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The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays

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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.

208 pages, Paperback

First published February 5, 2019

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About the author

Esmé Weijun Wang

11 books583 followers
Esmé Weijun Wang is an award-winning mental health advocate and speaker, as well as a journalist and essayist. The Border of Paradise is her first novel. Just announced as the winner of the 2016 Graywolf Press Non-Fiction Prize for her book of essays, The Collected Schizophrenias. She lives in San Francisco.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,994 reviews
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
August 1, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,520 reviews9,004 followers
March 5, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Rincey.
818 reviews4,583 followers
July 14, 2019
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: https://youtu.be/bsTVgeDhWvA
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.6k followers
September 16, 2021
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.
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,077 followers
July 10, 2019
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.
Profile Image for C.
447 reviews19 followers
April 15, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Paltia.
633 reviews87 followers
March 6, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Sucre.
365 reviews28 followers
December 31, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Hannah.
595 reviews1,055 followers
December 15, 2019
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
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,414 followers
July 7, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,104 followers
October 21, 2020
Reading this excellent collection of essays was something rather stunning.

Shocking, personal, informative, and -- let's face it -- scarier than anything else I've read in this, the month of October.

Of course, the fact that it is factual and revelatory and so very, very personal should be the highest selling point, but more than that, it shines a light on the spectrum of what we call Schizophrenia, entirely.

Let's break it down. I knew from getting my degree in Psychology that people are not schizophrenics but that they have one or more types of effects that color -- or disrupt -- their outlook on life. This takes so many forms, so, unfortunately, it's a very problematic problem to define.

It's obviously horrible for those suffering from it, but a lot of these essays actually lay out a much larger issue: the stigma. When a person is going through delusions, complete disorganization, or are unable to differentiate their assumptions from reality, it doesn't automatically mean that they are dangerous. It means the confusion has underwritten their lives.

But speaking about it in our society has always been a very dangerous move. In the past more than now, hospitalization generally came with involuntary stays, a pharmacopeia, and assuming they've avoided that, episodes generally get them fired from jobs, they lose their schooling, and -- in general -- people are either unable to understand or provide the proper support.

This is true even in the most supportive of families, the most well-meaning institutions, and even for the people suffering from it.

This brilliant essayist went to Yale and has been institutionalized 3 times. She has had many full-blown episodes without being institutionalized. And yet, she's a very wonderful writer, expresses all these situations in such a way that my heart breaks, and it terrifies me.

In our world, we do NOT have the most supportive of families, entirely well-meaning institutions, and there's still a lot of misinformation about the collected Schizophrenias.

But there is hope. You know why? Essays like these are fantastic for opening our eyes.

And let's get into something real, here: the delusions that are spoken of in here are not unique to schizophrenics. They may take on a more intense character and may last longer for those suffering from a schizo-affective disorder, but it is not different *in quality* than the kinds of things we see every day all around us. In so-called *normal* people.

Being fixated on some things or falling in deep into an imaginary world, whether it is a book or a movie, is considered a GOOD thing in most circles. The ability to get so wrapped-up in a story that you cry and can't stop going on about it? We call that being enraptured.

Having this "disorder", at least in certain cases, is merely an intensification of the same thing the rest of us actually praise ourselves for.

How about fixation? We could even go so far as to make this political:

How about ignoring all the bad deeds of a political candidate, from a near-endless stream of lies to inflaming racial tensions, even welcoming a civil war, all because he says he will support a single issue, say, illegalizing all abortion? The fixation says that ALL BAD THINGS are on the table so long as you get THIS ONE THING.

Disorganized thoughts tend to alight on single-ticket items as a way to ignore the complexities of reality. It happens a lot to many, many, many people. So long as you cut away all the facts that do not support your intended outcome, the end will always justify the means.

I suggest that there are a lot of schizophrenics out here in the world. Right this instant.

If it's a fixation that more and more people seem to share, it's no longer a DSM item. It's just the willingness to be ruthless and get into bed with demons so long as the demons support your primary fixation. Make America Great Again at all costs! Hell, damn ALL the costs. Burn it all to the ground as long as they stop killing babies!

