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Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,037 Ratings  ·  134 Reviews
Growing up in the fifties, Carolyn Spiro was always in the shadow of her more intellectually dominant and social outgoing twin, Pamela. But as the twins approached adolescence, Pamela began to succumb to schizophrenia, hearing disembodied voices and eventually suffering many breakdowns and hospitalizations.

Divided Minds is a dual memoir of identical twins, one of whom face
Paperback, 318 pages
Published August 8th 2006 by Griffin (first published 2005)
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Petra X
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A story of identical twins. Well, they looked the same and were fiercely intelligent, but there was nothing else similar about them at all. One went to Harvard and became a psychiatrist. The other became a psychotic and went to many mental homes.

However, along the way the bi-polar, schizophrenic sister discovered poetry and became an award-winning poet writing as she did from a frame of reference alien to almost all of us. She brings us glimpses from another mind, a land which might not have ha
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommendations
I had a lot of reasons for why I wanted to read this book. The first was that I am a twin, so there was something to learn and identify with regarding the struggles of constant comparison, the path to seeking individuality and the toll these things take on the relationship. The second was my interest in mental illness and that I knew very little of the daily struggles facing someone with schizophrenia.

What a gift these two sisters gave, not only to myself & other readers, but to the mental
Feb 19, 2009 rated it did not like it
One sister went to Harvard and became a psychiatrist, the other, though also brilliant, was bedeviled by voices and has spent her life in and out of institutions.

The part describing their growing up years was interesting as the twins tried to establish their own identities. Each was competitive yet felt bad for trying to get distance.

The schizophrenic sister is unable to get her health or life together, but becomes an award-winning poet.

Later, the narrative bogs down when it seems clear that t
Randye Kaye
Jan 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Pamela is a very gifted writer - Carolyn less compelling. Still, a fascinating look at twins, one of whom has schizophrenia, from both points of view. Read it especially for the chance to hear about how psychosis feels from the inside. Pamela, like many with schizophrenia, does not "admit" (or believe) she has the illness. Still, that does not take anything away from her insightful narrative. Carolyn is a psychiatrist, so her views are educational and emotional as well.
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely riveting memoir. Recommended, but with a caution for language. Very true to the patient and familial stories I've head in primary research. This is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the experience of the person with schizophrenia. Pamela Spiro Wagner is a gifted writer and poet, and shares the gut-wrenching agony of her disease with brutal honesty.
May 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
It's a clear glimpse into a schizophrenic mind, and because of that an exhausting read. Many of the intriguing or universal details are glossed over in favor of a self-indulgent tone, which did not invoke empathy.
Jun 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
I chose this book for research purposes (characters in my novel are twins--boy and girl--and one is schizophrenic) and had high hopes. It's hard to give this book two stars because it's essentially a dual narrative, and I very much like one of those narratives. Clearly, Pamela Wagner, the twin suffering from schizophrenia, is a substantial talent. I was not surprised to learn she was a decorated poet. In fact, in her narration of her extreme schizophrenia, I felt able to see--to really feel, act ...more
Jan 04, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 300-400pgs, biography
Divided Minds : Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia by Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn S. Spiro, MD. is a memoir of mental illness and coping with a loved one's mental illness. The segments from both sisters - one with schizophrenia. one a licensed psychiatrist - describe the world as each experienced it often retelling the same set of events from each sister's perspective at the time.

