly fails to realize is the devastating affect that her two years with "Operation ReEntry" had on her emotional and psychological development. Spawned from Synanon, a destructive and cruel cult that borrowed its methods from Korean war era mind-control and brainwashing techniques, it had her brainwashed into believing that she needed to have her spirit broken down and "rebuilt" although she never makes clear in what way it was beneficial for her to have spent two years being yelled at, made to scrub the stairs with a toothbrush, cut off from normal teenage activities, separated from her peers and turned over to a group of controlling drug addicts. Nor how her spirit was supposedly rebuilt nor to whose specifications. Lots of people have done far more drugs that Ms. Saks did and are fine. But when your parents abandon you to a cult that turns sanity, reality and common sense on its head then makes you believe you are crazy if you challange it, truth gets twisted into such a Gordian knot that sometimes insanity is the only escape. The lady seriously needs to reexamine that time in her life to understand the damage that was done by her post-traumatic reaction to her semi-incarceration. I'm not saying that she would not have schizophrenia anyway. But the massively profitable "behavioral" programs that Synanon spawned have been the cause of much post-traumatic stress and suicide, not to mention the kids who died in the "programs" as a result of abuse and neglect. Although I admire her and her accomplishments there is a big piece of the puzzle missing here. I hope Ms. Saks will do a rigorous re-examination of this time in her life and write about it....more info
  • Good personal account of schizophrenia
    This was a great story of one womans struggle with coming to terms with mental illness and trying to maintain her life. It was both encouraging that she was able to finally overcome the illness to create a successful career and personal life, and at the same time discouraging that it took her over 15 years of struggle and denial to do so. ...more info
  • the center CAN hold
    I struggled through this book. Surely Elyn would quit having so many psychotic symptoms; surely her meds would stop her symptoms; certainly she would realize that seeing an analyst was not helping with her symptoms. About two-thirds of the way through, I put it down thinking I would return it to its owner.

    However, a month later when I read some positive book reviews, I picked it back up hoping to read that she was free of psychotic symptoms. Instead, she continues to live inside her illness and hold onto her symptoms.

    As a person with a psychotic disorder, I know that recovery from these painful symptoms is possible. And it isn't just the meds that help one recover. The fundamental change in how I perceived and reacted to my world came from changing my thinking.

    Recovery is personal to everyone and obviously Elyn's idea of recovery is to continue living with her horrible symptoms and maintain the capacity to live a productive life. For me, I choose to find alternative ways to heal that include positive expectations for myself and the world around me.

    Elyn, the center CAN hold; the center DOES hold. It's all we have.

    If you are a family member of a person with a psychotic disorder and you want your loved one to suffer the rest of their life, then send them to a psychoanalyst. If you truly want happiness, freedom, independence and all the wonderful things life has to offer for your family member, then read Jill Bolte Taylor's, My Stroke of Insight. "Peace is just a thought away."
    ...more info
  • "Center " Takes Us Inside the Mind Having Schizophrenia
    "The Center Cannot Hold" by Elyn Saks, is well written by a brilliant woman, herself a mental health comsumer. As a bonus, it is easy to read. I highly recommend it.
    My son has Schizophrenia and this book helped me to understand a lot of what he experiences but cannot or will not express to others. I immediately passed the book on to other parents whose child has this illness, to expend their understanding of what he lives with.
    No, our loved persons with mental illness are not lazy, nor to they deliberately ignore us nor our requests of them. They are heroes for getting through the day. Their every day struggle with Schizophrenia is unbelievable. The side effects of meds often make waking up a major accomplishment.
    The author shares in detail her experiences. She tells of the alternate approach to treatment she experienced in Great Britain, having been offered choices, to medicate or not, to be hospitalized or not. Throughout her life, she has engaged in ongoing psycho therapy.
    In this country treatments are forced on the person which in many cases, diminishing his/her personhood, even it we think it is for his own good. She talks us through choices, meds or not, therapy or not.
    Elyn Saks is the exception, ...more info
  • The Center Can't Hold
    Schizophrenia will impair the mind to where a person cannot process information clearly. Elyn has pretigous degrees from prominent universities. I think she has done this through her cultural backgound while finding therapists that built a rapport to where she can seperate a world of hallucination and delusion to root into a life of success based on reality. Her memoirs where detailed enough to keep the reader in constant struggle for her sanity. She actully demonstates real auditory halluciantion and how they are countered. She does share with the reader the onset and how this can happen to anyone. I think it is the best book about closet material that most people never realized about recovery and potential for someone living with Schizophrenia....more info
  • Could not put this book down
    This is the best book that I've read in many years. I was totally swept up into Elyn's life and I felt great empathy for her. What a marvelously talented, strong and brave woman. My older daughter has struggled for many years with clinical depression (unipolar disorder) and I really admire the courage of anyone who is willing to reveal their personal struggle with severe mental illness....more info
  • A Deeply Moving Memoir of Schizophrenia
    Reviewed by Deb Gross
    on 07/13/2008