And still, most of the homeless on the streets today fall under the category of the collected Schizophrenias. The misunderstanding is real and it shouldn't have to be this way. If we understood ourselves better, we'd know we are going through the same damn thing as them.

Who knows?

Maybe we're all headed to homelessness, misunderstanding, total confusion, and fixation.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,802 reviews1,234 followers
April 19, 2019
Words that came to my mind when reading this book: Superb. Important. Smart. Interesting. Honest. Thought provoking. Empathy building.

This is a memoir in essays by a woman relating her experience living with schizoaffective disorder, both internal and in the world experiences. She also writes about other ailments and other aspects of her life and her relationships.

The writing and storytelling are great. I love her writing and will check out her other books.

This book is a mix of autobiography, history, psychology, psychiatry, science, cultural, political, and literature, art/the arts, etc. topics I respect how she is able to make use in her story and in her writing of things from all of these subjects.

I admire this woman and admire her writing too. She is very fortunate. She is wealthy and she is loved and she is often very high functioning, able to use her talents, all things that many people living with mental illness lack: money, love, ability to work, use their minds and their creativity. Even with all her privileges and advantages, her struggles are apparent.

A few essays I enjoyed much less than the others but I’m still glad she included them – they’re ones that tend to focus on religious, sacred arts, mystical issues/beliefs but they lowered my rating to four and a half stars, though it was a no brainer for me to upgrade to five stars for rating the book. I do appreciate how even when she writes about these things that hold little personal interest for me, she does so in a “rational” way and in a way that shows their importance in her life and why that is.

I adore the San Francisco mentions including two movie theaters I’ve been to, the Metreon and the Kabuki and also SFMOMA, and other San Francisco various types of locations and various orgs. It’s always fun for me to read about San Francisco in books. Not all the life experiences she relates take place in the city and the other places she mentions I also found interesting.

The author photo with mini bio on the back cover is of her on a sofa with a dog lying beside her, and while not great view of the dog, mostly because of the small size of the photo, the dog reminds me more than a bit of the dog I had a couple decades ago so to my mind beautiful & adorable. I need a dog fix!

Highly recommended for those suffering from mental illnesses, though the content might be triggering, physical illnesses/injuries, mental health and other health professionals, psychology students, those who work with the mentally ill, and readers who appreciate well written memoirs/essays.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,735 reviews2,338 followers
April 29, 2020
"I'm still trying to figure out what 'okay' is, particularly whether there exists a normal version of myself beneath the disorder... I was taught to say I am a person with schizoaffective disorder. 'Person-first language' suggests there is a person in there somewhere without delusions and the rambling and the catatonia.
But what if there isn't?"

From 'Yale Will Not Save You' (essay) in THE COLLECTED SCHIZOPHRENIAS by Esmé Weijun Wang / 2019 by @graywolfpress

In 13 essays, Wang shares glimpses of her life as a person with one of the 'collected schizophrenias'. Referring to the disorder in this plural sense was new to me, and I appreciated Wang's clarity of explanation and her personal history, and her family history of mental illness.

"There might be something comforting about the notion that there is, deep down, an impeccable self without disorder, and that if I try hard enough, I can reach that unblemished self. But there may be no impeccable self to reach, and if I continue to struggle toward one, I might go mad in the pursuit."

Instead of a linear memoir, I liked the narrative essay approach: one essay called 'High-Functioning' describes her interest in fashion and makeup and the self-described "passing" status, and the tenuous string between her experience and the delusions of the "woman on the bus who thinks she is God". In another essay 'Perdition Days', she describes one of her diagnoses, a specific type of delusion called Cotard's delusion in which people believe themselves (and often others around them) to be dead. Other essays include her time as a camp counselor for teens with bipolar disorder, distinguishing reality and fantasy in television and film, voluntary and involuntary hospitalizations, and her spiritual practices. Bolstering many of these stories is the important support network of her partner and friends, as well as her medical doctors and therapists, and pharmaceutical treatments.

