• Elyn Saks: A Tale of Mental Illness - a view from the inside

    OFTEN, when in the middle of a depressive episode that is bad enough to knock me off my actual and metaphorical feet, I go in search of meaning.  I'm not unique in this - I believe its a fundamental human drive to try and solve puzzles; to find an explanation for why this is happening AGAIN, or even why it happened in the first place.

    I'm not naive. I know the illness I live with is the nexus of a number of biopsychosocial causes. I feel pretty well educated about the various treatments and approaches that have shown efficacy.  I have tried many (sometimes it feels like all) the interventions available.  I take medication, live reasonably cleanly and in accordance with my values wherever possible, I'm open to trying new things and yeah, some of the things I have tried at times of real crisis have included some more "fringe" approaches.  I'm not ashamed to admit this - a desperate woman will try anything to feel SOMETHING again.

    I KNOW that the episodes will pass and I'll improve again, but I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that each time I get unwell I experience MASSIVE disappointment. Being a ruminator, I have given this quite a lot of thought and I have realised with some surprise, that the disappointment comes from my total lack of acceptance around having the illness.

    Someone's boring me, I think it's me.  

              Dylan Thomas

    ON an intellectual level, I acknowledge without question that I have this illness, and I understand the course it will take.  I also understand it doesn't make me defective or a lesser person (despite occasional statements to the contrary).  But the fact remains, it is taking a hell of a long time for the intellectual knowledge to drip down to my heart and rest there in a place of certain, knowing acceptance.  I absolutely haven't reached that point.  A part of me (as indicated by the disappointment) must still believe that I will be cured from depression - that eventually, there will never be a dark time that lasts more than a few days.  Quite simply put, I still hope that one day I'll just not have it any more. That I won't have to see the struggle and sadness in my loved ones' eyes; that I won't see the struggle etched in to my own face.  I fantasise that the lines on my face will be from laughing in to my old age, not as a result of a terminal sadness that never goes away.  

    But I'm beginning to accept this probably won't happen.  That I am probably at my optimum level of mental health and I am fortunate to be able to manage the illness to a level that I do.  Comparatively I am pretty lucky.

    So when things get crappy, I search out stories of recovery as a way to stay hopeful and optimistic; to remind myself to be grateful and perhaps, if I'm honest, take some comfort from those who also do it tough.

    I don't often use expressions like inspirational, uplifting, life altering.  Depressives rarely feel anything that far off the flatline - however I understand they exist ;), yet in one of my more recent journeys through the archives, I came across a woman who blew me away.  

    Elyn R Saks is Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School, an expert in mental health law and a Mac­Arthur Foundation Fellowship winner. Saks lives with schizophrenia and has written about her experience with the illness in her award-winning best-selling autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness published by Hyperion Books in 2007. Saks is also a cancer survivor. Hers is a story of resilience in the face of adversity.

    On paper, Elyn  had every reason to curl up in to a ball and just stop.  She says herself that her prognosis was nothing but grim.  But she didn't stop, she went on and conquered the things she DOES have control over, and she uses her experience as a force for good.  In turn, she gives people like me the reasons we are hunting for.

    Quite simply, she is brilliant.  She is Elyn Saks.


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