    Elyn Saks attended Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar, graduated Yale Law School, and is now a chaired professor of law at the University of Southern California. Saks also suffers from schizophrenia. THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD is a deeply moving story of Saks's struggle to live a full life while dealing with the trials of a chronic mental illness.

    Saks employs evocative prose throughout her memoir to bring the reader into her state of mind when the disease breaks through her defenses. Her description of the onset of her symptoms at the age of eight resonates: "I think I am dissolving. I feel - my mind feels - like a sand castle with all the sand sliding away in the receding surf."

    A recurring theme in THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD is the author's love-hate relationship with the medication that keeps her functional but leaves her less than her "authentic self". She also does an outstanding job of laying out the prejudices those with mental illness face, particularly when seeking treatment for physical ailments.

    THE CENTER CAN NOT HOLD is an inspiring story of a woman who fought the demons of her mind and the prejudices of society to achieve great personal and professional success.

    4.5 Books...more info
  • Other Than That, It Was An Uneventful Flight

    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. Saks writes, "Completely delusional, I still understood essential aspects of how the world worked. For example I was getting my schoolwork done, and I vaguely understood the rule that in a social setting, even with the people I most trusted, I could not ramble on about my psychotic thoughts. To talk about killing children, or burning whole worlds, or being able to destroy cities with my mind was not part of polite conversation".

    In the end this tenacious woman overcomes and is able to lead a full and successful life. However, she remains aware of a razor's edge that just won't go away, "My brain was the instrument of my success and my pride, but it also carried all the tools for my destruction".

    Highly recommended....more info
  • Brilliant, Beautiful, The Best!
    Thank you Elyn Saks for sharing private information that allows us to better understand mental illness and the potential for those diagnosed to live happy, productive lives. "The Center Cannot Hold" is the best personal acoount of mental illness I've ever read. Combine this with Kate McLaughlin's parental perspective, "Mommy I'm Still in Here", and you see the situation clearly from all angles.Mommy I'm Still in Here: Raising Children with Bipolar Disorder ...more info
  • The Center Cannot Hold
    This is possibly the most interesting book I have read.
    It is not for everyone, though. Excellent insights into
    the world of depression. Read it....more info
  • thoughts
    I appreciate those who found this book so helpful. I heard Saks on PBS and immediately pre-ordered it and read it when it arrived. I think one's reaction is bound to be personal and maybe I'm influenced by a coolness towards autobiography in general. I got a lot more insight in a lot less time from the hour long radio interview. There's a lot of bio and repetition here along with the schizophrenia insight.

    I happen to have three friends who are paranoid schizophrenics. One lives on a dope farm in a shack in Hawaii, no meds. (Well, one maybe.) He's 67. Best friend in grade and high school. Highest IQ up till then our school district. The second lives in assisted living. She lived in our house for two years after being orphaned at age 19. Constant relapses, struggles with it. Lots of insight, the most normal of the three. Not easy for her. She's 34. The third is homeless, attends our Quaker meeting and helps me out with odd jobs at home and work. 43 years old, a little insight, not much... almost dysfunctional, dirty and spooky to most people. No meds. No doctors. Practically cut off from the world. Still workin' on him, prognosis uncertain.

    I read this book in order to try to gain a little extra empathy with them, perhaps some clues on how to deal with them more effectively. By which I DON'T mean try to get them to be more like us. That, as we who know the mentally ill know, is very difficult. I do think the personal experiences of Saks did help me a bit here. Cost benefit, there are better books. I think a book like Torrey's 'Surviving Schizophrenia' is a better bet for those who want a general overview of the disease. More info per paragraph. This book is more voyeuristic.