Wang's writing is candid, she shares her stories with honesty and grace. It's an illuminating read, and recommended for anyone who enjoys personal essays and learning about mental health.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,550 reviews603 followers
December 8, 2019
There aren't enough first person accounts of mental illness and even fewer books that combine the author's own experience with an analytical approach. Wang has unusual insight into her own illness and uses her sharp intellect to discuss mental illness from the perspective of a researcher. She takes a pragmatic approach - looking at any solutions that might help herself and others. Wang is quite accomplished and has found a way to work around her devastating "schizophrenias." She does have a remarkable support system including a husband who has stood by her for years. I found this book difficult and illuminating.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,173 reviews8,390 followers
February 2, 2020

I appreciated how each essay in this collection was focused on a different aspect of mental health, advocacy, the healthcare system, etc. but all still through the lens of the author's own experience. Considering many of these essays were one-offs for different publications, they fit together quite nicely into a collection that tells a greater story. At times I do wish she had gone a bit deeper with the subject matter and her critical analysis of whatever topic she is discussing, but her writing is always very good and she is very open with her own experiences which I admired; those things made up for the fact that, at times, it felt a bit surface level.

My favorite essay was Chimayó, which you can read in full here if you want to get a taste of the book (note: it's one of the last essays in the collection but there really aren't spoilers so it's fine to read this one on its own).
Profile Image for Samantha Martin.
234 reviews46 followers
June 18, 2019
A well-written, yet aloof look into the schizophrenias. I’m listening to the audiobook right now and cringing through it. Though Esme is obviously an intelligent and eloquent author, I find myself rolling my eyes too frequently at her glaring privilege. I thought I was being harsh, but I’m glad to know after perusing some other reviews that I’m not alone.

How often Esme talks about people pitying her for her suffering while she describes her Marc Jacobs perfume is too privileged a window into the illness. I can’t imagine her fight to gain disability to work as a freelance creator instead of working, as suggested, in the high-stress environment of a McDonalds will win her many average-joe friends. Of course, that’s not the mission of this memoir. This high-performing intellectual (she was reading at the age of two and was, of course, the best reader) and Yale/Harvard graduate wants you to gain a better understanding of the disease that has plagued her most her life. The diagnosis hasn’t prevented her from building meaningful relationships (she’s been with her husband for sixteen years!) nor has it destroyed her sense of self-worth (she is special, a model, and never leaves the house without lipstick). Good for her.

We do get a view into the perilous and extremely difficult phases of her illness. I don’t mean to belittle her obvious strength, nor make light of her battle. But I found myself incapable of connecting with her, therefore devolving her heady memoir into a dry DSM overview. I know others loved this book and I encourage you to read it if you’re fascinated with schizophrenia or hope to understand better those who have schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a different experience for everyone, especially for those who are not fortunate enough to have reliable family, funding, opportunities for higher education, and motivating relationships.
Profile Image for Katy O. .
2,319 reviews723 followers
March 9, 2019
Stunning. TCS is the most moving account of living with mental illness that I have read to date, and I think that's because it's not trying to convince anyone of anything. Wang wrote essays about her condition and journey, and within these essays, she constantly admits that she is writing about herself and no one else. Her accounts of struggles are hers and not representative of a group of others afflicted with schizoaffective disorder, and even within her writing about chronic Lymes she never seeks to convince the reader. Her pain leaps off the page, and as a reader, I wanted nothing more than for her to find relief in a solid diagnosis and treatment. The essays are riveting (I read this in less than 24 hours) and completely readable even by those unfamiliar with psychiatric language and the DSM. I was a bit lost in "Beyond the Hedge" given my complete lack of background knowledge about sacred arts and mysticism - that is my failing, not Wang's.

As an educator who has worked with many students whose care teams have searched for the perfect diagnosis and medication cocktail to "fix" a child, this book is one that has helped me understand the world of mental illness a bit more. It was an empathy-builder for me, and it's a book I will recommend over and over again.

