The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays By Esmé Weijun Wang

too much of this book is the author desperately trying to prove how she is a good crazy person. she loves to talk about the expensive clothes she wears and how she never leaves the house without lipstick. she is condescending toward other disabled people, shown in how she had to dumb down her speech for her peers, but left it unchanged when speaking to doctors. she does not examine the privilege she has in any real way and the entire book felt very surface level. I have to assume the praise it is receiving is because most people who read it do not have psychotic friends or family members.

I am constantly disturbed by the fact that the general public seems to prefer this type of work about disabled people, aka anything that reassures them that disabled people can assimilate into society just like normal people can. the author calms us by telling us she has her own business, that she's been married for 16 years, that she is sooooo smart and is pretty enough to be a former model. I was thinking that these facts were going to be set up to examine how ableist and unfair our society is, but that did not happen. I am unsure if the author even realizes how awful she comes across in this book.

I highly encourage people to read about cripple punk and other radical disabled movements instead of this book. it's time for bad disabled people to take center stage, and for society to accommodate US. we should not have to force ourselves to meet arbitrary able-bodied and neurotypical standards in order to be respected. 208 Admittedly as a psychiatrist, poetry MFA, and patient myself, my standards for illness narratives are high. But I found myself frustrated throughout these essays by Wang metaphorically putting on makeup by buffering her own experience with mental illness from the reader with giant blocks of DSM quotes, cultural references, and religious research. There were moments when she acknowledged that recollecting periods of psychotic experience can be difficult, if not impossible. But I came away from this set of essays feeling like I didn't have a true sense of her personal experience with mental illness. The prose at times was also clumsy and disorganized -- not in a psychotic way, but in a way that the anecdotal and the clinical were not thoughtfully woven together. Despite all this, I am glad this book exists. There are few narratives of psychotic illness and even fewer by patients of color, and I would recommend this book to patients as an example of someone who has and will continue to suffer psychotic illness and its stigma with enormous dignity.

TLDR: This is an important book, but not a great one. 208 Early on in The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang points out that, as a culture, we seem to focus more on how schizophrenia makes us (i.e., non-afflicted people) feel than on how people with schizophrenia themselves might feel. I immediately recognized the truth of this sentiment. Isn't it the case that the whole thing freaks us out a bit? Isn't it the case that we tend to assume people with schizophrenic disorders might not know what is best for them? Wang thankfully turns this entire narrative on its head: As a person with schizoaffective disorder (roughly, schizophrenia plus bipolar), she is sometimes in the midst of terrifying episodes of psychosis, but very rarely seems unaware of actual reality—a fact that makes her experiences even more harrowing, but also makes her more of an expert on her own well-being and care than we (the non-afflicted) might expect. From this perspective, Wang discusses diagnosis and treatment, medication, hospitalization, and issues related to forcing treatment on unwilling patients. Where is the line between helping someone who can't help themselves and disregarding someone's rights and ultimate humanity? This discussion is so necessary, and for it to be initiated by a person with schizophrenia makes it doubly rare and doubly valuable. I spent the first half of this book riveted and appreciative.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with essay collections, things eventually got rather uneven. In The Slender Man, the Nothing, and Me, Wang spends several pages discussing a documentary, Beware the Slenderman, about two young teenagers who attempted to murder a third girl. Both of the perpetrators were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenic disorders, but given that Wang had no firsthand experience with either them or anyone else involved in the case, this essay felt flimsy and not particularly relevant. This feeling was exacerbated when Wang mentioned that the two Columbine shooters were bullied—a fact that Dave Cullen refuted a decade ago. That neither Wang nor her publisher caught this error threw the whole book into question for me: What else was Wang just assuming was true and stating as fact? In particular, why did she feel she could comment on the two girls in Beware the Slenderman when she had never met them, and when Wang indicates that her own schizophrenia had (thankfully) never led to similar murderous impulses? Was she really as much of an expert as she sometimes seemed to be?

My faith was shaken at that point and I never completely regained it. There were undoubtedly some good essays following The Slender Man, the Nothing, and Me, but there was also Beyond the Hedge, where Wang attempted to imbue her thinking on schizophrenia with a sense of faith/religion (John of the Cross, etc.), and that didn't work for me at all, not just because I'm not religious but because Wang seems to turn to a number of New Age shysters in her quest for answers. At this point I felt like I was reading a completely different book from the one I'd initially started. Given that this essay closes out the collection, that was truly unfortunate.