    One thing I've learned through my experiences is that these people are just as individual as anybody else. Most people - good and kind people as well - react only to the disease because it's so in your face. But schizophrenics are real individual people with a specific problem. Like being in a wheelchair but a hell of a lot worse. You've got to get past the affect to find the person, but it's not easy. Knowing a few has allowed me maybe to box off the disease more easily.

    Perhaps that's the problem for me, this book is as much about Saks as it is about the disease. I thought the writing was tedious also. It's clear however she didn't get any gimmes along the way as one might cynically suspect. Her accomplishments are objectively top notch. Yale Law is impossible to get into, for instance, and she was 99% in the Law Boards. These aren't handouts! Throughout the book she's very ambivalent about her parents' "just do it" philosophy but it sure seems to have worked in her case.

    ...more info
  • Fantastic autobiography
    This is a fantastic autobiography, a first-person perspective on what it was like to deal with mental illness. Saks describes her ordeal, including both doctors who understood her condition and genuinely helped, as well as those who victimized her. Although the situation has improved, as far as mental hospitals and medications available (at least around here), this is still a must-read for anyone dealing with psychosis, either personally or in their family....more info
  • I could not put the book down!
    I was completely enthralled by her book. I was horrified on one page,laughing on another and in tears on another. I was extremely impressed with the 'human component' the academic style, and the sensitivity with which the story is approached. An opening quote in the book, "For the activity of the mind is life" - Aristotle. The metaphysics sets the pace for this story. I will never forget this story....more info
  • Straightforward account of an often obscured subject
    I recommend this book to anyone who would like to understand mental illness, anyone whose loved ones battle mental illness, and to all those who suppose that they already understand. It was a revealing, honest and tender account of the reality.
    ...more info
  • Praise and a critical review
    The Center Cannot Hold is a look into the experiences of a woman with schizophrenia as she struggles to rise out of the grasp of the beast. First the praise: the book is an easy read, engaging even if a bit redundant as the author relates her repetitive gains and slips.

    Now for the criticism: I have a Masters in counseling and I work with the chronically mentally ill, mostly schizophrenics. I read this book in the hopes that I would find some "kernels" I could use within the pages. Elyn did give me a twist on my perspective, although I cannot say I found anything I could particularly "use" with my clients. The most glaring point in this book that is vastly different from the "every day schizophrenic" or even most people with a mental illness/disorder of any kind whatsoever is this: Elyn comes from a place of privilege that is not enjoyed by most people with mental illness, and this changes her perspective and her ability to make progress in a fundamental way.

    Allow me to explain: when I was first interviewing for my position the clinical director told me the people in the facility were "the worst of the worst". I was shocked at his words, but I have come to understand what he meant by that. He did not mean that they were horrible people, but that they may represent the part of the schizophrenic population that would be hardest to reach. My clients are people who have been institutionalized most of their lives. Some of them have scary criminal pasts including acts of murder and rape. Most of them are from the state hospital, and the rest are people who have been "saved" by our illustrious justice system. Many of them have long histories of drugs, abuse in childhood, and brain damage from both along with their mental illness and criminal pasts. Most of them have little education, no family support, and the ones who were not institutionalized spent a good many years surviving as homeless people.

    As I read Elyn's book I could not help but come to believe that in comparison to the people I work with, she really had it "easy", not that dealing with mental illness is EVER easy. Maybe to say she was "lucky" would be a better way to express it, and her book shows her privilege on every page. She had family support (when she finally let them in), she came from a well to do family, had many friends, never clouded her mind with drugs (at least the book does not mention anything besides the legal ones she took for her disorder). Elyn had a prestigious education abroad and then more in the U.S., access to the best medicine available and was given every opportunity possible.

    The point I am getting to is that while I fully believe in "recovery", I urge everyone reading this book to understand that recovery is a relative term. As a recent pop song states - "Where its at usually depends on where you start..." Please read this book with a grain of salt, and know that most people with this affliction and others begin their journey into mental illness from a far different place than our heroine Elyn.

    I give this book a "B". ...more info
  • Looking outside from within; a book of courage.
    When this gem crossed my hands, I thought I'd give it to someone who might need it. (Her brother sometimes laughs out loud and few dare to ask what's he's thinking.) But, I decided to read it first. And I'm glad I did. Most who don't know schizophrenia by it's first name should probably introduce themselves. Because I'm sure there have been many previous meetings ...