If you are unfamiliar with the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, which this manuscript won, definitely look it up. Many of the essays in the book were previously published in other publications, which accounts for the repetition of some background material. Such is often the case in collections of essays, so please be aware of this when reading.
Profile Image for Hanna.
155 reviews29 followers
October 3, 2018
Harrowing. Intense. Illuminating. Powerful.
In The Collected Schizofrenias, Esmé tells the story of her life with mental illness and Lyme disease. This feels like an intimate and honest look at what living with schizophrenia can be like. From psychosis to not being taken seriously by medical professionals, each page of this book offers insight into a world that isn't discussed enough. This will be a powerful nonfiction read in 2019.
Profile Image for Lucy Dacus.
96 reviews28.2k followers
March 16, 2020
Loved this. Crucial perspective, expressed wonderfully.
Profile Image for Paris (parisperusing).
187 reviews25 followers
June 24, 2019
*Goodreads apparently didn't save my review the first time, so here goes it…

If it takes me longer than four days to finish a book of this size, it's because I'm just not into it.

I wanted to binge on this book, I truly did, but my biggest grudge with TCS is that it is a book predicated more on reports and research than anecdotes. With a disorder as obscure as schizophrenia, along with the myriad of other important mental illnesses mentioned, any reader not privy to these disorders is going to need something tangible to reference.

But I must take exception with this, as the bulk of Wang's essays — discerning from the four I read, at least — is about 80 percent citation, 10 percent anecdote, and the rest is that visceral fluff we biblios love to indulge.

At times, Wang relied too heavily on scholarly sources to validate the myths surrounding these disorders, which isn't an offense necessarily, but it became a distraction. The opening essay, "Diagnosis," brought back haunts of the chapters of those gigantic boulders we called textbooks in high school, and I thought I wanted no more of it then. Still, I soldiered on, to even better chapters. I couldn't stop turning the pages of "Toward a Pathology of the Possessed" quick enough — but then “High-Functioning" and "Yale Will Not Save You" really burned me out with its blocky quotes and choppy pacing.

I did not feel like I could know Wang without the innumerable articles and sources and research and studies that proxied for her. Perhaps I am in a bad mood, but I spent four whole days convincing myself this book would be something it was not. I will try again eventually, but not right now.

If you liked my review, feel free to follow me @parisperusing on Instagram.
Profile Image for Jessie.
259 reviews172 followers
April 7, 2019
Well, I loved #esmeweijunwang ‘s #thecollectedschizophrenias very much. A series of essays about schizoaffective disorder in the healthcare system, in popular culture, and in the public imagination, the book is also a meditation on Wang’s own diagnosis of, and experiences of the same illness. I love love love that Wang is so actively engaged with her own experiences, and so surrounded by love - I wish this for everyone who shares her diagnosis. I was grateful for Wang’s description of her illness in times of acuity, in particular catatonia, the unknowable fugue. The heartbreakers for me: that fiction can feed into psychosis, books and films. What an incredible, impossible, essential risk - to engage in stories. Also, sometimes Wang, to me it seemed, had to forgive judgements and unkindnesses. Her forbearance often made my heart heavy - it is a lot to have to accept cruelty from loved ones and strangers, and probably to doubt one’s own interpretation of unkindness and cruelty at times. I empathized with Wang’s need to seek help outside of the healthcare system, where empowerment is more readily available, and one can act upon their own body, instead of having to submit to the actions of others. I wish for Wang, and others carrying this diagnosis, long periods of wellness and remission, less distress in times of illness, and communities of love and support at all times. I wish for more people to live a life as wonderful as Wang’s, instead of on the margins of society. Read this one, you won’t regret it.
Profile Image for Katie Long.
279 reviews60 followers
February 2, 2019
A collection of essays about Esme Weijun Wang’s experience living with, among other illnesses, schizoaffective disorder. It’s rare to read about schizophrenia from someone who lives with it, rather than someone who treats or studies these conditions. Her take on the way that patients with schizophrenia are often left out of decisions about their own treatment (which often prioritizes the safety of those around them, rather than the patient herself), is certainly debatable, but is an invaluable perspective.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,639 reviews2,155 followers
September 20, 2019
Sometimes you read a piece of personal nonfiction and learn a whole bunch of new things. But sometimes you also change the way you look at the world and other people. This is one of those books. My views on mental health have been shaped mostly by Anxiety and Depression and how they've impacted me and many people in my life. I haven't given Schizophrenia a lot of thought for many reasons, and as I read this book it seemed like Wang hit every single one of them. All the ways in which we have pushed it to the side as a thing that does not happen to regular people, all the ways in which we try to hide it, all the ways we dress it up as something from a scary movie.

