Photo by Will Vinet
From the book flap:
Elyn Saks is a success by any measure: She's an endowed professor at the prestigious University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She has managed to achieve this in spite of being diagnosed as schizophrenic and given a "grave" prognosis-and suffering the effects of her illness throughout her life.
Saks was only eight, and living an otherwise idyllic childhood in sunny 1960s Miami, when her first symptoms appeared in the form of obsessions and night terrors. But it was not until she reached Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar that her first full-blown episode, complete with voices in her head and terrifying suicidal fantasies, forced her into a psychiatric hospital.
Saks would later attend Yale Law School where one night, during her first term, she had a breakdown that left her singing on the roof of the law school library at midnight. She was taken to the emergency room, force-fed antipsychotic medication, and tied hand-and-foot to the cold metal of a hospital bed. She spent the next five months in a psychiatric ward.
So began Saks's long war with her own internal demons and the equally powerful forces of stigma. Today she is a chaired professor of law who researches and writes about the rights of the mentally ill. She is married to a wonderful man.
It's a pleasure and honor to talk with Elyn, whose book received a starred review in Publishers Weekly.
CB: First, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Perhaps you could tell us when you officially received your diagnosis and how old you were? You were at Yale Law School at the time, right?
ES: In 1977 I was hospitalized and would've been around 21 or 22. My illness started off looking like depression with some mild paranoid ideation but developed into full-blown psychosis. I received the diagnosis when I was hospitalized in New Haven in 1982.
CB: Your story is inspiring because you refused to believe the doctors who told you to drop out of law school, that as someone with schizophrenia, you should drastically lower your expectations. Yet you kept on going. Describe how you were able to do this. Where did you get that kind of fight?
ES: My brother, who's a year-and-a-half younger, told me as a teenager that I'm the most stubborn person he ever met. And I think that was both an asset and a limitation. A limitation because for a long time I wouldn't accept that I was ill and needed medication. And an asset because I fought people's lower expectations of me and I decided, "I'm going to do it anyway, you can't tell me I can't do this." So that fight, that stubbornness, cut both ways.
CB: What else enabled you to recover?
ES: I was enormously fortunate to have resources other people don't have. Mine is not the story of a lone individual triumphing over adversity. Friends and family and others gave me enormous support and help and guidance and love, and with that I defied what was expected.