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The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  6,441 ratings  ·  684 reviews
Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: she's an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She has managed to achieve this in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a "grave" prognosis -- and suffering the effects of her illness throughout her life.

Saks was only eight, and living an otherwise idyllic childhood

Hardcover, 340 pages
Published August 14th 2007 by Hachette Books (first published January 1st 2007)
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It's a little sad and frustrating when people read this and say things like "whenever she's off her meds, she has an episode, she should just stay on them!".

The most difficult thing in treating mentally ill people is getting them to take and stay on their meds for reasons she details in her book. First, there are usually pretty severe side effects such as permanent nerve damage that causes you to twitch and spasm constantly, have trouble thinking clearly, have no energy and put on a lot of weigh
Moira Russell
Hmmm, this was....interesting. Rather poorly written: emotionally flat all through, often repetitive and very 'cerebral' - the outer sensuous world almost entirely lacking. The middle part, where she describes a full-scale breakdown resulting in restraints and involuntary medication, is harrowing, and should be required reading for medical students, legal students, and indeed psychiatric caregivers. However, her insistence on always having been the best at everything, ever ("I was valedictorian. ...more
This book is written by a friend/mentor of mine at USC. It was extremely bizarre to read something so intimate by & about someone I know, so my experience of reading it will be different from the experience of others. That said, I think it's quite powerful. What Elyn is able to pull off is describing, from her currently "sane" place, what it feels like to be severely schizophrenic. Her bridge-building into that experience is rare and worthwhile, and can move a reader's empathy for the mental ...more
The Center Cannot Hold offers a rare peek into the raging mind of a schizophrenic. While the author is anything but a case study (she is brilliant and accomplished even by mentally intact standards, whereas schizophrenia is usually accompanied by low IQ and functional impairment) her uncommon mental clarity enables her to shed light on an otherwise inscrutable disorder.

Of the several memoirs of mental illness I've read, this book offers the most convincing dialogue of psychotic and depressed cha
howl of minerva
Elyn Saks is an unusual figure to say the least. An academic superstar: Vanderbilt valedictorian, Marshall scholar to Oxford for graduate study in philosophy (Aristotle's metaphysics in the Greek no less), Yale Law School, tenured faculty at U South California, MacArthur "Genius" Fellow. And since her late teens, battling with schizophrenia: disabling and terrifying bouts of delusions and hallucinations.

High-functioning people with mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder are all arou
I'm going to totally and consciously cop out on this review. Yes, the book was maddening to read at times given the "one step forward, five steps back" nature of her journey. And I beat myself up throughout most of it, as my impatience with Saks's actions grew. She takes the meds. She feels better on the meds. She insists on abandoning the meds. She goes "floridly psychotic," gets hospitalized and has a horrific time of it. Multiply that sequence by 20-25 and you get the first 300 pages of the b ...more
Elyn R. Sak's The Center Cannot Hold tells the story of the author, a Yale law school graduate from a well-to-do family who deals with her chronic depressive schizophrenia amidst the struggles of school, a career, and her own willpower. The book is set in a number of places, such as Miami, Britain, New Haven, and Los Angeles, in the time period between the 1960s and the 1990s, when the world was just learning about how serious mental illnesses can be. Hoping gain some sense of being normal, Saks ...more
Nov 25, 2007 Tracy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in a personal account of schizophrenia
Saks presents an articulate and honest portrayal of her life with schizophrenia, from its early days to the present. She doesn't deny the severity of her symptoms, while also acknowledging that the life she's built for herself is atypical -- she is a married, tenured law professor at USC with degrees from Vanderbilt, Oxford, and Yale. The most devastating part for me was Saks' account of her days in the Yale psychiatric centers, acting out and recognizing that the staff didn't particularly care ...more
Modern Hermeneut
An eye-opening memoir. What it what it lacks in stylistic flare, it more than makes up for in bracing sincerity. The author pulls back the curtains on the subjective experience of schizophrenia.

This is an unflinching testament of what it FEELS like -- not just what it LOOKS like from the outside -- to be in the grip of psychosis. It's also an indictment of the draconian methods often used to "treat" psychotic patients.

Even readers who are well-versed in the literature of psychopathology will fin
Elyn Saks is a law professor at University of Southern California Law School and a psychiatry adjunct at University of California School of Medicine. She is also a research clinical associate at the New Center for Psychoanalysis. Professional success aside, Elyn is married, apparently happily. She also has schizophrenia.

