My favorite genre is memoir. Indeed, I love to read about the real lives of successful people, and how they got there. Dipping my nose in such books is like having a role model on call. Tales of overcoming adversity give me eternal hope.
A perennial favorite about schizophrenia remains Lori Schiller’s The Quiet Room. She was suicidal; had numerous drug failures; and when Clozapine came on the market it miraculously lifted the voices out of her brain. From the beginning, she was determined to fight the SZ, and though along the way she fell off, in the end Lori won the battle.
Written in a vivid style, the book includes the journal entries she kept during one hospital stay. Her courage to keep going, and the advent of the miracle drug, transforms this from a hellish account into one of beautiful triumph.
Lori got sick when she was 17, and cycled in and out of hospitals for a decade. This book proves that self-determination and persistence pay off in the long run. Lori never gave up on herself, and you shouldn’t quit, either. Over the years I’ve come back to read this inspiring book, and it never fails to cheer me. I also learn a lot from it.
Diagnosis Schizophrenia, a guide to "how it feels, what to do, staying healthy" tracks a panel of patients in recovery as they go from the diagnosis to its aftereffects and continued treatment. Rachel Miller and Susan E. Mason’s book was published in 2002 and is still the single best "go to" resource for the newly diagnosed, focusing on how the brain works, diagnosing SZ, medication and coping skills.
Chapters include "What will people think of me now?" and "Drugs, alcohol and safer sex," among other topics. I bought this book as soon as it came out, and I re-read it five months ago. On second glance, I marveled at how accurate it is. "That’s just like what happened to me" I could relate to all the panelists, and wish I had this reference guide when I was diagnosed in 1987. Perhaps the most important section covers "positive and negative symptoms," with practical techniques and solutions for dealing with them.
It’s a short book you can easily read in a week. The panelists’ honesty and realistic approach to the illness are mixed in with their goals and hopes for the future. If you have to buy one self-help book about schizophrenia, buy this one!
Though it was published more than five years ago_, Breakthroughs in Antipsychotic Medications_ is relevant today. It guides you through making the switch from a traditional drug to an atypical or from one atypical to another. The cost, $22.95 on Amazon.com is steep, yet it’s worth it if you’re seriously considering a change.
The authors liken the search for the most effective medication to unlocking a door when you have multiple keys on the chain. You’d try each one to see if it fit before giving up, right? That’s how it is with medication: we’re lucky in the modern world that if one doesn’t work, we can try another.
This guide for patients, families, and clinicians is intensive and nearly exhaustive, with medication and side effect fact sheets. Each chapter is devoted to a step-by-step analysis, starting with a patient’s guide, moving to switching medications, assessing the response to switching, and on to long term issues after switching. An "Overview of the Treatment of Schizophrenia" includes frequently asked questions. One drawback: Abilify and Geodon weren’t on the market back in 1999, so the comparisons don’t include those drugs. Overall, though, the book is packed with useful information. Try checking it out of the library if you don’t want to buy it.
Next, I’ll talk up the memoir, Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia, written by Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn Spiro, MD. Pam has the illness; her sister is a psychiatrist. This harrowing account doesn’t have a happy ending, but in real life, Pam holds her own, giving talks and speeches along with Carolyn to anybody who could be helped by their experience.
Throughout the book, it seems she willfully disregards what’s in her best interest, stopping meds on her own or getting into dangerous relationships. Yet her sister’s love is perpetual, and this original book documents Carolyn’s role in getting Pamela the help she needed. Told in alternating points of view, shifting between the sisters, the memoir details their feelings and frustrations.
This book is a must for anyone wanting to know how a schizophrenic brain works. Pam details in shocking memory her symptoms and struggles, and is never really free in the end. It’s an accurate, honest account of how the SZ ravages an innocent person. Her true recovery comes much later, and I wish she’d write a new book to continue where the sisters left off. Divided Minds is $14.95 in paperback.
Lastly, I’ll include a surprise book choice that my first therapist recommended. In the early 1990s, I had formed a friendship with a woman who was unstable and needy; I had the urge to make her over. Tim, my therapist, suggested I read Codependent No More, the Melody Beattie classic. Though it’s about dysfunctional relationships with addicts who abuse alcohol, and focuses on letting go of the urge to control other people, I bought a copy and read it because I related to so much of what she said.
The author details the role we play in enabling addictive personalities to continue their destructive behavior. Often, I hear time and again about mothers who allow their adult children who have SZ to live at home, even though the loved ones are doing drugs, or are otherwise not working their recovery. The rescuer mode becomes a full-time job, and you lose yourself in the process and jeopardize your own sanity as well as your loved one’s recovery.
So, even if you or someone you know with SZ doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, reading this book could be vital to restoring your well-being. Dealing with full-blown mental illness creates codependent tendencies in a lot of us, and this guide details how to engage in necessary self-care.
I urge you to read any or all of these self-help books. They provide a spectrum of viewpoints, all important, all equally valid.
Mental Health Activist