Psychological Memoirs Continued

Many of these memoirs have been made into movies. Most notable there are “Girl, Interrupted”, “Prozac Nation”, and “A Beautiful Mind”.

“Girl, Interrupted,” which came out in 1999, was based on writer Susanna Kaysen’s account of her 18-month stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s. I think I saw the movie before reading the book, which is unusual for me. I actually liked the film version and thought that it stayed pretty faithful to the memoir. In the story, Susanna was given the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, but it isn’t very clear that that was the correct diagnosis. The other characters in the memoir give a nice overview of a variety of issues that these girls got hospitalized for, especially the girl with the eating disorder who ultimately commits suicide when she gets out of the hospital obviously too early. Of course there is the great character played by Angelina Jolie who even won an Oscar for her performance. It is also a good period piece that portrays how different hospitals and society’s treatment of mental illness was in the 60’s as opposed to now.

“Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America: A Memoir”, written by Elizabeth Wurtzel about her struggles with depression while she was at Harvard was published in 1994. I do not remember if I have read the book or not, but the movie was ultimately disappointing despite some good acting on the part of Christina Ricci. The movie was released in 2001 and did not receive much critical acclaim, much less any Oscar nominations. I personally much prefer the psychologist and author Lauren Slater’s accounts of her own bouts with depression, which were covered in “Welcome to My Country” and “Prozac Diary” which came out 1998. Slater has always been a controversial figure in the community of psychology and psychiatry. The story of the controversy is well covered in the Wikipedia article about her many books and their reception. The fact that she stopped working as a therapist for the most part in order to focus full-time on her writing helps me deal with her unorthodox methods of discussing her own mental illness and her work with her patients. I get the sense that she is a much better writer than clinician. This is partly due to her strange boundaries. I remember reading an article of hers in Vogue magazine called “Divided Lives” which turns out to have come out in the January 1995 issue. If I remember correctly this is the article of her deciding to try an experiment and become friends with one of her patients who terminated the psychotherapy with her. As far as I remember, this experiment was a disaster, as one would have predicted. Anyhow, her depictions of her bouts with mental illness, including writings on her difficulties with pregnancy and medication issues are very interesting and well written. I think her metaphorical memoir of lying that I mentioned in my last post would actually make a great film. Christina Ricci might do well portraying Slater!

So “A Beautiful Mind”, which came out in 2001, technically does not go with these other films, as the book it is loosely based on is a biography (1998), not a memoir. However the movie’s portrayal of a man’s descent into schizophrenia seems to put it in the category of these other films as a biopic and portrayal of mental illness based on a real story. Many were disappointed in this film’s avoidance of John Forbes Nash’s homosexuality, and I would agree that it was a shame that the film steered clear of this part of his life. However, the film was very moving, and the acting by Russell Crowe was really stunningly great, from my point of view. While the film did not follow Nash’s real life closely enough, as a story of a young man’s descent into madness and semi recovery from schizophrenia, the film was excellent. The portrayal of the loss he felt when he on his own decided to reject his own hallucinations of, most notably, a young friend from college and a little girl, which seemed to be parts of himself that he could not internalize and integrate, this portrayal of the loss he felt while at the same time deciding to “ignore” them for his own health and sanity was a great commentary on an interesting issue about all kinds of psychosis. The truth is, people often do become attached to aspects of their psychosis, and then it can be a wrenching life or death decision to choose sanity and lose one’s very close companions, who have seemed very real to the person. There is a loneliness that follows, and even sometimes, people report feeling empty and flat without their invisible unreal companions, while at the same time they recognize that they have returned to sanity from a very dangerous inner world. This is a complicated and difficult crossroad which was very well and quite movingly portrayed towards the end of the film. In fact I found it to be the most important moment in the film. I found it a little hard to believe that genius Nash stopped taking any form of medication and used mind over crazy mind, so to speak, in order to remain sane. This seems highly unusual. I have worked with many people suffering from schizophrenia and schizoaffective illness as well as bipolar disorder, and these very biological illnesses almost without exception require quite a bit of medication to keep a person stable.it would be as though a person with diabetes decides to use her mind to control it instead of insulin…

In my last post on memoirs of mental illness, I failed to mention Styron’s brilliant memoir, “Darkness Visible”, a story of alcoholism and suicidal depression that interestingly comes late in the author’s life while he is in his 60’s, quite a contrast to the majority of these types of accounts which begin with the author having some kind of episode in their late teens or early twenties. Styron is a great writer of fiction, and this very personal non-fictional account of his struggles is really a great book for anyone to read and get a good glimpse into the world of depression.

“My Depression: A Picture Book”, written and illustrated by poet, children’s story writer and playwright Elizabeth Swados is also brilliant, as well as being quite funny, despite the serious topic and the writer’s very serious family history; both her mother and brother suffered from schizophrenia and both of them committed suicide. So this is a brave story of survival and a courageous battle with terrible depression. The illustrations are whimsical and delightful. She does decide to take medication and her treatment of this topic is great. I have worked with many adults suffering from depression, some of whom have taken medication for it as well as many who stopped their Ned’s or never decided to take them. This is a very controversial topic- medication for depression, as opposed to medication for the other mental illnesses mentioned above. Good topic for next week’s post…

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Psychological Memoirs Continued

  1. I too enjoy reading this genre. “The Center Cannot Hold” by Elyn Saks is one of the best memoirs I have read. This is a wonderfully honest and clear account of her journey with schizophrenia.
    Thanks for the great post.

    Like

  2. I was wondering if you’ve run across any other “illustrated” memoirs…where perhaps authors have used art therapy and write/show their journey?

    Like

Please Share Your Thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s