In this memoir, Saks recounts her life as, on the one hand, a highly successful individual, and on the other, someone who repeatedly cycled through a series of breakdowns as she
This was a very eye opening, and at times, powerful read. It was fascinating to hear about this women, who is such a brilliant academic, and her struggles with schizophrenia.

The content of the book as a whole was very interesting, and I appreciate how frankly she discussed the illness, and that she recognizes that she isn't "the norm."

However, for me, the writing was just too dry to constantly hold my interest. I wasn't enthralled with it, and I couldn't read more than 30-50 pages at a time wit
Lindsay Stoffers
Unfortunately, schizophrenia as a health condition is often misunderstood. People tend to make assumptions based off of out dated notions of what mental illness is and is not and in turn feed into the stigma of mental health disorders. Elyn Saks tells her story with incredible honesty and vulnerability. In "The Center Cannot Hold" Dr. Saks shares a deeply personal account of her life. As a second year master's student, majoring in Mental Health Counseling, I am so grateful for her courage to sha ...more
I finished this book in tears of joy. I don't know if I can do justice to how much this book moved me as a person with schizoaffective disorder. I've read many books by people who have bipolar disorder and some by parents of people with schizophrenia but this was my first book written by someone who has schizophrenia. That sentence is a mess but I think you can gather the gist.

The fact that Elyn is hospitalized and so greatly affected by her schizophrenia, yet goes on to lead a richly successfu
Diana Connor
This book presented the story of one person's battle with mental illness, but I found that I could connect with the author on so many levels. The author really moved me.

First, I no longer look at people the same. This book drove home for me how difficult mental illness is. Living in San Francisco, most days I see someone walking down the street talking to themselves, someone who very well may have schizophrenia and most likely has some form of mental illness. This book has really enabled me to s
Maggie Heim
This book added new depth to my ability to think about mental illness. It gave a fullness to my understanding of word salad and psychosis. Getting a firsthand, experiential account of how restraints feel when having a breakdown is invaluable. I now think more critically about what it means to force medicate someone. I have a new humility when considering someone dependent on medication who is struggling with taking it. It's not fair for me to think of it as simple to take the medication and be b ...more
A fascinating and enlightening memoir about a life lived to its fullest despite suffering from schizophrenia. I learned so much about the inner life of a person with this particular mental illness, and found my heart stirring over and over with compassion for anyone so afflicted. The book is filled with keen metaphors and rich descriptions of psychotic episodes, so intense and so well-described that even though I have never experienced anything similar, I was easily able to imagine such terrifyi ...more
While this book is pretty rough reading, at the same time, I found it kind of cool. Not only does the author really lay her life out there for everyone to see, including all her thoughts about killing people, but she ends up a totally successful person. Probably more so than I will ever be. At the end, when Saks is trying to sum up what she wants this book to be and why she wrote it, it gets kind of weird: inspiration to other schizophrenics, even though she admits many people with her disorder ...more
Elyn Saks suffers from schizophrenia and says she wrote this book to demonstrate that people with this illness can lead rich and successful lives. She herself teaches at a top law school, has had psychoanalytic training, has written a number of scholarly articles and is married to a kind and understanding man. As a psychiatrist, I found her infuriating, and I imagine her doctors over the years did, too. She takes forever to realize that she absolutely must take antipsychotic medication and, desp ...more
Cindy Knoke

Elyn Saks is a remarkable and impressive person. She is a law professor At USC who has schizophrenia and is an advocate for the rights of involuntarily hospitalized psychiatric patients. She is an expert in mental health law and has a special interest in limiting the use of involuntary physical restraint on psychiatric patients which she is interested in due to her own terrifying experiences being involuntarily hospitalized and restrained. She is also an adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD a
Erika Palmquist Smith
This is easily the best book I've read this year, and one of the best "layman's" books about mental illness that I've ever read. The author, a law professor at USC who struggles with schizophrenia, provides a wonderfully lucid description of what it is like to suffer the symptoms of hallucinations and delusions. She touches on her own personal experiences with hospitalization, the use of restraints, and medication compliance but also ties it into the broader legal implications of decisions like ...more
I found this memoir to be truly impressive. There are many memoirs that detail the experience of depression and bipolar disorder. There are memoirs on alcoholism, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But there are very few that give the reader insight into what it is like to be schizophrenic.