The book is a fairly quick read. I found myself wanting to like them - and there are many thing
Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
One of the BEST books I have read in a while - It is the story of twin sisters , written jointly yet with
" two individual voices " . They begin their story in re-telling of events from early childhood through the eyes of twins - sibling rivalry magnified because of being twins and a deep connection / love for each other because of being twins . The back and forth writing style drew me in . I heald my breath as I read what one had written about a certain event or time period in their lives , ant
Jul 01, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is about Schizophrenia. Reading this book was an eye-opener. You have to feel for the people who suffer from this debilitating disease. Nothing is as it appears to them; there are always hidden agendas and ulterior motives. Her problems started early on in the the dark ages of psychotherapy so it wasn't viewed as humanely as today. What was done and not done would be viewed as a crime today. Her parents, especially her father, were not much help and probably contributed to an already b ...more
Jan 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
It seems wrong to say you "liked" or "enjoyed" a book about two sisters' lives of misery, but I certainly found it a fascinating read. It was amazing that Pamela was able to chronicle her schizophrenia in such detail and from such a young age. Both sisters were very brave to put this all into a book for all the world to see and judge. The only thing I would have changed about this book is more insight into the disease. Like, whenever Pamela was on an anti-psychotic drug that quieted the voices a ...more
Nov 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Really insightful and scary memoir that consists of a back-and-forth narrative between a pair of twins, one of whom is a schizophrenic poet and the other a psychiatrist. I think the childhood scenes were the strongest for me--with all of Pamela's hospitalizations it was hard to follow the chronology in later sections of the book. I do wish the girls' relationships with their father had been more fleshed-out--it sounds like it is--or was--a very abusive relationship that affected Pamela's disease ...more
Sep 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Every time I read a memoir about someone with a mental health illness I always have this assumed hope that they will overcome/control their illness, find the meaning of their life, learn from their past, and they chose to write the book to show others that they can survive it too. This book is different. There is no pivotal breaking moment away from the illness. The author is in and out of psychiatric hospitals up until the end of the book and I just went on her blog and just last week she wrote ...more
HHS Staff
Sep 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book is a really interesting autobiography by Carolyn Spiro, an identical twin with schizophrenia. She and her sister go back and forth describing their childhood and college years, into adulthood. It is really interesting to hear Carolyn's account of what happens, altered by her schizophrenia, and then have the gaps filled in by Pamela. There is some inappropriate language (which makes sense when considering the type of disease). It would be suggested for older students.

Reviewed by:
Katie D
Jul 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Well, one of the sisters is a far better writer (the one who is a professional writer, go figure), so she writes most of the book. I felt VERY empathetic to the scenes of schitzophrenia due to the great writing. But Pamela's jealous suffering is clear in her short interjecting chapters, and she covers for her sister nicely in the climactic episode, by which point she definitely isn't jealous anymore. This book wasn't perfect, but it's such a sad story to tell about yourself I forgive it.
May 11, 2007 rated it it was ok
This book is alright. It forces you to really think about what it's like to watch someone you love suffer from mental illness. However, I don't feel I came away with much valuable knowledge from this book. I already understood that living with mental illness is extremely difficult for everyone involved, and the people in this book don't deal with it any better or worse than average.
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Grood book that provides an insight into what it is like to have a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. I feel the book could have developed further with the other members of the family but overall an interesting read.
Natalia P
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoy this book!! The book was very interesting. It started with a clip about Pamela's life when she was at her worst point during her schizophrenic adventure. But the book mostly shows Pamela and Carolyn's life, and how their lives compare. How Pamela's thinking compared with Carolyn's. I like how the author showed both sides of the story. Like crazy and logical thinking. I also liked how it showed how they grew up and what different routes they took, like college and jobs and their th ...more
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
I couldn't finish this book. It just wasn't holding my attention.
Jul 08, 2012 rated it liked it
This dual 2005 memoir by two identical-twin sisters about one sister's (Pamela) schizophrenia is not for the faint of heart and there is no happy ending here. The book is written chronologically with alternate sections by each sister. The twins were born in the early 1950s. From Pamela's sections it appears that she was having auditory hallucinations as early as elementary school. However, it was not apparent to her family that she had a mental illness until she tried to kill herself with over-t ...more
Emily Murphy
Jul 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the minds of the insane
Recommended to Emily by: I had to read it for school
All these ratings are based on a 1-10 scale:

Quality of Writing: 5
The tone of this book is very "normal." Everything everyone says or does is extremely real to life, which makes sense, as it is a memoir. Thus, the writing quality is nothing fantastic, but neither is it horrible.

Pace: 9
A page-turner if ever there was one. I especially appreciated the time stamps and the chronological order of things. Sometimes, however, the jumps were unnoticeable, yet quite large. No one ever seemed to grow up un
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
When I first heard about this book, I thought it sounded fascinating: twin sisters, one a psychiatrist and the other a woman coping with schizophrenia. The story was fascinating, but not in the way I expected. One sister doesn't save the other. This book does not have a happy ending. Instead, the story delves into the details of reality and the frightening alternate reality of mental illness.