    ... Elyn Saks does for schizophrenics what Temple Grandin does for autistics. She demystifies what happens inside the mind and puts a human face to what most people judge as eccentric, erratic or irrepairably crazy. The writing is sometimes stilted and perhaps repetitive. There's a lot of detail. And, it's intense. But, her words remind that we're all human ... and that understanding mental illness can greatly bridge gaps in how we live, love and communicate. Elyn is the friend, lover, neighbor or coworker that we've all known.

    While this book of courage may give comfort and solace, I think it's best read by those who--out of fear--believe that it's easier to look the other way or simply pretend that schizophrenia doesn't exist or, worse yet, robs all life and personality from the person we "knew before."
    ...more info
  • The Center Cannot Hold;: My Journey Through Madness
    This is an amazing account of an intelligent woman who will not let one of the most devastating mental illnesses, schizophrenia, beat her. Her courage and honesty are amazing. What she has achieved is beyond what "normal" people can imagine. She has done so much for those with mental illness and their families by her brave account, not just in showing how it can be managed but the failures of understanding in the medical community....more info
  • Stark Raving Mad About This Book
    The Center Cannot Hold was such a fascinating self-reported story of a schizophrenic who stubbornly refused to give in, I think it will become a classic in the field of psychological/psychiatric literature as well as biographical literature in general. The gutsiness of the author in dealing with this debiliatating problem should inspire professionals who deal with those so afflicted as well as the afflcited themselves who might be able to comprehend the courageousness of Ms. Saks. ...more info
  • A Classic Book on Schizophrenia
    The Center Cannot Hold may be the best source of first hand information about the experience of having schizophrenia that has ever been published. Despite having florid psychosis at many times, and for prolonged periods, through the luck of the nature of the genetic endowment she has, excellent and varied therapists and friends, and finally optimal pharmacotherapy, she has been able to have a brilliant career in law and also write this book. In it you will find poignant and insightful descriptions of the development of her illness in childhood and adolescence and how she was able to perservere to achieve success in academic studies, work and personal life that few people without mental illness ever attain. The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness...more info
  • Relationship and "madness"
    I heard Elyn Saks interviewed on Public radio when this book came out. At the time I was working in residential treatment with a boy who been hospitalized for six months prior with ongoing suicide attempts and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The literature said "cognitive, psychoeducation'....we were all afraid. The first time he tried to run in panic, we came around him and told him how much we liked him. We argued with his self destructive thoughts, we surrounded him, we learned to joke with him, reassure him, enjoy his humor, teach him not to trust his mind at all times. Teach him that people who don't have schizophrenia should not trust their mind and perceptions all the time. Teach him that we need each other and that sometimes we are loved when everything looks so dark we can't imagine why.

    Thank you so much Elyn for writing this book! Next time I have to talk to the linear bean counters at the insurance company, I will remember that I do this work because I believe that relationship, combined with skills, education and often medication, is the center that holds....more info
  • the centre cannot hold
    Elyn, the author, lives with her condition, and her views have great validity....enhanced by her wisdom....more info
  • Wow!
    When I was a Medical Student, I met patients with variety of psychiatric disorders. This book has given me perspective that I didn't get then. I am really glad I read this book.

    I wish the author had made the book even more personal with family pictures or pictures from her childhood....more info
  • The Centre Cannot Hold
    Brilliant. Beautifully written. As a mother of a very clever son diagnosed with schizophrenia I devoured this book. Elyn gave me more insight and understanding into what my son deals with than a whole scope of dry journals. After 8 long years, starting when he was 13 yrs old, he finally figured that, yes, he needed to take medication daily if he was to function in this world.
    Tough ride, you people. So strong, special and brave. Thanks Elyn for showing us your world.
    ...more info
  • A fascinating look at the schizophrenics among us
    Ms. Saks uses poignant analogies and metaphors to really drive home what it feels like to be mentally ill. She is obviously a tireless advocate for those among us who are unable to represent themselves, or defend themselves in some cases. It was scary, but identifiable in a way. She did come off as a bit self-centered and childish in some instances, like when she would describe how she would run home and hide and cry and have a psychotic break if a professor or colleague didn't do back flips over how great her work was. But overall it was a good read....more info
  • Fascinating!
    Fascinating look inside the brain of a person with mental illness occurring before the advent of new medications which can help many. Her courage and persistance are amazing! ...more info
  • Brave insight from a courageous lady
    I have a sister who suffers from schizophrenia. She, however, thinks she is fine and is waiting for 'Jesus to heal her'. I have read everything I can find on schizophrenia, online and in books. This book was SO helpful, giving me insight into what it's like to live with this brain disorder. I got it from the library, then ordered my own copy and one for my mother. I also urged other family members to read it.

