Elyn Saks Wins MacArthur Foundation Grant

‘Once schizophrenic always schizophrenic.’ Well, I don’t think so, but that’s me.

Elyn Saks, as reported in a Los Angeles Times article, was among the 24 recipients of the ‘genius’ grants coming from the MacArthur foundation this year.

Saks, 53, suffered from schizophrenia all her life, but kept it hidden while excelling in her academic studies, receiving a philosophy degree from Oxford University and a law degree from Yale University before joining the faculty at USC. She is also an adjunct professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego, where she does research about society’s rejection of the mentally ill and how high-functioning schizophrenics cope.

Saks came out of the mental health closet with her 2007 memoir, “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.” The book described the night terrors she had suffered throughout her life, her earlier beliefs that she had mentally caused the deaths of thousands of people, and the often-inhumane treatment she had received at mental health facilities.

A few comments…

1. People tend to outgrow ‘night terrors’. Some sooner than others.
2. Our anti-heroine protagonist learns her super powers are not quite as she’d imagined them to be. Rich fantasy lives might not be as unusual as previously thought.
3. Conventional mental health facilities are snake pits of abuse, and this is why we need safe and humane alternatives.

Saks said in an interview Monday that she would use at least some of the prize money to extend her memoir by interviewing other people with schizophrenia who are doing well.

When he wasn’t struggling with the steep incline of purgatory, or joyfully soaring through the heavenly heights, the medieval poet Dante Aligheri explored the depths of hell, and managed to return to the earth’s surface relatively intact. I’m thinking that, very much like Dante in his literary pursuits, it is also possible for a person who has lost his or her mind to recover his or her senses, and to get on with the business of living.

Isn’t there a point where ‘high-functioning schizophrenic’ becomes the oxymoron it sounds like?

(BTW, just in case you were wondering, an oxymoron is not a stubborn idiot.)