This memoir, written by both sisters in a back-and-forth fashion, shows how schizophrenia destroys an in
Aug 17, 2009 rated it liked it
An engrossing read that offered a very realistic glimpse into the mind of a schizophrenic. Pammy (Pamela) and her twin sister Lynnie (Carolyn) grow up with Pammy being the golden child - a few minutes older, better in school, better in extracurriculars, etc. As Pammy becomes a teen, though, something starts to change and by college, she has a breakdown that begins her long journey through the mental health system.

I found it interesting that both sisters attended Brown - Lynnie eventually transf
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
My goodness, this is a memoir of such sadness and despair. It’s the personal history of twin girls in which one develops a severe case of schizophrenia and the other who must live with the devastation. It’s so touching and really brings to light how backward our mental health system was in the 1960s and 1970s. Without proper treatment, the mental deterioration this disease caused went unguarded and progressed to such a horrendous degree that it seemed as if there was no hope whatsoever. As new m ...more
Mar 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is the second memoir I'd read on schizophrenia. Comparing with 'The Quiet Room' by Lori Schiller, this book pales in comparison in shedding light on the condition.

I still gave it a 4 stars review because overall, it is a good read. But the aspect that touches me in the book is not the ongoing battle that Pamela has with her incurable condition, but the love-hate relationship between the siblings (or even more interestingly, twins, in this case). Carolyn, in the memoir, expresses feelings th
Liz Echavarria
May 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

What a devastating existence, Being subjected to a debilitating mental illness that consumes most of the afflicted life. I can say this book has given me a new perspective on Schizophrenia and has brought to light symptoms of the disease that I have seen in others but have interpreted negatively. Pammie is a survivor, a brave woman who has fought a never ending fight against this illness with very little success yet continuing the fight for eventual mental stability. Her twin Carolin
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a story of identical twin sisters. One has schizophrenia and one doesn't. The sister with schizophrenia writes well and tells her story very effectively. You can actually feel the mental confusion that she lives with. The other sister is a psychiatrist. I found myself wondering why the other sister agreed to co-write the book because she came across as a self-centered, whiny individual. Considering that she is a psychiatrist she seemed to have very little knowledge about schizophrenia an ...more
Dec 07, 2009 rated it liked it
This is an interesting look at the impact of mental illness on twin sisters. The book is written in sections arranged by years with each sister recounting the events from her own perspective, one with schizophrenia (Pam)the other without (Carolyn). It's a startling description of one woman's descent into madness and the impact on her sister's life. They come from a brilliant family and Pam, despite her illness, is an award winning writer and her sister Carolyn is a psychiatrist. The story is hea ...more
May 25, 2014 rated it liked it
This book gives an accurate portrayal of life with a family member who suffers from Schizophrenia. As someone who was involved in the field of psychology long before I knew how very well I would learn about Schizophrenia, I can relate to many of the authors' experiences. I respect the willingness of both of these sisters to share some of their highly personal memories in order to further the awareness and understanding of what both family members and sufferers of Schizophrenia go through.

Mar 19, 2008 rated it liked it
I read this because there is schizophrenia in my family. I found it to be fascinating but incomplete. The fact that the identical twin sisters alternate in telling their stories, I think inhibits full disclosure by the "sane" sister, Carolyn, in her attempt to be supportive. Or maybe it's just that the passages by Pamela, the mentally ill but brilliantly talented sister, are so much more compelling. Pamela is the gifted writer here, even if she's difficult to warm to. I suspect Carolyn has a lot ...more
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A writer and artist who lives with diagnoses of schizophrenia and narcolepsy, plus CNS Lyme disease, Pamela Spiro Wagner graduated magna cum laude from Brown University and attended medical school for one year. Despite having spent at least twelve years of her life in psychiatric units, she has won many awards, including a First Place in the 2001/2 International Poetry Competition sponsored by the
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