    This is a brave account of one woman's struggle to live with schizophrenia. Elyn reminds me of my sister, both are intelligent, both unwilling to admit the need for meds. Hoping that as we all read this impossible-to-put-down book, we will glean some hints to help our sister. Thank you, Elyn....more info
  • An amazing woman has written an eye-opening book
    No review is going to do justice to this incredible book by Elyn Saks, an academic dean, tenured law school and medical school professor, psychoanalysis student, and, not incidentally, a raving (at times of stress or change) schizophrenic. For readers who assume schizophrenics live out their lives, if we can really call their bare existences lives, shackled literally by physical restraints or zombie-d by antipsychotic drugs, always perched to incite violence against themselves or others, or slinking along building walls muttering about being god and killing people with their thoughts, this is a must-read book unlike any other in the field.

    More amazing than the author's current positions in the academic and psychiatric world, the author has had "florid" schizophrenia starting when she was about 8 years old, although it didn't fully appear until she was studying at Oxford U. on a Marshall scholarship. She got her BA at Vanderbilt, graduating valedictorian, and after Oxford, got her law degree at Yale. This is no mediocre woman! Her vivid and precise descriptions of her hallucinations and psychotic breaks are like nothing I have ever read before. Her incredible ability to cover up "the voices" and disorganized thoughts to enable her to progress through life more successfully than most "normal" people, is unmatched, although change and stress will still make her rave like a maniac. It takes Ms. Saks almost 20 years of failures and forced hospital commitments to finally realize she needs to take medication for her entire life. But, unlike most people with schizophrenia one is likely to meet or read about, she was helped tremendously by psychoanalysis and talk therapy, treatments that have long been thought useless with such patients.

    I have never before encountered such a book nor such a person as Elyn Saks. She leads an amazing and courageous life and has published numerous academic treatises about the forced institutionalization, restraint, and medication of the mentally ill. I know there is a lot more to come from this astonishing mind....more info
  • Remarkable
    What a remarkable woman this Elyn Saks. Her battle with her illness will open your eyes. I couldn't put the book down.
    If anyone wants to understand Schizophrenia, then this is the book to read.
    She gives her detailed account of her illness and how she sees the world and the thought's going through her mind and then how she triumps over her illness to find happiness.
    ...more info
  • Great NPR interview, disappointing book
    Like one of the reviewers below, I ordered this book because of the great interview with Saks on NPR. I too was disappointed with the book. Not everyone has the gift of writing (one of the reasons Kaye Jamison's book is so brilliant and stands out as a mental illness memoir is because of her incredible writing talent) and Saks' book suffers from pedantic writing and an unwillingness or inability to give the readers a sense of her true self, despite much laborious recounting of her psychotic breaks, her frustrating refusal to take and/or stay on medication, and her innumerable recounting of her academic honors. For all of Saks' psychoanalysis and talk therapy, she seems singularly unable to chart the course of her struggle with her illness in an emotional way--instead, she seems like an observer to her own life, and remains a stranger throughout. One result is that I ended up with many questions, about her disease (again, by way of comparison, Jamison's book is terrific on its information on bipolar), why she is able to battle it so successfully while others were not, what the heck was going on with her parents and how they could have possibly missed what was happening to her, and how she now views her frustrating rejection of medicine for so many years. I give the book three stars because of Saks' coming out of the mental illness closet (although I wonder if, like Will, more people around her figured out what was going on than she's aware; academics are notoriously and wonderfully tolerant of "eccentrics"), but as a book on schizophrenia, I have to give it 2 stars. ...more info
  • should be required reading for mental health professionals
    You can't help but be impressed at the guts a person has to have to put this book out when in the middle of a professional teaching career. Her descriptions of her own experience with psychosis are so helpful that this book should be required reading for anyone in the helping profession...including psychiatrists. It is very hard to imagine how someone can be so highly functioning academically and yet so low functioning that she doesn't bathe or eat, which may seem to some to be impossible or unbelievable. I found it to be quite believable in light of her constant struggle with accepting her illness as real. In some ways she can use her accomplishments to deny the severity of her illness (as some of these reviews seem to do). The act of writing the book is like a synthesis of the two identities (the scholar vs the mental patient) and it's really amazing to have a narrative front row view to this type of metamorphosis. The book is like a very public declaration of acceptance and must have been incredibly difficult to do. There's a conventional belief that having a mental illness represents some sort of 'weakness' which is, in part, why so many people have trouble talking about it. But what the author shows here is the total opposite- it takes strength beyond words to be able to cope with a lifelong illness and still not give up. ...more info
  • Compelling, Gripping
    This is my new favorite schizophrenia memoir. I'll review it on its literary merits first. The book starts out slowly, but the tension builds and doesn't let up. The characters are sharply drawn; she dramatizes scenes with lucid detail. Her constant agony about taking meds and being defined as a mental patient propels the book forward.