So The Collected Schizophrenias isn't perfect, and given how well it began, that's a disappointment. Still, the first half of this book is so well done, and there's enough good stuff in the second half that my overall feeling is positive. For many of us, there's something mysterious, even bewildering, about schizophrenia, and this book provides a useful perspective that we'd all benefit from. That's why, despite the caveats I mentioned above, I recommend this book for everyone. 208 I absolutely, perfectly loved this book. The first essay took me a while because Wang gets fairly technical in her introduction to her personality disorder in a way that wasn't easily accessible to me - but this basis is indeed needed. It grounds her book into a reality that helped me to put things into perspective in a way that I found highly effective and helpful. Esmé Weijun Wang has Schizoaffective Disorder and discusses her life and her illness through her own personal lense but always taking the larger picture into account - that she worked in psychology before being diagnosed herself helps ground this memoir. I found her voice incredible - and incredibly needed. Oftentimes we do not hear of those people directly influenced by what Wang calls the Collected Schizophrenias but rather of those who are indirectly influenced (family members and other loved ones). Everything about this book worked for me - and most of that is down to Wang's impeccable command of language and structure. Her essays are not only interesting and needed but also near perfect on a technical level - my favourite type of non-fiction. This is for sure my favourite non-fiction book of the year and one I cannot recommend highly enough.

Content warning: hallucinations, paranoia, involuntary section, discussions about the possibility of passing her illness to her potential children 208 Esmeralda Weijun Wang wants to be a high functioning individual while she contends with her multiple diagnoses. To understand her ability to concentrate long enough, organize her thoughts to allow her to write these essays, and to seek costly medical and alternative type medical care is to come to the conclusion that she is financially very well off. She is not homeless, going hungry, under or unemployed,lacking facilities for hygiene, etc. As part of her high functioning “mask” she applies Tom Ford lipstick, Chanel foundation, and dresses in silk blouses. Though I find her writing to be quite interesting and even engaging I have to wonder at her perseverance and tenacity in spite of her myriad symptoms to write books, go on lecture circuits, stay married to the same person, and maintain friendships. My many years in working in VA hospitals, public hospitals, battered women’s shelters and homeless outreach have shown me that this is rarely the case. Does this make her essays less real? No. Just very, very different. Her content took me on a roller coaster ride of reactions. In the end, I close the book with a great deal of empathy for her. I question some of the research she alludes to and consider it anecdotal with much information missing. Nonetheless, I would never question the ribbon she ties around her ankle to stay tethered. Hey, whatever works. It’s a wonderful thing that she is able to express herself in writing as well. I suspect this will also, along with taking her medications, help to strengthen that tether. 208

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 Esme 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 institutionalisation 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. The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays


Esmé Weijun Wang ✓ 9 Read

This collection of essays is extraordinary. Through exploring her own experiences with schizophrenia, Wang is able to do a great job of looking at society's views of mental illness and the lack of information and understanding around schizophrenia. That combined with her great explanations of what some of her episodes, her family history, the way it impacts the people around her and more. I want to re-read it immediately.

Watch my full review here: 208 Considering that the author had been through the mill herself with many diagnoses for her psychotic states, none quite fitting, until schizoaffective disorder and described them in detail, I expected a book that would engender emotion and empathy in me, if not identification. What I got was a cold, dispassionate look at schizophrenia and associated psychoses from many different angles and treatments, including weirdly, astrology, told by an author I couldn't empathise with at all.

This is not a criticism of the author, whom I don't know but about her writing about herself which is what the book is mostly about, herself and her experiences. She wrote what a high-achiever academically she was, how intelligent she was and how she had won this award and that prize and was a top employee in this that or the other occupation. She was so beautiful that despite being only 5'4 she had been a model. She thought that because she had a fashion blog at one time, she was the epitome of elegance and wore expensive (names dropped) designer brands. Her agonies of what to wear to see yet another psychiatrist, how to impress him with her clothes, fake lashes and extensions but still come across as authentically mad, as well as the foregoing just set my teeth on edge. But, I thought all of this might have had a point.

What seemed like excessive self-pride was perhaps a symptom of her illness, that schizophrenia can express itself in many different ways. Or perhaps she was saying that she was so bright and beautiful, someone who was successful in everything she worked at, that such an illness shouldn't happen to her, or even that despite all her accomplishments and attributes it could happen to anyone. I don't know. Was that me or the book?

Looking at the book more dispassionately, I tried to find the information and education and experience that I read non-fiction for, but there wasn't anything new.

