Read The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness Online

Authors: Elyn R. Saks

Tags: #Teaching Methods & Materials, #Biography, #General, #Psychopathology, #Health & Fitness, #Personal Memoirs, #Women, #Diseases, #Psychology, #Biography & Autobiography, #Schizophrenics, #Education, #California, #Social Scientists & Psychologists, #Mental Illness, #College teachers, #Schizophrenia, #Educators

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

BOOK: The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness
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THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD

 

ELYN R. SAKS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

Prologue

ITS TEN O'CLOCK on a Friday night. I am sitting...

Chapter One

WHEN I WAS a little girl, I woke up almost...

Chapter Two

DURING THE SUMMER between my sophomore and
junior years in...

 

Chapter Three

IN SPITE OF the fact that Nashville's Vanderbilt
University was...

 

Chapter Four

AFTER GRADUATING FROM Vanderbilt University in
June of 1977, I...

 

Chapter Five

SET AMONG THE green and gently rolling hills of
Oxfordshire...

Chapter Six

ALL THROUGHOUT THOSE first long hours of my
second stay

Chapter Seven

I STUMBLED INTO Elizabeth Jones's office in a
desperate lunge...

 

Chapter Eight

FOUR YEARS AFTER coming to Oxford, I finally
completed my...

 

Chapter Nine

AS ALWAYS, MY family greeted me at the airport in...

Chapter Ten

I FULLY EXPECTED THAT someone from Student
Health would...

 

Chapter Eleven

ONCE WE'D ARRIVED at YPI, the EMTs took me by...

Chapter Twelve

FOR A PLACE that existed ostensibly to promote the
mental...

 

Chapter Thirteen

THE FIRST PATIENT I met once back at YPI was...

Chapter Fourteen

I RETURNED TO New Haven a few weeks before
classes...

 

Chapter Fifteen

DURING SECOND SEMESTER, we were free to choose

whatever classes...

Chapter Sixteen

AS THE END of law school drew near, I knew...

Chapter Seventeen

TAKING THE TEACHING job, even though it was not
at...

 

Chapter Eighteen

IN SEPTEMBER, I went back to my second year of...

Chapter Nineteen

I WAS BEGINNING to feel somewhat comfortable with
a few...

 

Chapter Twenty

KAPLAN WAS ASKING me to surrender. That's the
way I...

 

Chapter Twenty-One

THINGS WITH KAPLAN were not going well. No

matter what...

Chapter Twenty-Two

ONCE, BACK IN New Haven, White had told me that...

Chapter Twenty-Three

I WAS NEARLY forty years old, and for the very...

Chapter Twenty-Four

THE HUMAN BRAIN comprises about 2 percent of a
person's...

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Copyright

 

prologue

I
t's TEN O'CLOCK on a Friday night. I am sitting with my two
classmates in the Yale Law School Library. They aren't too happy
about being here; it's the weekend, after all—there are plenty of other
fun things they could be doing. But I am determined that we hold our
small-group meeting. We have a memo assignment; we have to do it,
have to finish it, have to produce it, have to...Wait a minute. No,
wait.
"Memos are visitations," I announce. "They make certain points. The
point is on your head. Have you ever killed anyone?"

My study partners look at me as if they—or I—have been splashed
with ice water. "This is a joke, right?" asks one. "What are you talking
about, Elyn?" asks the other.

"Oh, the usual. Heaven, and hell. Who's what, what's who. Hey!"

I say, leaping out of my chair. "Let's go out on the roof!"

I practically sprint to the nearest large window, climb through it,
and step out onto the roof, followed a few moments later by my
reluctant partners in crime. "This is the real me!" I announce, my arms
waving above my head. "Come to the Florida lemon tree! Come to the
Florida sunshine bush! Where they make lemons. Where there are
demons. Hey, what's the matter with you guys?"

"You're frightening me," one blurts out. A few uncertain moments
later, "I'm going back inside," says the other. They look scared. Have
they seen a ghost or something? And hey, wait a minute—they're
scrambling back through the window.

"Why are you going back in?" I ask. But they're already inside, and
I'm alone. A few minutes later, somewhat reluctantly, I climb back
through the window, too.

Once we're all seated around the table again, I carefully stack my
textbooks into a small tower, then rearrange my note pages. Then I
rearrange them again. I can see the problem, but I can't see its
solution. This is very worrisome. "I don't know if you're having the
same experience of words jumping around the pages as I am," I say. "I
think someone's infiltrated my copies of the cases. We've got to case
the joint. I don't believe in joints. But they do hold your body
together." I glance up from my papers to see my two colleagues staring
at me. "I...I have to go," says one. "Me, too," says the other. They seem
nervous as they hurriedly pack up their stuff and leave, with a vague
promise about catching up with me later and working on the memo
then.

I hide in the stacks until well after midnight, sitting on the floor
muttering to myself. It grows quiet. The lights are being turned off.
Frightened of being locked in, I finally scurry out, ducking through the
shadowy library so as not to be seen by any security people. It's dark
outside. I don't like the way it feels to walk back to my dorm. And once
there, I can't sleep anyway. My head is too full of noise. Too full of
lemons, and law memos, and mass murders that I will be responsible
for. I have to work. I cannot work. I cannot think.

The next day, I am in a panic, and hurry to Professor M., pleading
for an extension. "The memo materials have been infiltrated," I tell
him. "They're jumping around. I used to be good at the broad jump,
because I'm tall. I fall. People put things in and then say it's my fault. I
used to be God, but I got demoted." I begin to sing my little Florida
juice jingle, twirling around his office, my arms thrust out like bird
wings.

