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Esmé Weijun Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2019), 202pp.

Esmé Weijun Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2019), 202pp.

"Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy." So begins this collection of thirteen essays that enjoyed a time on the NYT bestseller list after it was released in 2019. Wang writes from the hard wisdom that is earned from personal experience. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2001, heard her first auditory hallucination in 2005, and then was later diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type in 2013. She describes periods of her life when she was "delusional for months at a time." In addition, she has an official diagnosis for the controversial Lyme disease. At this point in her life, Wang does not consider it possible to ever be completely free of "the schizophrenias. They have been with me for too long, I think, to be obliterated." (186).

There are many types of mental illnesses and presentations of schizophrenia, and Wang is careful not to lump them all together. Any diagnosis of schizophrenia is complicated by the controversial field of psychiatry that has ping ponged between a Freudian model of mental illness that requires talk therapy (Wang has had numerous therapists) and a medical model that searches for biological mechanisms and that leads to heavy medications (she has had numerous physicians and drug regimens). Our legal system also struggles with deeply complicated questions surrounding mental illness like involuntary treatments (three times for Wang), insanity pleas, and the like. Wang's essays explore a broad range of issues, including family history, science, history, literature, non-conventional medicine, the occult, and the arts.

For more on schizophrenia, see my reviews of the books by Vince Granata, Everything is Fine: A Memoir (2021); Anne Harrington, Mind Fixers: Psychiatry's Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness (2019); Robert Kolker, Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family (2020), a story about a family in which six of the twelve children were diagnosed with schizophrenia; A.K. Benjamin, Let Me Not Be Mad: My Story of Unraveling Minds (2019); Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness Is My Only Companion; A Christian Response to Mental Illness (2006); the many books by the neurologist Oliver Sacks; and then the movies I Am Maris (2018), Tarnation (2003), and Love and Mercy (2014). 

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