Wang is so impressive here. The personal pieces of these essays are moving and vivid, but she also brings a rigorous research to it, explaining DSM definitions and types of psychotropic drugs with clarity. She gives us not just her story but a larger societal context. She comes at schizophrenia from multiple angles, so by the time we are done it feels like we have performed an exhaustive study with her.

It is not an uplifting book, but it is not depressing either. It is rooted in understanding and empathy. Wang is not afraid to look at the most difficult and troubling elements of schizophrenia, for those who have the condition and those who love and care for them, and to consider everyone with real empathy.

I did this on audio, which I enjoyed quite a lot.
Profile Image for Anne.
31 reviews15 followers
August 27, 2019
At best, the author glides through some mildly interesting current perspectives in mental health and can summarize a few stories nicely. But generally, the text is disjointed, self-aggrandizing, and rushed. She seems to draw almost at random from sources that confirm bias, which I felt led to shutting down questions about the subject rather than opening them further and getting me to think. It felt at times lazy and disorganized. It felt insecure and distrustful and/or condescending to the reader. The style leaned heavily on manipulative ways to push the reader into a sense of grave drama, often from weird peripheral, almost passive angles.

I have no doubt of the author’s personal suffering, but the approach to it here felt cocky. While such an approach is certainly not invalid, it did not impress me or even interest me that much. Overall, I did not get a sense of the book’s purpose other than to aim for the public validation which it is indeed receiving. I could be entirely missing the point behind the hype on this one, but I can’t deny that reading it gave me the same feeling I get after mindlessly scrolling through a stranger’s twitter feed from recent years for far too long.
Profile Image for Amy.
246 reviews4 followers
February 19, 2019
This was tough to rate. Some of the essays were deeply informative and emotional. Some were just .... there. I wish this would have been more a memoir and not essays. It felt disconnected. I feel like three stars is a “mean” rating for someone who wrote a book and has a debilitating mental illness. That author should automatically get six stars because it takes guts and a tremendous amount of mind power to complete a work like this. But I’m sticking with my rating of three. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it.
Profile Image for Mari.
708 reviews5,597 followers
October 17, 2019

A moving and interesting collection of essays on a subject I personally had never read about and that is cloaked in a bigger societal taboo.

Why you might not like it: It's nonfiction, for one. It is also difficult to read and I think it would especially be tricky for people who might find this kind of candid discussion of mental illness triggering. There were moments when her story very much overwhelmed me, so I would also say that being in the right headspace for a more serious, sometime somber set of essays is also essential.

Why I loved it: I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author, one of my favorite ways to consume nonfiction. I felt immersed in Wang's experience. I love nonfiction with a narrative bent, and while this still felt information heavy, and Wang often includes a lot of her own research, it is perfectly balanced with stories of her life, her diagnosis, her career and her family and loved ones. I love things that make me reconsider my own view of something and this was that. This asked me to take a look at what I thought I knew about the schizophrenias, what media has taught me about them, and the kinds of biases we approach the subject with.

Hands down the most moving part of the entire collection was, to me, the discussion of motherhood. That will stay in my brain for a long time.
January 11, 2020
Wang’s book is a collection of personal essays, most of which focus to some degree on the author’s experience of schizoaffective disorder. For me, the essays that deal with her psychosis and involuntary hospitalizations were the strongest. Wang is also interested in popular culture, particularly films, that relate to or shed light on her condition. While I was intrigued by her allusion to possible links between autoimmune malfunction and neurologic and psychiatric disease, her experience of chronic Lyme disease (a controversial diagnosis, to be sure), alternative “medical” treatments for that condition, divination (using Tarot cards), and “spiritual” pilgrimage and healing (quackery) were less engaging—even dull—matters to wade through.

All in all, this is a mixed bag. It’s an interesting book but hardly essential reading.
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