Professor M. looks up at me. I can't decipher what that look on his
face means. Is he scared of me, too? Can he be trusted? "I'm
concerned about you, Elyn," he says. Is he really? "I have a little work
to do here, then perhaps you could come and have dinner with me and
my family. Could you do that?"

"Of course!" I say. "I'll just be out here on the roof until you're
ready to go!" He watches as I once again clamber out onto a roof. It
seems the right place to be. I find several feet of loose telephone wire
out there and fashion myself a lovely belt. Then I discover a nice long
nail, six inches or so, and slide it into my pocket. You never know
when you might need protection.

Of course, dinner at Professor M.'s does not go well. The details
are too tedious; suffice it to say that three hours later, I am in the
emergency room of the Yale-New Haven Hospital, surrendering my
wire belt to a very nice attendant, who claims to admire it. But no, I
will not give up my special nail. I put my hand in my pocket, closing
my fingers around the nail. "People are trying to kill me," I explain to
him. "They've killed me many times today already. Be careful, it might
spread to you." He just nods.

When The Doctor comes in, he brings backup—another attendant,
this one not so nice, with no interest in cajoling me or allowing me to
keep my nail. And once he's pried it from my fingers, I'm done for.
Seconds later, The Doctor and his whole team of ER goons swoop
down, grab me, lift me high out of the chair, and slam me down on a
nearby bed with such force I see stars. Then they bind both my legs
and both my arms to the metal bed with thick leather straps.

A sound comes out of me that I've never heard before—half-groan,
half-scream, marginally human, and all terror. Then the sound comes
out of me again, forced from somewhere deep inside my belly and
scraping my throat raw. Moments later, I'm choking and gagging on
some kind of bitter liquid that I try to lock my teeth against but
cannot. They make me swallow it. They make me.

I've sweated through my share of nightmares, and this is not the
first hospital I've been in. But this is the worst ever. Strapped down,
unable to move, and doped up, I can feel myself slipping away. I am
finally powerless. Oh, look there, on the other side of the door, looking
at me through the window—who is that? Is that person real? I am like
a bug, impaled on a pin, wriggling helplessly while someone
contemplates tearing my head off.

Someone watching me.
Something
watching me. It's been waiting
for this moment for so many years, taunting me, sending me previews
of what will happen. Always before, I've been able to fight back, to
push it until it recedes—not totally, but mostly, until it resembles
nothing more than a malicious little speck off to the corner of my eye,
camped near the edge of my peripheral vision.

But now, with my arms and legs pinioned to a metal bed, my
consciousness collapsing into a puddle, and no one paying attention to
the alarms I've been trying to raise, there is finally nothing further to
be done.
Nothing I can do. There will be raging fires, and hundreds,
maybe thousands of people lying dead in the streets. And it will
all—all of it—be my fault.

 

chapter one

When I
WAS
a little girl, I woke up almost every morning to a
sunny day, a wide clear sky, and the blue green waves of the Atlantic
Ocean nearby. This was Miami in the fifties and the early
sixties—before Disney World, before the restored Deco fabulousness
of South Beach, back when the Cuban "invasion" was still a few
hundred frightened people in makeshift boats, not a seismic cultural
shift. Mostly, Miami was where chilled New Yorkers fled in the winter,
where my East Coast parents had come (separately) after World War
II,
and where they met on my mother's first day of college at the
University of Florida in Gainesville.

Every family has its myths, the talisman stories that weave us one
to the other, husband to wife, parents to child, siblings to one another.

Ethnicities, favorite foods, the scrapbooks or the wooden trunk in the
attic, or that time that Grandmother said that thing, or when Uncle
Fred went off to war and came back with...For us, my brothers and me,
the first story we were told was that my parents fell in love at first
sight.

My dad was tall and smart and worked to keep a trim physique. My
mother was tall, too, and also smart and pretty, with dark curly hair
and an outgoing personality. Soon after they met, my father went off
to law school, where he excelled. Their subsequent marriage produced
three children: me, my brother Warren a year-and-a-half later, then
Kevin three-and-a-half years after that.

We lived in suburban North Miami, in a low-slung house with a
fence around it and a yard with a kumquat tree, a mango tree, and red
hibiscus. And a whole series of dogs. The first one kept burying our
shoes; the second one harassed the neighbors. Finally, with the third,
a fat little dachshund named Rudy, we had a keeper; he was still with
my parents when I went off to college.

When my brothers and I were growing up, my parents had a
weekend policy: Saturday belonged to them (for time spent together,
or a night out with their friends, dancing and dining at a local
nightclub); Sundays belonged to the kids. We'd often start that day all
piled up in their big bed together, snuggling and tickling and laughing.
Later in the day, perhaps we'd go to Greynolds Park or the Everglades,
or the Miami Zoo, or roller skating. We went to the beach a lot, too;
my dad loved sports and taught us all how to play the activity du jour.
When I was twelve, we moved to a bigger house, this one with a
swimming pool, and we all played together there, too. Sometimes
we'd take the power boat out and water-ski, then have lunch on a
small island not far from shore.

We mostly watched television in a bunch as well—
The Flintstones,
The Jetsons, Leave It to Beaver, Rawhide,
all the other cowboy shows.
Ed Sullivan and Disney on Sunday nights. When the
Perry Mason
reruns began, I saw them every day after school, amazed that Perry
not only defended people but also managed to solve all the crimes. We
watched
Saturday Night Live
together, gathered in the living room,
eating Oreos and potato chips until my parents blew the health whistle
and switched us to fruit and yogurt and salads.

BOOK: The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness
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