    Elyn's point is not that anybody with schizophrenia can do what she did; her story is hers alone and does make for a powerful read. The conflict rises until the end, and the book is so compelling I read it straight through in four days.

    Bless you, Elyn Saks, for telling your story! It gives hope to every person struggling with this misunderstood condition.

    I urge everyone to read the book before judging what happened to her. Elyn Saks has a severe form of the illness, yet has accomplished so much. To me it is self-evident that some people with schizophrenia can do what she did, not all of us can, but those who want to try to find work or go to school should risk it with the proper supports in place like Elyn had and a good neuroleptic regimen.

    The bottom line is, The Center Cannot Hold, holds up as a work of great literature, apart from being a mental health memoir.

    It is a book that, despite the author's trials, was a joy and pleasure to read. I gave this book a 5 because it's beautifully written, and more than that, it's IQ--"inspiration quotient"--warrants a 5.

    ...more info
  • An Amazing Story
    This is a phenomenal book that reveals the challenges and difficulties faced by a young woman with schizophrenia. Despite her poor prognosis, she makes it through law school, becomes a law professor, advances to research dean, and also shares an appointment with a psychoanalysis center. Elyn Saks has written extensively on mandatory restraints and medication for persons with mental illness, and now addresses these issues openly and frankly in detailing her own life story. This book goes far in helping to dispel stereotypes about persons with severe mental illness as helpless, undeserving, or violent. Instead, Elyn makes a strong case that persons with schizophrenia can be high functioning, which is a very welcome alternative to presentations in other media such as movies and TV. This is a must-read for persons who have, or with family members who have, mental illness. It also is important as a contribution to women's autobiography, because Elyn Saks did not allow others to define her life and give in to dire prognostications. Even with schizophrenia, she is a successful and independent woman. Because of her resilient spirit, she is also able to find romantic love and establish interconnection with her husband, Will. ...more info
  • "The Little Engine that Could"
    This book gets my vote for Book of the Year.

    Saks is an acclaimed professor of law and psychiatry. She also struggles with severe symptoms of schizophrenia. She risked her reputation in academia in order to give hope to others like herself, and to counter the negative stereotypes about mental illness held by both the general public and mental health professionals:

    "I wanted to dispel the myths ... that people with a significant thought disorder cannot live independently, cannot work at challenging jobs, cannot have true friendships, cannot be in meaningful, sexually satisfying love relationships, cannot lead lives of intellectual, spiritual, or emotional richness."

    The topic is inherently compelling, and Saks masterfully describes what it is like to be tormented by inner demons, to be forcibly restrained on a hospital bed, to require medications that alter one's mental state and can cause horrific, irreversible side effects. She articulately describes her years of talk therapy, in which she came to understand the functional underpinnings of her psychotic thoughts, for example in warding off feelings that would have been consciously threatening.

    I enjoyed her dry humor in highlighting the condescension and absurdities of the mental health system. In one case she reviewed during a legal internship, the patient was restrained because he refused to get out of bed. In another case, a young man was deemed delusional because he continually spoke with "imaginary lawyers" - who turned out to be none other than Saks and her colleague.