It certainly didn't compare with the stunning and eye-opening Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic which of all the books I ever read on schizophrenia, let me see it through the eyes and mind of one suffering from it. It didn't compare either with Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia where one twin was a high achiever and one a bag lady (but brilliant poet too). Nor one book I've never been able to write a review for, Professor Elyn R. Saks account The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness of the schizophrenia that took hold when she was a student in Oxford and how despite it she has become a professor and dean whilst still battling her demons.

Ultimately, I didn't enjoy reading the book but wonder if I had identified more with the author, if my experience of it would have been different. Don't let it put you off reading it, as they say, your mileage might vary. 208 The book reads like a memoir. It possesses a mastery of tone that’s deeply satisfying. I think I may have found a substitute—not a replacement!—for Dr. Oliver Sacks, who was a dreamy writer on subjects neurological. Author Esmé Weijun Wang’s perspective though is that of a patient. She suffers from schizoaffective disorder, which I have just learned has a manic aspect. She has been involuntarily institutionalized three times, and her last psychotic episode in 2013 lasted 7 months. How she comes out of that with a gift for fine expository prose is a mystery indeed. There’s a lurid exposé aspect to the book, too, it’s in part the story of how mentally ill students are treated at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. My God, it’s draconian, with huge female security guards attacking sick students—just beyond belief! Clearly the squeaky clean university will do anything to limit its liability, including indulging in discrimination against people with mental illnesses. It’s this sort of injustice, you might say, that constitutes Wang’s territory or beat. She also touches succinctly on mental health policy, involuntary institutionalization, life on the asylum ward, the depiction of mental health issues culturally—misperceptions, stigma, etc—and the myriad dangers of bearing children. (What if a schizophrenic mother should go mad? Who would care for her child? What if the child should become schizophrenic due to its genetic inheritance? How would a parent care for such a high-maintenance child over its entire lifespan? It could not be done. Eventually the child would be institutionalized, perhaps against his or her will. What if both the child and the parent should go mad? It’s not unknown. This is just the tip of the iceberg.) The book feels well grounded in our cultural moment. Wang is a gifted writer but, my God, talk about having to pay your dues to find your subject matter! Wang regularly deals with hallucinatory corpses lying in the streets, or monsters running her down so she has to jump or duck to avoid being body slammed, or believing that everyone around her has been replaced by robots identical in appearance to the missing, or that she is, in fact, dead, and that whatever existence she now leads is part of the afterlife. The distressing news though is Wang’s prognosis. She’s likely, she says, to get worse. She’s on a deadline of sorts, as we all are, but hers is more unrelenting. This leaves the reader with the sense of having come across a priceless rarity, a jewel hewn from the very substance that kills articulacy. It seems an impossibility that you’re holding such a treasure in your own hands. I’m recalling the decent or well written memoirs of mental illness I’ve read over the years. I can count them on my fingers. This is one of them. But why the author didn’t call it a memoir, I wish I knew. Read it, please.

PS Wang here mentions favorably Elyn R. Saks memoir The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, which is brilliant; but from the perspective of vividly showing the reader the depredations of schizophrenia, Wang’s writing is the more deft. Saks is a brilliant academic; her concern is mental health law. Wang is, by contrast, more of a prose stylist. 208 While reading this book, I was in such a terrible reading slump that getting through even a chapter of a book was a struggle.

I picked this 200-pager up on a whim, thinking it looked interesting and quick and would help me stay ahead of my reading challenge. Instead, my slump made it arduous and lengthy, made me read every word deliberately.

And ultimately that was a gift.

This isn't a book that should be rushed through, like I would have done had I been able to. It should be read with care and slowness, to really absorb not only the lovely writing but the brilliant research and the one of a kind story.

Bottom line: A book so good it indirectly taught me to look on the bright side. 208 One of the most courageous books I have ever read. In The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang writes about her experience with schizoaffective disorder and Lyme disease. Compared to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, schizophrenia is still so stigmatized, so it is rare and beautiful to read a candid perspective like Wang's. These essays span a wide range of topics relevant to health and illness, ranging from how the mentally ill are institutionalized in a way that removes their agency, to how mass media portrays people with schizophrenia. I most loved how Wang refuses easy answers in these essays. Though my human instinct for closure felt annoyed at times because of this lack of resolution, Wang's commitment to complexity and nuance over neat endings exemplifies her skill as a writer and a thinker. These conversations about illness and wellness must continue, and I feel confident that Wang's collection will add even more understanding and urgency to these dialogues.

Recommended to those who care about mental health and those who enjoy thoughtful essays. Wang is a writer to watch and I so look forward to reading more of her work. 208