Elyn Saks is an accomplished woman: she graduated from Oxford and Yale, and is a tenured law professor. She has also struggled with schizophrenia since her late teens, and relates her experie
Martha Stettinius
An excellent book, and deserving of all its accolades. I read with interest, as my brother, who passed away at age 52, had schizophrenia. Even though Saks admits that her story is exceptional (only 1 in 5 people with schizophrenia are able to hold a job or live independently, and she is a tenured professor), I found hope in her story that a diagnosis of schizophrenia does not necessarily mean the end of a normal life. All I knew before this book was the example of my brother. Dave could never ho ...more
Mary Whisner
Elyn Saks opens her memoir, The Center Cannot Hold, with a scene every law student can identify with: three students working in the law library on a weekend night, trying to get a moot court brief done. But the action moves to something most students don't experience, hallucinations that lead her onto the law school's roof and, eventually, to the state mental hospital, where anti-psychotic medications are forced on her.

The memoir offers a gripping inside look at mental illness and its treatment.
An eye-opening, holy-shit-wait-WHAT story about schizophrenia, mental health care, willpower, attitudes toward mental illness, secrets. Honestly and plainly told.
This book probably taught me more about the experience of schizophrenia than any of the many clinical psych classes I've taken. Most explanations/descriptions of schizophrenia tend to focus on the delusions and hallucinations, maybe because they're the most obvious and characteristic symptoms--and, perhaps, the most scary ones for neurotypical people. However, above all, this memoir really brought across how sad, isolating, and terrifying it can be to experience psychotic disorders.

As a mental h
In reading this book I am amazed at how vivid and true it is. Not many people have endured psychosis, depression, delusions or paranoia yet are able to communicate the experience in a way others can understand. This book is marvelous. The truth behind so many of her simple statements is what really got my attention.

Saks should be applauded for opening up her mind to others in a way that hopefully will work dispell the stigma associated with those who have a "severe mental illness".
Sorayya Khan
Elyn Saks' memoir paints a devastating picture of schizophrenia and its horrors. Although the book is not meant to convey an if-i-can-survive-this-so-can-you mentality, it does detail the necessary structure of survival, a large piece of which is medication. Similar to other memoirs I've read, like AN UNQUIET MIND by Kay Redfield Jamison and HENRY'S DEMONS by Patrick and Henry Cockburn, Saks' book is a must read for those desperate for a glimpse into the mind of the mentally ill.
Nick Smith
After my best friend died after committing suicide about half a year ago, finally succumbing to his struggle with schizophrenia, I swore I would learn more and do more to help those with the disease. I wanted to read another first-person memoir of life with schizophrenia. I've been able to help people with mental illnesses at my job, at my church, and on my own time.

This book really tells the great story that is Elyn R. Saks' life with schizophrenia. It is a human, touching story of how a woman
Elyn R. Saks partakes in the difficult task of describing exactly how it feels to be consumed in your own mind, in a world all your own. In her memoir, The Center Cannot Hold, Saks takes readers on a journey from her childhood in Miami, to her studies in Oxford, and further into her career as a professor at USC, all the while suffering from schizophrenia. As astounding as they may be, the descriptions of Saks’ plunges into periods of psychosis make it seem almost impossible for her to have crea ...more
I finally got a chance to finish this! This book is important because it breaks down the commonly believed myth that those who are mentally ill are constantly psychotic or delusional. Elyn Saks has schizophrenia, with her psychotic symptoms coming in "episodes." Between and despite them she was able to become a published academic and tenured professor. Great book for getting a realistic picture of what having a mental illness is like.
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Elyn R. Saks, training to be a psychoanalyst, specializes in mental health law, criminal law, and children and the law. Her recent research focused on ethical dimensions of psychiatric research and forced treatment of the mentally ill. She teaches Mental Health Law, Mental Health Law and the Criminal Justice System, and Advanced Family Law: The Rights and Interests of Children. She also teaches at ...more
More about Elyn R. Saks...
Refusing Care: Forced Treatment and the Rights of the Mentally Ill Jekyll on Trial: Multiple Personality Disorder and Criminal Law Interpreting Interpretation: The Limits of Hermeneutic Psychoanalysis Informed Consent to Psychoanalysis: The Law, the Theory and the Data Essential Papers on Psychosis

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“My good fortune is not that I've recovered from mental illness. I have not, nor will I ever. My good fortune lies in having found my life.” 12 likes
“If you are walking on a path thick with brambles and rocks, a path that abruptly twists and turns, it's easy to get lost, or tired, or discouraged. You might be tempted to give up entirely. But if a kind and patient person comes along and takes your hand, saying, "I see you're having a hard time- here, follow me, I'll help you find your way," the path becomes manageable, the journey less frightening.” 12 likes
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