    For years, in order to excel, Saks had to lead a double life. Swirling around her, constantly threatening, was the stigma of mental illness. While writing an academic paper on restraints, she asked a professor, "Wouldn't you agree that being restrained is incredibly degrading, not to mention painful and frightening?" With a kind and knowing look, the professor responded: "These people are different from you and me. It doesn't affect them the way it would affect us."

    This book is especially important reading for mental health professionals in the United States, where medication reigns supreme (it has become practically taboo to recommend psychotherapy for severe psychosis, despite ongoing research establishing its efficacy) and coercion often trumps choice. Saks contrasts her experiences of being hospitalized both in the United States and in England, where restraints have not been in widespread use for more than 200 years. In doing so, she gives us a deeper appreciation of the trauma induced by coercive and sometimes brutal treatment.

    "The Little Engine that Could" is what her close friend Steve Behnke calls her, referring to her indomitable spirit even in the face of hospital clinicians' dire predictions about her future.

    I highly recommend this courageous and brilliant memoir.
    ...more info
  • Elyn Saks
    Professor Elyn Saks is featured this week, August 27, 2007's edition of People Magazine, page 123. After reading this article, I am anxious to learn more and read this much talked about memoir. ...more info
  • the center cannot hold:my journey through madness
    This was a excellent book. It gave me a better understanding of mental illness and good look at our doctors and hospitals. I would highly recommend this to consumers, family and friends. ...more info
  • An Amazing, Thoughtful Book
    The Center Cannot Hold is probably one of the most amazing books every written. Why? Because it was written by Elyn Saks who is schizophrenic. To say that this highly educated, highly spirited woman has jumped hurdles to get where she is today, is to say nothing at all. For, her battles have been frequent, frightening and huge. I've worked with schizophrenics. They are, for the most part, the heart breakers of the world of mental illness. Often highly intelligent, young, their roads to success are set out in front of them - until the first symptoms begin. Then,thrust upon them for no reason other than a bad mix of brain chemicals, comes the frightening world of delusions and hallucinations. Medications work, then they don't, then when they do, the side effects are disabling. They spend so much time in hospitals simply because no one has come up with the proper medication. I never believed 'talk' therapy worked much, but obviously I was wrong. It certainly helped Elyn. I cannot believe how hard Elyn Saks worked to get where she is today. She is, quite simply, a marvel. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think it gives hope to those who are burdened by schizophrenia along with those sad families who are forced to witness their loved ones so ill. Hurray Elyn! Keep up the good work and thanks for fighting the good fight....more info
  • First-rate memoir
    This is the best personal account of mental illness I've ever read, and I've read most of them. Since I knew Saks was a successful lawyer and a professor, I went in with the expectation that she would write well. But I was not prepared for HOW well she wrote in this vivid account of her illness and remission. The book is an honest, clearly-written and compelling look into the experience of schizophrenia. And what's especially affecting

    about this book is the author's acknowledgement of the human connections, those people who gave her honest affection and friendship, as part of the story of her remarkable recovery. Even though those connections would not have been enough for her to get well, (she had to come to terms with taking antipsychotic medication, and I applaud her for saying so) the connections she made with some good and decent people she met along the way (and the connections they chose to make with her) are acknowledged as part of the reason for her recovery. And so they should be.

    I wish I knew her, because she's one amazing woman, and one hell of a writer.

    But anyway, "The Center Cannot Hold" is a brilliant contribution to the public's understanding of both mental illness and the process of recovery. If Ms. Saks never wrote another thing in her life, this book would more than make up for it. It's simply wonderful.

    ...more info
  • Essential Reading
    I first heard Elyn Saks on NPR and immediately ordered this book. Excellent and essential reading for those with a mental illness, family members, friends and anyone who wants a view of the illness from the inside....more info
  • Very good
    About: A memoir about Saks' like with schizophrenia

    Pros: Well written, engaging, touching, sad, hopeful.

    Cons: Since there are many people involved in her life, it can confusing as to who's who.

    Grade A-...more info
  • Enjoyable
    This book was a good read. I've passed it on to others and everyone has appreciated the honesty of the author. She has many resources that other mentally ill people do not, but she never pretends otherwise. ...more info


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