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Feb. 22 2010 - 11:10 am | 174 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Elyn Saks describes her struggle with schizophrenia

Let’s try something new this week. Inspired by Dave Munger’s new blog, The Daily Monthly, I’m going to try posting about a single topic for a week. This week’s topic will be schizophrenia. We’ll start with Elyn Saks, a professor of law at the University of Southern California and a winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2009. Saks is what you’d call a high-functioning schizophrenic. In a recent Q&A with Scientific American, she compared her symptoms to a waking nightmare.

Objectively, I have delusions (irrational beliefs like that I have killed hundreds of thousands of people with my thoughts); infrequent hallucinations (like watching a huge spider walk up my wall); and disorganized and confused thinking (e.g. what are called “loose associations,” like “my copies of the cases have been infiltrated. We have to case the joint. I don’t believe in joints but they do hold your body together”). These are called “positive symptoms” of schizophrenia. Except for my first two years at Oxford, I have been spared the so-called “negative symptoms”: apathy, withdrawal, inability to work or make friends.

COOK: Do you experience symptoms every day or week? What are they?

SAKS: As my husband likes to say, psychosis is not like an on-off switch but like a dimmer. At one end of the spectrum, I will have transient crazy thoughts (e.g. I have killed people) which I immediately identify as symptoms of my illness and not real. A little further along the spectrum, I may have three or four days of being dominated by crazy thoughts that I can’t push away. And at the far end I am crouching in a corner shaking and moaning.

The transient psychotic thoughts I might have several times a day. The several-day episodes are usually a response to stress and may happen three or four times a year. The experience of crouching in the corner hasn’t happened for years.

She goes on to describe how her work helps her cope with her symptoms by giving her a “center.”


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    About Me

    I'm a freelance journalist, and Middle Tennessee is my oyster. You may have seen my name on ScientificAmerican.com, where for two years I covered physics, space and the kitchen sink. Then I wrote a book called Instant Egghead Guide: The Universe. These days I'm into more earthly fare: mental health, chronic disease and social psychology. Working Dogma will be my way of getting up to speed on those subjects, which should keep me nice and busy. I'll do my best to make it entertaining.

    If you want to drop me a line or a story idea, my gmail address is what you would expect it to be.

    And no, my name doesn't stand for anything. It's Just Right as is, thank you.

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    Contributor Since: November 2009
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