When Elyn R. Saks was first officially diagnosed with schizophrenia during her first year of law school at Yale University, doctors told her she would not complete her degree. In fact, they added, she would most likely never hold a job, get married or have any semblance of a normal life.
In her memoir, which she will discuss at APA's 2007 Annual Convention, Sunday, Aug. 19, at 4 p.m., readers learn that Saks not only went back to law school, but used her experiences in psychiatric wards to inform her research and writing on mental health law.
Saks is now an associate dean and professor of law, psychology, psychiatry and human behavior at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California. Saks battled her increasing delusions-and weathered several hospital stays-to graduate at the top of her undergraduate class at Vanderbilt University, receive a master's in philosophy at Oxford University and get married.
But the stress of starting anew in law school, combined with ongoing bouts of psychosis, landed her in another hospital. She fully intended to return to school, but the hospital staff had other ideas.
"Without my permission or knowledge, they had called the dean of students at the law school to confirm that I couldn't return that year or possibly ever," she says. "In effect, they withdrew me from law school."
But Saks fought to regain her equilibrium and sanity and returned to law school the next year. There she quickly began focusing on the intersection of law and mental illness. She has since published numerous articles and books on legal issues such as informed consent and the use of restraints. And she is now pursuing a degree in psychoanalysis to further inform her research.
She hopes to reach a more general audience, however, with the publication of her memoir "The Center Cannot Hold: A Journey Through Madness" (Hyperion, 2007).
"My main goals are to give hope to people who suffer from schizophrenia, and understanding to those who don't," she says.
In the book, Saks discusses the obstacles she faced as she pursued her career while still in recovery, such as keeping her psychosis at bay, especially around classmates and colleagues. She also recounts her struggle to accept that she needed medication and focuses on how talk therapy has allowed her to make meaning out of her struggles.
"One of the reasons I've done this memoir is to explode the myth that psychoanalysis can't help people like me," Saks says.
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