The Center Cannot Hold is a memoir by law professor Elyn Saks about her life experiences with schizophrenia.
In The Center Cannot Hold, Elyn Saks discusses frankly and movingly the paranoia, the inability to tell imaginary fears from real ones, and the voices in her head insisting she do terrible things, as well as the many obstacles she overcame to become the woman she is today. It is destined to become a classic in the genre.
This book has one of the most harrowing depictions of mental illness that I have ever read. I’ve had some experiences with psychosis (though nowhere near as bad as it is in the book) and what Saks really gets across is how scary it can be.
A lot of people in their reviews have complained that the book is repetitive, and that every time Saks goes off of her medication, she has an episode. I think that’s the point of this book though – mental illness often is repetitive. It comes in cycles, or waves, and there’s sometimes very little you can do to stop it. I also think that this is a great depiction of how difficult the decision can be to stay on medication. Saks speaks eloquently about the side effects of medication (many of which I have also experienced), and the journey it was to realise that she really does need to stay on her meds. This is something I’ve never really read about before, and is a great addition to literature about mental health.
While Saks’ voice could tend towards the irritating at times – she constantly impresses her intelligence and achievements upon the reader – I cannot help but wonder at this woman. She has achieved so much, and her story really inspires me to push myself, and see what I can do, mental illness be damned.
There are trigger warnings for violence, restraint, psychosis, and potentially unethical medical practices.