Tuesday, January 29, 2013

High functioning schizophrenia: an academic's story.

"THIRTY years ago, I was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia."

That's a helluva way to start one of the most important NYT OpEd's of 2013 ...
Successful and Schizophrenic - ELYN R. SAKS NYTimes.com 
... I made a decision. I would write the narrative of my life. Today I am a chaired professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law... 
... Although I fought my diagnosis for many years, I came to accept that I have schizophrenia and will be in treatment the rest of my life. Indeed, excellent psychoanalytic treatment and medication have been critical to my success... 
... Over the last few years, my colleagues, including Stephen Marder, Alison Hamilton and Amy Cohen, and I have gathered 20 research subjects with high-functioning schizophrenia in Los Angeles.. 
... At the same time, most were unmarried and childless, which is consistent with their diagnoses. 
... in addition to medication and therapy, all the participants had developed techniques to keep their schizophrenia at bay. For some, these techniques were cognitive... 
... One of the most frequently mentioned techniques that helped our research participants manage their symptoms was work... 
... Personally, I reach out to my doctors, friends and family whenever I start slipping, and I get great support from them. I eat comfort food (for me, cereal) and listen to quiet music. I minimize all stimulation. Usually these techniques, combined with more medication and therapy, will make the symptoms pass. But the work piece — using my mind — is my best defense. It keeps me focused, it keeps the demons at bay. My mind, I have come to say, is both my worst enemy and my best friend... 
Elyn R. Saks is a law professor at the University of Southern California and the author of the memoir “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.”
My freshman roommate developed what I believe was schizophrenia. He dropped out for years, then one day returned to school, completed a PhD and started working. I suspect he was not "cured", just as Elyn Sanks is not cured.

Whatever the limitations of the "schizophrenia" as a diagnostic label (they are many), we now know that a few people are able to manage around a grievous and terrible disability. They have shown that it can be done.

That's important. Remember Roger Bannister? He was one of the first Europeans to officially run a 4 minute mile (I suspect other humans had done it before). Before he did it, few tried. Now many men have done it, including one runner in his 40s. It's still hard to do, but it's not news any more.

Succeeding with schizophrenia is the psychic equivalent of running the four minute mile. Terribly hard to do, but once done methods can be refined, goals set, support provided, lessons learned.

Lessons that I suspect will be of value to many persons, not just schizophrenic and autistic adults, but also all inheritors of the 150,000 year old human mind; hacked together in a blink of Darwin's eye. The techniques used to manage severe psychic turmoil can also be used to manage the lesser afflictions we all experience.

Elyn Saks and fellow champions, we salute you.

See also:

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